The 2016 Chevy Malibu is back with sexy lines and a tech-friendly interface after a lapse in style in 2013. This nameplate has been part of the American dream landscape since 1964, and the 2016 model represents the ninth generation.
The new Malibu has a fresh makeover, riding on a wheelbase that is almost 4 inches longer, with a body that is nearly 300 pounds lighter. Its wide and low footprint is similar to the larger Impala sedan, which is 7.5 inches longer.
The Malibu is now a very roomy family car — still front-wheel drive — with contemporary features and styling. It is leading the trend of midsize sedans using smaller displacement, turbocharged four-cylinder engines rather than V-6. Competing sedans include: the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda6, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat.
You can be forgiven for seeing some Audi in the exterior styling — many did during my test week. But the Malibu has contemporary and artful styling inside and out. There is an appealing quality to the touch and appearance of materials, which have a mostly solid construction. But there were a few less-than-precise interior gaps on the tester, which may be deliberate to mitigate itching or rubbing noises.
The Malibu is sold in five trim levels — L, LS, LT, Hybrid and Premier — with a choice of two turbocharged four-cylinder engines mated with a six- or eight-speed automatic transmission. Starting prices range from about $24,000 to $32,000 for the loaded Malibu 2.0 turbo with eight-speed automatic. (The Hybrid, $28,645, goes on sale soon. Fuel economy ratings are projected to be 48 mpg city, 45 highway and 47 combined.)
Today’s tester, a midrange LT, starts at $25,895, and was $29,380 with three option packages. I’ve tested compact-class sedans that cost almost as much.
The standard models use a 163-horsepower, turbocharged, direct-injection 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with auto stop-start when idle. The 250-horsepower 2.0 turbo is available on LT and Premier models. It has mileage ratings of 22/33 mpg on the recommended, but not required, premium fuel. But the 13-gallon tank is small for commuting or vacations. The 2LT and Premier 2LZ trims have 15.8-gallon tanks.
It will be a challenge for some to accept that a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine is anywhere near adequate to heft a 3,100-pound midsize sedan — but it is. The secret sauce is in the potency of direct injection and turbocharging. It’s not a sport sedan, but with 184 foot-pounds of torque from a low 2,000-4,000 rpm, the acceleration can be brisk when needed. Fuel mileage numbers are 27 mpg city, 37 highway and 31 mpg combined, on the recommended 87-octane fuel. I was averaging around 30 to 31.5 mpg in a week of driving. Automatic stop-start at idle and active grille shutters help stretch fuel mileage.
The ride quality is comfortable and forgiving, and the suspension can handle enthusiastic cornering. There is a large driver’s footrest to support such driving. Sightlines are good over the shoulder, and there is a large rearview camera with guidance lines. The 37-foot turning circle is tight for a sedan that is 16 feet long. Soundproofing is well-done for highway speeds, and lined fender wells help quiet road and tire noise.
There is American-class shoulder room and elbowroom in the front seats. The driver area is well-organized with uncluttered access to controls. The console includes an e-bin charging area with two USB ports and an auxiliary input for music. The seats are heated, but not cooled. The sliding visors have covered and lighted mirrors, and there is a large, non-locking glove box. A height-adjustable passenger seat is a nice extra.
A Teen Driver function (available on LT and standard on Premier) mutes the audio or any device paired with the vehicle when front-seat occupants aren’t wearing seat belts. The system also lets parents view information about their teen’s driving skills, or lack thereof.
The back doors open wide, but entry and exit is somewhat complicated by narrow foot access through the opening. The seat bottom is short with a fairly upright seatback, but there is a low center tunnel to ease three-across foot room. Conveniences include: a pull-down armrest with cup holders, dual air vents, seatback pockets, reading lights, door storage with bottle holders, two USB ports (one is for charging), a 12-volt plug and coat hooks above the doors (but no grab handles).
The trunk is wide, with a low liftover, and large at 15.8 cubic feet. There are releases to fold the back seats.
If back-seat comfort is important, the larger Impala will be your car. But for young families, the new Malibu is a no-remorse purchase. Just be sure your model has the power you need.
Mark Maynard is online at email@example.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage