Midsize Sedan Comparison: 2016 Chevrolet Malibu

By Richard Homan on May 6, 2016 1:00 PM


Comparison tested and big-league ready.
 

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Starting MSRP: $22,500

Above Average: Fashion-model good looks, Cambridge-quality road manners, and a fulfilling brunch of impressive equipment.

Below Average: Fuel economy, rear-seat ingress/egress, and reputation.

Consensus: Like an oyster, the Chevrolet Malibu has never been better than it is right now, and it's got pearls galore. 

600 Miles in 177 Words

The all-new Chevrolet Malibu's evolution has been gratifying to watch. The car has progressed from being a perennial also-ran in the midsize-sedan segment into a highly recommendable 4-door that's packed with both inherent quality and unexpected surprises. The 2016 Chevy Malibu can accurately be characterized as a slightly downsized Impala -- Chevy's full-size masterpiece sedan that seems to be winning every award that Kelley Blue Book is handing out these days. In a world where the cliché about cars is that they're all getting better and better and better, the new Malibu is better than many of our imaginations ever thought it could be, with every turn -- exterior, interior, engine, styling and the all-important consideration: pricing -- making both its competitors and the car-buying public sit up and take notice. If you discard the rental-car-ready Malibu L, the first-in-line Malibu S -- starting a few bucks under $24,000 -- is a complete car with a bounty of features, even though it's priced to more than compete with the rest of the crowd in this hyper-competitive segment.

A Closer Look

Like the current-generation Chevrolet Corvette and Impala before it, Chevy appears to have obsessed about how to make the new Malibu unmissable by shoppers. The midsize sedan has a knock-out shape, a comfortable interior, good power and treatful details galore. It isn't exceptional in every way, but it is an excellent midsize sedan at a value-centric price.

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Highway Driving  
If you're shopping 2016 Malibu, you can stop shopping engines right now. The base model's turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder is all the highway power you need. 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque (read: acceleration) between 2,000 and 4,000 rpm are more than enough. In the Malibu, that 1.5-liter's low and medium-speed power will immediately answer any question you ask in normal driving. Once the turbo kicks in, passing slower traffic is almost a breeze in that crucial 50-70-mph zone. A 6-speed automatic transmission comes standard.

If you've got to have the most power, or if you're racing in some weird Midwest spec-sedan series, you can upgrade your Malibu to a 250 horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-4 model. Mated to a new 8-speed automatic, that engine will snap you off the starting line double quick, but you'll get to know the kid working at the gas station by his first name.

Either way, you'll note (as we noted) that the Malibu is one of the quietest cars in our test, with a relaxed, comfortable ride over just about any surface we threw at it.

City Driving  A 1.5-liter Chevy Malibu is just as unfussy to pilot in stop-and-go city scenes as it is on long trips. Throttle tip-in is well managed and even, and green-light starts and red-light stops were uneventful.

During our time driving through cities, one Malibu feature stood out as possibly being better than any other automobile in the world: the stop/start feature. As a fuel-saving measure, it's become common for a vehicle to shut off its engine (rather than idle) when you comes to a stop. Then, when you take your foot off the brake pedal, the engine starts up again and you continue on your way. Many cars with this feature -- even luxury cars -- are vexed by how the engine draws attention to itself when it starts up again. Trust us: It can really get on your nerves. The Malibu's stop/start system, on the other hand, is seamless almost to the point of sometimes being imperceptible.

Sporty Driving  The unofficial sports sedan of midsize-cars wasn't part of this test. That honor belongs, hands down, to the Mazda 6. Well to its credit, though, the new Malibu had no trouble keeping up with the rest of our group, thanks to its responsive engine and the fact that it is about 300 pounds lighter than the previous Malibu. And as easy-going as the car drove around town and along the highways, its poise remained when the roads turned curly and the turns got interesting.

Interior Appeal  Chevy has upped its game when it comes to the Malibu interior. You'll no longer feel like you're trapped in a cheap plastics factory, because the quality of the materials and tactile appeal of the touch points has improved considerably. The front bucket seats offer reliable support, though outward vision for the driver was not the best of the bunch.

Infotainment  As long as you avoid coming in contact with the Malibu L fleet-car mentioned earlier, your in-car entertainment needs are pretty well covered: The standard Malibu infotainment setup is a music-fan-worthy, 6-speaker Chevrolet MyLink audio system. Highlights include a 7-inch color touch screen, Bluetooth streaming audio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. That's all you really need, but embedded navigation and an 8-inch screen are available if you're made of money.

Rear Seat  While the inspired, swept-back roofline of the new Malibu looks great, it can make climbing in and out of the backseat a bit of a head-bumper if you're not careful. Once inside, however, you'll be embraced by two almost trying bucket-seat supportive outer seats, and startlingly terrific headroom.

Cargo Utility  With 15.8 cubic feet of trunk space to fill, the Chevy Malibu is only about a pizza box short of the room offered by the two biggest trunks in our comparison test: the Volkswagen Passat and the Kia Optima. That near-class-leading space is put to fairly good use, although the exposed speaker magnets and cones coming through the interior's rear shelf can complicate cargo loading. Easing loading, however, were the fairly wide trunk opening and standard 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks.

Fuel Economy  On the real-world comparison-test roads to and from Las Vegas, our 1.5-liter Malibu averaged between 28.6 and 32.9 miles per gallon. Those figures are neither good nor bad for the class. If you're determined to capture the best fuel economy you can in a Malibu and aren't afraid to spend a little more money, step up to the Malibu hybrid model -- the EPA says you can get 48 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway with that one.

Resale Value  Historically, the Chevy Malibu has stubbed its toe on resale values. Whether this trend continues with the new Malibu is yet to be seen -- but that reputation could also set it up as a secret bargain when it comes to shopping for a used car.

Inside and Out: 2016 Chevrolet Malibu

 

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