2016 Chevrolet Malibu - The Car Connection

   
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The Car Connection Expert Rating Breakdown



The Car Connection Expert Review


Bengt Halvorson

Bengt Halvorson

Deputy Editor


  • Likes
  • 48-mpg hybrid (with Volt power)
  • Quiet, refined cabin
  • Back-seat comfort
  • Pretty new look
  • Dislikes
  • Handsome, not edgy
  • Close to Impala in size and shape
  • Swoopy roofline limits headroom

The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu lineup skips performance models, plush luxury appointments, and all-wheel drive; yet the driving experience, comfortable cabin, and frugal numbers may convince you to trade in that Camry, Accord, or Fusion.


General Motors comprehensively changed the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu and the sedan pushes forward to a market reality that demands lighter, leaner, more fuel-efficient, and more connected.

Just a few years ago, a mainstream mid-size sedan model line with only two small turbocharged 4-cylinder engine choices and a hybrid version would have been a horrible misstep. Yet for 2016, Chevy’s realistically eyeing sales growth with no V-6 option, and not even an engine over 2.0 liters in the works.

Credit a new generation of downsized—er, “power-dense” as GM officials like to call them—turbo inline-4s, plus a complete transformation of the rest of the car, too. With a 300-pound weight reduction over the previous version of the Malibu, a far more balanced design, and an interior that feels dramatically larger, even if it’s just slightly larger by the numbers over last year’s car, the Malibu is at last looking like one of the top entries in the mid-size sedan class.

The Malibu was last fully redesigned just three years ago, yet it felt like a collection of design elements that weren’t fully fleshed out together, inside or out. Fortunately, the 2016 Malibu works downward from the handsome Impala, tidying it to svelte proportions, with a long new body and rich-looking interior that do completely away with any historic references or cues—except maybe a dual-grille nose that perhaps tries a little too hard to fit in.

Most of the Malibu lineup is powered by a turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-4. It takes the place of the 2.5-liter four that used to be the base engine, and before you rush to conclusions you might be surprised to hear that it feels stronger and smoother than that previous engine from the driver’s seat. It makes 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission; the combination is hard to catch flat-footed, and it’s quiet and composed. Top 2LT and Premier models step up to a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 250 hp and 258 lb-ft. It’s hooked up to an 8-speed automatic transmission and shifts with somewhat more precise, defined gear changes than the 6-speed. This top turbo Malibu now feels as quick as some of its predecessors with V-6s under the hood, and this engine feels strong and quick when you need it to be yet has some of the best drivability and refinement in its class.

There are no multiple modes here; GM nailed the calibration for the accelerator behavior (nice and linear), transmission shifts (sharper when you order that up with your right foot), and steering boost. Steering is one of the high points of the Malibu driving experience. All models, even the base model, get superb rack-mounted electric power steering that’s natural, well-weighted, and precise, and while the suspension doesn’t feel particularly performance-tuned, the Malibu’s ride and handling make it feel composed and reasonably athletic across a wide range of conditions.

The Malibu has lost more than 300 pounds compared to last year’s model, and at a base weight of just under 3,100 pounds (up to about 3,400 pounds for a fully loaded 2.0T) it’s now one of the lightest sedans in its segment.

Arriving a little later in the model year is the third variant: the Malibu Hybrid, which pairs a 1.8-liter inline-4 with a 1.5-kwh battery pack and twin electric motors that effectively operate as a dual-mode transmission. This model makes 182 hp combined and can dash to 60 mph in just 8.2 seconds or operate in electric-only mode in some conditions up to 55 mph. And it aims to earn an EPA-rated 48 mpg combined. It still weighs less than 3,500 pounds, so it feels nearly as nimble as the other models and only sacrifices a little trunk space (and cargo-floor continuity) for battery-pack space.

The 2016 Malibu feels far roomier than its predecessor, despite modest dimensional gains over last year’s model—and it comes down to some smart decisions that help maximize the feeling of interior space. The dash has been lowered and pushed out at the corners; new seats offer better support all around; and there’s much more rear legroom than before.

