2016 Chevrolet Malibu LT Review

2016 Chevrolet Malibu LT

Chevy nudges the Malibu back to respectability.

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Chevrolet Malibu…I’ve rented these before.

It seems that the car rental companies and fleet sectors are the only ones who really warmed to past generations of Chevy’s midsize sedan. It wasn’t hard to see why- in a market segment with sales juggernauts like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion the Malibu always felt like GM was expending minimal effort on its design and phoning in the mechanical bits. Not surprisingly, this resulted in a car that could never compete on the same scale as the other players. The low point was when they revived the nameplate in 1997 after a fourteen-year hiatus- those forgettable steaming piles were wretched in everyway, and were only marginally better throughout the following couple of iterations. In its seventh generation which ran from 2008-2012 the Malibu was the subject of a torrent of criticism from the motoring press, so much so that they went back to the drawing board for a short lived eighth generation which lasted a scant two model years. This appeared to be GM finally taking its midsize entry seriously, although it still didn’t represent a determined enough challenge to the class leaders. With this ninth generation you see here, the contemptible tides are finally receding; they’ve finally got a winner on their hands.

It looks waaaay better than before.

The Malibu’s styling draws on the Camaro pony car- you can see the family resemblance in the tastefully scowling front end styling that now features C-shaped LED daytime running lights. Viewed from the side, it looks similar to the bigger Impala sedan, and more than a few auto scribes have commented on its resemblance to the Audi A7 sportback. Whatever conclusions you draw about its looks, there’s no denying it’s pretty sharp. Chevy really nailed the proportions- it has a nicely clipped look without suffering from long overhangs or wheels that look wither too small or ridiculously large. It’s one of those cars that looks small from the outside when it fact it is not- witness that it’s 8 centimeters longer than the top selling Toyota Camry.

Its gone on quite the diet, hasn’t it?

As we advance through life, most of us get bulgier, not more svelte, yet that’s exactly what the Malibu has done. And don’t think its made the structure flimsier- on the contrary, as it is much more stout than before. The payoffs of the weight loss are immediately seen in the way the Malibu eagerly changes direction, and how incredibly hushed it is when going down the road. No doubt the shedding of kilos has helped it achieve better fuel economy, too; that, and the new 1.5 litre turbo four toiling away under the hood. It’s down on power compared to the 250-plus horsepower you get with the optional 2.0 turbo/8-speed auto combo, but it’s got enough grunt for most situations and is quite smooth as it goes about its business.

Do we have a sporty Malibu like the V8 powered monsters from the 1960’s?

No. The muscle car era Malibu’s only link to the 2016 model of today is in name only. That isn’t to say that the one here in the Carpages Garage is hopeless when you venture off the endless straights of the superslab. Contrary to the recent vintages of Malibu, you can tell the engineers were serious about instilling a bit of dynamic flair. Take the steering for example. You turn a handsome steering wheel with the right amount of thickness left or right, and the Malibu responds faithfully, changing direction with a precision its predecessors never could muster. It has a loyal sense of straight ahead too, tracking faithfully down the highway in a way that borders on the Teutonic. Then there’s the brakes, who feel more than up to the task of slowing the Chevy down in any situation, and their actuated buy a pedal that has as good brake feel as anything we’ve encountered from the General in recent years. Although the suspension tuning wasn’t conceived to hustle down a twisty two-lane, what it lacks in sportiness it more than makes up for in ride quality. It’s a bit shocking to say this, but it rides even better than the gold standard of the class, the Honda Accord.

What might go wrong?

Although the interior sees welcome improvements, all the bones we have to pick with the Malibu are found inside the cabin. First, there’s the massively thick A-pillars that don’t help what is already slughly compromised outward visibility (thank you, Camaro inspired styling.) The dashboard is trimmed with a kind of quilted cloth-like material that is not at all to our tastes and doesn’t look like it’ll wear particularly well over the years. Overall the interior is nice, but Chevrolet could put a little more effort into sourcing better quality materials. Lastly, that rocker switch on top of the gear selector- it feels weird when you’re using it and the response from the transmission is laggy to say the least- why even bother?

This is a Malibu you wouldn’t feel embarrassed about putting in your driveway.

Exactly. Chevrolet’s efforts to do battle at the top of the midsize sedan heap are palpable and have spawned a car that lives up to the slogan GM used at its launch: “The Car You Never Expected.” After years of mediocrity, that couldn’t be more true. If you’re shopping for a midsize sedan (and good on you, because the world has enough crossovers plying the roadways as it is) you may never have expected to find the Malibu at the top of your shopping list.

 

2016 Chevrolet Malibu LT- Specifications

  • Price as tested: $29,870
  • Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger sedan
  • Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic
  • Engine:  1.5-litre turbocharged inline 4, DOHC, 16 valves
  • Horsepower:  163 @ 5,700 rpm
  • Torque (lbs-ft.): 184 @ 2,000 rpm
  • Curb weight: 1,418 kg (3,126 lbs)
  • Observed Fuel Consumption: 11L/100km (21 mpg)