We’ll admit we were not big fans of the last-generation Chevrolet Malibu. When we drove the Malibu Eco, it failed to deliver the fuel economy numbers that Chevrolet touted. Plus, it was the only Malibu you could get for a time. The decision was made to get the Eco out first while work was being finished up on the two four-cylinder models. Unfortunately, this move would prove to be a mistake. Then we spent some time in the Malibu 2.0T. While we like the performance on offer, it had a difficult time justifying the high price tag. Both models also suffered from having one of the smallest back seats in the class. The various issues caused sales of the Malibu to drop precipitously and made General Motors fast track a new Malibu.
This brings us to the new Chevrolet Malibu which made its debut last year at the New York Auto Show. It seemed GM had learned from its mistakes from the previous model and put that experience into this new model. Let’s find if this makes the Malibu a better vehicle.
The last-generation Malibu wasn’t a bad looking vehicle. But compared to the model it replaced, the Malibu’s design just fell flat. The 2016 model is a completely different story. Designers went back to the 2008 to 2012 Malibu and started improving on that design. The end result is one of the sharpest looking midsize sedans in the class. Up front is where you can see the influence from the 2008 to 2012 Malibu with a similar grille layout and headlight location. The grilles are slightly narrower and wider. The side profile reveals an A7-inspired rear roof pillar that blends in beautifully with the fender. The back features a rounded trunk lid and chrome exhaust tips.
The same cannot be said for the interior. It isn’t to say Chevrolet hasn’t made some strides here. The design is just as sharp as the exterior with flowing curves and a touchscreen that looks like a tablet that has been docked. In the back, there an increase in overall space. Sitting back here, I had plenty of head and legroom. Getting yourself comfortable in the driver’s seat is easy thanks to an eight-way power seat and a tilt-telescoping steering wheel.
Depending on which Malibu trim you pick, it will either come with no touchscreen (L), a seven-inch touchscreen (LS and 1LT), or an eight-inch touchscreen (2LT and Premier). Our tester featured the eight-inch and the latest version of Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system. MyLink still stumbles in some areas such as overall performance and recognizing devices plugged into the USB inputs, but overall the system is much better than when it was first launched. For 2016, Chevrolet has added Apple CarPlay (and Android Auto) integration to MyLink. You just need to plug a compatible iPhone into the USB and hit the CarPlay button on the touchscreen. You’ll be greeted with a screen that is very similar to the home screen on your iPhone. Applications such as Siri, Apple Maps, Spotify, and Pandora can be used through the system. Like the Volt I drove recently, I ran into some problems with CarPlay. From applications not responding to the vehicle not recognizing that my phone was plugged in. As is stands, CarPlay is a huge improvement over most infotainment systems used in vehicles. But some bugs need to be worked out still.
Power for the Malibu comes from two turbo engines - a 1.5L or 2.0L. Our 2LT came with the 2.0L turbo producing 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. This is paired with a new eight-speed automatic transmission. The best words I can use to describe the Malibu’s 2.0L is punchy and effortless. The turbo spools up quickly and provides a strong pull of power when leaving a stop. More impressive is how fast the engine is able to climb in speed when merging onto an expressway or making a pass. The eight-speed is one of GM’s best transmissions with smooth and smart shifts through the gears. In terms of fuel economy, the turbo 2.0L is rated at 22 City/33 Highway/26 Combined. We got an average of 27 MPG during our week of testing.
Chevrolet struck a nice balance with the Malibu’s ride and handling. Like the previous-generation model, the 2016 Malibu features one of the smoothest rides in the class. Bumps and other imperfections are ironed out before getting inside the cabin. Wind noise is kept to a minimum, but we found there was a bit more road noise than the last Malibu we drove. We’re wondering if Chevrolet removed a fair amount of sound deadening to help make the new Malibu lighter. Around corners, the Malibu’s suspension keeps body motions in check. Steering has a direct feel, but a little bit more weight wouldn’t be a bad thing. No, it will not challenge a Mazda6 for the best driving midsize sedan. But having a nice balance between the two isn’t too bad.
Pricing for the Chevrolet Malibu starts at $22,500 for the base L and climbs to $31,795 for the Premier. The 2LT starts at $28,620 and our tester came with an as-tested price of $29,495. But I’m not sure if the 2LT is a good value. Part of it comes from the interior appointments that are used in the 2LT trim. But the other part comes from the lack of options. Yes, the 2LT comes well equipped with 18-inch wheels, power seat for the driver, eight-inch touchscreen, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and front collision warning with automatic braking. But you cannot option such features as dual-zone climate control, leather, navigation, or a premium audio system. To get those, you need to drop down to the 1LT with the turbo 1.5L or go up to Premier if you want to keep the turbo 2.0L. However, the Premier doesn’t get most of the safety features as the 2LT. You’ll need to opt for a safety package to get these features. I can’t help but wonder if Chevrolet would be better off dropping the 2LT and figuring out a way to fill in the gap between the 1LT and Premier.
I have a theory about General Motors that sadly seems to get proven time and time again. They can build one of the best vehicles in the class, but there is one thing that spoils it. It could be the quality of the materials, interior space, powertrain, or something else. The 2016 Malibu 2LT is the latest one to prove it, which is a huge shame.
Disclaimer: Chevrolet Provided the Malibu, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Engine: 2.0L Turbocharged DOHC Four-Cylinder
Driveline: Eight-Speed Automatic, Front-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 250 @ 5,300
Torque @ RPM: 258 @ 1,700
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 22/33/26
Curb Weight: 3,126 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Kansas City, Kansas
Base Price: $28,620
As Tested Price: $29,495 (Includes $875.00 Destination Charge)