The seats in the Malibu are very good compared to what other models in this class offer, and they should be up for all-day drives or especially long commutes, GM has gone to lengths to cut noise from the Malibu as well, routing air intakes under the rear seats, and including active noise cancellation (a simple, sound-system-integrated version in sync with engine revs and aiming to cut low-rev engine resonance especially) on the non-hybrid models. As such, the Malibu is a very quiet operator. You hear engine noise very little in those versions.

The Malibu has ample storage built in the center console, with a Pop Tart-sized slot for cellphone storage (and wireless charging, if equipped). Leather, seat heating, and front-seat ventilation are all options, but what matters most is that the fundamentals are all here: seats feel sturdy and deeply bolstered, not necessarily for cornering, but for the all-day haul or the long commute.

The Malibu is sold in L, LS, LT, and Premier trim levels, with the Hybrid a stand-alone model, slotting below the Premier in equipment level.

Technology is emphasized more than ever in the Malibu. Most of the 2016 lineup gets new 7.0- or 8.0-inch MyLink connectivity, with Apple CarPlay compatibility for both of these systems and Android Auto for the smaller one. A wi-fi hotspot powered by 4G LTE is on offer, too. All but the base L now include a rearview camera system, although most of the top active-safety features—like automatic emergency braking—are the exclusive domain of LT and Premier models.

One odd omission in the features list is that dual-zone climate control is only offered on the top Premier; heated seats aren’t widely available either; and Chevy continues to simply point to the Equinox crossover when asked about all-wheel drive.

In many respects, the 2016 Malibu picks up where the critically acclaimed 2008-2012 Malibu left off. The Malibu still might not call out to the sinewy canyon-cutting roads and high-society beach time that its name implies, but among sedans, it’s clearly pulling into the passing lane.

The new Malibu puts up impressive economy numbers so far. Models with the 1.5-liter turbocharged engine earn 27 mpg city, 37 highway, 31 combined, according to the EPA. Meanwhile those with the 2.0-liter turbo-4 earn 22/33/26 mpg. The forthcoming hybrid will earn heady 47/46/46 mpg numbers.

Styling
8.0

The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu is handsome inside and out, although its front-end styling is an odd introductory statement.


The Malibu nameplate has been a follower in recent history; but styling is one way GM hopes it can leap to more of a leadership position.

Although the Malibu that had been in production until 2013 had pleasant proportions—just with a few fine details lacking—the outgoing car through 2015 took some undeniable steps backward in overall comeliness. With tall, ungainly proportions and some unnecessary theming, such as taillights that were supposed to suggest the Corvette, and an arched roofline that looked out of step with the rest of the profile.

Now, it looks like Chevy has worked downward from its handsome Impala, tidying it to svelte proportions, with a long new body and rich-looking interior that do completely away with any historic references or cues.

Instead, the new Malibu shares a lot of themes with the best sellers in its class. Now that every automaker from Kia to Toyota is aiming for drama—or at the very least, some decidedly European-luxury cues—in what was formerly Bland City. To that, the Malibu dives cautiously in—with a subtle wave stamped into its flanks, and a gentle intersection of sculpting that conjured up some of the "flame surfacing" that BMW has used to cut visual heft from its cars.

Proportionally, the car's been stretched quite a bit, and the nose has dropped—though it's actually lost weight, all credited to more high-strength steel. There’s more length in the doors, designers had to place "Malibu" script on the front pair to break up the big swaths of sheet metal. The strategy earns more of a greenhouse around the front two thirds of the car—accented even more by thinner front pillars—yet the lift of the rear flanks and tail manifest in a narrow rear window.

Narrow taillights in back aren’t too far from what’s used in the Mazda 6 or Kia Optima, and they fit right in with the tapered tail and hexagonal exhaust outlets. At the front, the Malibu feels bolder, reinterpreting its twin grilles into narrower bands—one at the top, with headlights and air intakes sitting atop a larger grille, and a lower set that gives the front end a balanced feel and more stylish lighting signature. It’s a bit hard to know where to focus the eyes at first, and we’re split on whether the face is a great introduction for the rest of the “at ease” design; it’s almost as if Chevrolet designers tried too hard to make this model’s snout some midpoint between Chevy’s small cars and its trucks. Yet despite it all, the thing worth pointing out is how balanced the new Malibu feels, front-to-rear.

