2016 Chevrolet Malibu: A fresh start
That the Malibu has been an also ran in the highly competitive midsize sedan segment, and a big disappointment to Chevrolet leadership is no understatement. Despite respectable dynamics, the problems were multiple: bland styling, a snug back seat, and a half-hearted hybrid option (the eAssist system). A 2013 makeover - new nose, upgraded interior materials - didn't improve the sales picture.
But Chevy execs are ready to put that unhappy half-decade behind them, thanks to this all-new Malibu. Revealed at the New York Auto Show, the redesigned Malibu represents marked improvements in the areas that held the current generation back: new exterior styling with character creases, replacing the slab-sided look of the current car.
The wheels have been moved out to the edges of the wheel wells, giving the Malibu a more muscular appearance. Chevy calls the look "sleek and slim," and the description seems appropriate.
Bigger is better
This is a bigger Malibu: 2.3 inches longer, on a wheelbase that's been stretched 3.6 inches, gains that, predictably, take the cramped rear seat criticism off the table. Rear seat legroom may still be a tad tight for NBA power forwards, still the new Malibu promises to be one of the roomiest sedans in its class.
Besides high quality materials, attractive instrumentation, user-friendly controls, and enhanced connectivity (Chevy's MyLink telematics and 4G LTE WiFi), other significant upgrades include a lower cowl and hood, improving the driver's forward sightlines.
There will be five trim levels - the base L, LS, LT, Hybrid, and Premier. Premier replaces LTZ at the top of the order, and its interior appointments wouldn't be out of place in a Range Rover or a premium Audi.
Like the sheetmetal, the underpinnings are all new. The engineering team calls it Epsilon 2, an updated version of the Epsilon 1 architecture that's the core of the Chevy Impala, Buick LaCrosse, and other recent GM sedans. Chevy claims a 16 percent improvement in torsional rigidity for the new structure, a gain that should enhance handling, just as the longer wheelbase should enhance ride quality.
Even more impressive, this bigger Malibu will weigh in significantly lighter-up to 300 pounds, depending on trim, according to Chevrolet. Like the stiffer chassis, reduced curb weight contributes to livelier handling, and also to fuel economy.
Fuel consumption should be yet another area of improvement, with a new 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder replacing the current naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four as the base engine. It's from the family of small displacement fours recently developed by GM. In the Malibu, the new 1.5 turbo generates 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, and it's paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Like the current base engine, it has a stop-start feature. EPA fuel economy ratings are 27 mpg city, 37 highway.
The optional upgrade continues to be a 2.0-liter turbo, 250 hp, 258 lb-ft, mated with a new 8-speed automatic, a first for a GM front-drive vehicle. EPA ratings are 22/32.
Hybrid employs Volt tech
The new Hybrid is an adaptation of the system used in the second generation Volt, combining a new 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine and two electric motors. It's capable of operating on electric power alone up to 55 mph, according to Chevrolet, and will deliver combined city/highway fuel economy "north of 45 mpg." Unlike the Volt, it is not a plug-in hybrid, however.
Safety features, standard and optional, are comprehensive, and typical of current developments. A pedestrian alert system, forward collision alert, lane keeping assist, front and rear park assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic parking are all new. The Malibu will also have a new Teen Driver feature that will allow parents to review what their kids have been doing with the family ride-speed, distance, safety systems activated, etc. It's worth noting that it is not limited to tracking kids.Teen Driver will be a standard feature on most Malibu trim levels, according to Chevrolet.
Chevrolet plans to have the new Malibu in showrooms this fall.
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