Inside, the look is charming and elegant while also somewhat understated. The upright, swoopy, two-tiered layout to the dash has been dropped for 2016 in favor of a more conventional shape. GM has lowered the dash and pushed it forward slightly; corners have also been pushed outward, adding up to a Inside, the Malibu has dropped the twin-binnacle, tiered look, striking out with a more conventional shape that's far more unified and appealing. The center stack makes space for bigger MyLink infotainment screens, while it also factors in some interesting trim choices—fabric-wrapped panels on less expensive trim levels, metallic-look on others, a leather-looking synthetic wrap on dash and console trim on top models.

There’s a place for buttons in this interior—both a design and functionality decision that many buyers will appreciate. Thankfully, Chevy hasn’t renewed its contract for plastichrome trim, as there’s very little of that brightwork here.

The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu is handsome inside and out, although its front-end styling is an odd introductory statement.

Performance
8.0

The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu isn’t a scorching performer, but it’s nimble, confident, and responsive in all of its variants.


The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu follows an approach with powertrains that would have been unheard of just a few years ago. There’s no V-6 in the lineup—not even a larger 4-cylinder engine of 2.5 liters or so, which used to be the base engine. Provided you’re not referring to the hybrid, all the engines in the lineup are turbocharged and direct-injected.

Most of the Malibu lineup will be powered by a 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-4. It subs right in for that big-displacement four and will be easily mistaken for one from the driver’s seat, as it makes 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission that’s GM-produced, and the combination is hard to catch flat-footed; unlike other efforts from automakers. Only in long grades and in some highway passing will it feel like a base engine—and even then, reaching high into its rev band, it’s quiet and composed.

Chevy intentionally kept upshifts for the transmission—with the 1.5-liter—to just 5,200 rpm, as letting the engine rev higher into each shift produced more noise rather than a shorter acceleration time.

Top 2LT and Premier models step up to a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 250 hp and 258 lb-ft. It’s hooked up to an 8-speed automatic transmission (essentially the same unit that’s used in the Volvo XC90), and shifts with somewhat precise, defined gear changes than the 6-speed. This engine churns out plentiful torque at low revs, without the need for downshifts, so it really does take the place of a V-6 in the lineup. And the accelerator and transmission has a nice composed, above-it-all feel that takes on Ford’s EcoBoost 2.0-liter in the Fusion for perkiness and drivability and actually emerges the winner because of its superior smoothness and refinement.

Both of these transmissions lack steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters. For manual gear control, you need to pull the shift lever back to the "L" position and then use a button atop the lever to go up or down.

There are no multiple modes here; GM nailed the calibration for the accelerator behavior (nice and linear), transmission shifts (sharper when you order that up with your right foot), and steering boost.

On that note, steering is one of the high points of the Malibu driving experience. The Malibu’s electric power steering—with rack-mounted boost provided in all version—feels more natural, well-weighted, and precise than that in any other affordable mid-size sedan.

The Malibu has lost more than 300 pounds compared to last year’s model, and at a base weight of just under 3,100 pounds (up to about 3,400 pounds for a fully loaded 2.0T) it’s now one of the lightest sedans in its segment. Factor in the Malibu’s firm and composed yet comfortable suspension tune—essentially the same through all engines and trim levels, but with slight changes for tires and wheels—and the Malibu feels downright nimble, and way more tossable than most of its rivals. It favors comfort over any serious edge, but it almost drives with the verve of a compact car.

Furthermore, there’s actually very little difference in weight between the two engines (it’s most due to the higher feature set you get in 2.0-liter versions), so you don’t get the heavier (and nose-heavier) feel that you might have in previous versions in upgrading to the V-6.

There’s one more model in the lineup, however, and it’s shaping up to be the most intriguing of all in some respects. A new Malibu Hybrid pairs a 1.8-liter inline-4 with a 1.5-kwh battery pack and twin electric motors that effectively operate as a dual-mode transmission. Unlike the prior Malibu with eAssist, the new Hybrid can run short distances on battery power alone—up to 50 or 55 mph. Though it shares much of its technology with the Volt, the Malibu Hybrid skips an "EV" button and aims to be a “normal” car, aiming less for the electric-centric driving character of the Volt and simply going for fuel-efficiency (it aims to earn an EPA-rated 48 mpg combined).

That said, the Malibu Hybrid is quick enough for most tastes; it takes just 7.8 seconds for 0-60 mph and total output is 182 hp. The Hybrid still weighs less than 3,500 pounds and with steering that feels just as vivid, feels like no compromise. You will, however, hear the gasoline engine in the Hybrid a bit more than in those non-hybrid models.

The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu isn’t a scorching performer, but it’s nimble, confident, and responsive in all of its variants.

Comfort & Quality
9.0

The 2016 Malibu is spacious and serene—and far more passenger-friendly than last year’s model.


It’s amazing what a difference relatively minor things like seat position, dash height, and trim contouring will make in the perception of interior space; these are all reasons why the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu feels far roomier than its predecessor than its modest gains in interior volume will otherwise suggest.

While the Malibu is 3.6 inches longer between the wheels than the previous version (and 2.3 inches longer overall), that still places it at the smaller end of the class.

The new platform is a reworked version of past GM mid-sizers, and the body structure—including the roofline—is completely new. The cant of the roofline in particular brings some meaningful improvement, as do that host of improvement to the front-seat space.

In particular the Malibu's interior feels like a spacious place to ride. The front-seat area is bettered with a lower driving position, while the dash has been lowered somewhat and the corners pushed outward—rather than following a "dual cockpit" layout. Thoughtful touches like console padding at knee height, and a little more bolstering and length in the seats, make this an interior that now feels bigger than those of many other mid-size sedans. In front, most adults will find that the Malibu's seats are supportive for all-day drives, or for especially long commutes.

Where the Malibu really overcomes the past model's shortcomings is in rear-seat space. It's clear that moving to a new architecture has boosted its status, making it one of the best back seats among all family four-doors. Chevy says rear-seat leg room is up 1.3 inches, and it feels like more—nearly as much as the larger Impala. There’s good leg support and a flat floor, and in this day of swoopier rooflines, the Malibu still has some of the best rear-seat head room now—although we caution that those well over 6 feet tall aren’t going to be comfortable with the carved-out portion at the back portion of the headliner.

Gas-powered Malibu models have 15.8 cubic feet of trunk space, while Hybrids have 11.6 cubic feet, the rest given over to batteries. The space available in Hybrids doesn’t seem that much smaller, realistically—although you forgo the mostly continuous flat space for a hump in the middle (that’s where the battery pack is).

GM has gone to lengths to cut noise from the Malibu as well, routing air intakes under the rear seats, and including active noise cancellation (a simple, sound-system-integrated version in sync with engine revs and aiming to cut low-rev engine resonance especially) on the non-hybrid models.

As such, the Malibu is a very quiet operator. You hear very little engine noise in the two non-hybrid versions. A little more engine noise makes its way into the cabin in Malibu Hybrid models, and it’s a bit more noticeable as the engine’s revs and intensity aren’t always in step with momentary acceleration and speed. Wind noise and road noise are kept out of the cabin, for the most part, although you do hear some impacts and rough patches from the surface.

About the only area in which the Malibu reveals that it’s not truly a luxury sedan is in its interior trims and materials. There are plenty of soft-touch surfaces up where it matters; yet the number of color and surface combinations are very limited.

The 2016 Malibu is spacious and serene—and far more passenger-friendly than last year’s model.

Safety
8.0

The Chevrolet Malibu should carry forward its reputation for occupant protection—and it’s upped its active-safety offerings for 2016.


The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu is one of the pre-runners of a stronger, lighter generation of cars at General Motors. It’s more than just lighter; the Malibu lineup offers far more active-safety extras than before.

The Malibu uses a completely new body structure—one that’s shared with the 2017 Buick LaCrosse and will underpin most of GM’s front-wheel-drive-based mid-size and large sedans in the future.

Given that it’s the latest and greatest platform from the automaker, it managed good scores from the top rating agencies so far. Federal safety officials have given the car a five-star overall rating, including five stars in front- and side-impact protection. The insurance-funded IIHS has only tested the car in moderate overlap crashes and side impact safety, where it earned the organization's top "Good" rating.

The greater level of high-strength steel has enabled thinner roof pillars, which gives you great forward vision but doesn’t help with the tapered roofline and limited rear vision. The structure and reduced weight help the Malibu feel lighter and more nimble than the outgoing car, for better accident avoidance, potentially.

LS, LT, Hybrid, and Premier models all include a standard rearview camera system, as well as 10 standard airbags and the expected traction, stability, and anti-lock braking systems.

If you’re willing to pay a little more, there’s a lot of available active-safety items in the 2016 Malibu. The list includes a new "Front Pedestrian Alert" that incorporates a forward camera system and through processing, looks to identify pedestrians ahead—and brake automatically to either avoid an impact or reduce the harm. Separately, there’s an adaptive cruise control system with front automatic braking. There are also blind-spot monitors with lane change alert, and a rear cross-traffic alert system to help you when backing up. Active lane keep with lane-departure warning is also available, and we like how subtle yet firm the interventions are. And to help with parking, there are front and rear park assist systems and automatic parking assist—a system that helps you with the proper trajectory to quickly get into a spot.

Most of the top active-safety features—like front automatic emergency braking—are the exclusive domain of LT and Premier models, however.

Worried parents of teenagers may find some solace in one other feature: Chevrolet is also using the Malibu as the launch vehicle for a new Teen Driver system that lets parents program in a maximum speed they want a new driver—or an employee, for instance—to go in their vehicle. Through the easy input of a pin, the owner has access to a Report Card that sums up the number of speed alerts and safety-system interventions. The system keeps the information local on the vehicle and for privacy concerns does not back it up on the cloud.

The Chevrolet Malibu should carry forward its reputation for occupant protection—and it’s upped its active-safety offerings for 2016.

Features
8.0

If you value connectivity technology and active safety, and smart fuel-saving powertrains, the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu offers a lot of value for the money.


The very competitive market environment for mid-size sedans translates to some very good things for sedan shoppers. In short, you get a lot more for your money than you used to; and the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu is one of the highest-value offerings in its class.

It’s a different kind of value for the money, however, than you’ll find in some of the most affordable models from Kia and Hyundai.

On all models—even the Malibu L—you get the 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine (with engine stop-start), steering-wheel audio, cruise control, and phone controls; keyless ignition; power windows (express-down for all); and a split-folding rear seat.

The entry price alone is very competitive, and the base model does without floor mats to get there. The 2016 Malibu starts at $22,500, including destination fees, and as such, it’s one of the lowest-priced mid-size sedans on the market.

The Malibu will be sold in L, LS, LT, and Premier trim levels, with the Hybrid a stand-alone model, slotting below the Premier in equipment level. While the base L is fleet-focused, plenty of bargain-minded families will find it a smart pick; and what makes it that is, in part, that it doesn’t skimp on any of the core components.

To get the 2.0-liter turbo engine and 8-speed automatic transmission, you’ll need to step up to the LT, at $29,495 for that combination. The 2.0T Premier starts at nearly $32,000 and fully loaded it adds up to nearly $36,000. Pricing for the Malibu Hybrid starts at $28,645 and it's equipped fairly similarly to a 1LT model.

One thing that busy, always-connected parents might truly miss in that base model at the center of the dash: All models in the lineup except the L come with MyLink touchscreen systems for audio, phone connectivity, and apps.

The base 7.0-inch version of the MyLink system that’s included in all but the base L comes with AM/FM radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. The upgraded 8.0-inch version of MyLink is available on LT models and standard on the Premier, and it adds voice-activated technology.

Additionally, Malibu LS (LS2 package) models and LT and Premier trims include OnStar with 4G LTE, which allows the vehicle to be turned into a wi-fi hotspot (with a data subscription).

On the LT, you can opt for a Leather Package that adds heated front seats, a power front passenger seat, and Bose premium audio. A power tilt-and-slide sunroof is available on LT and Premier models, but as we observed, it brings an exaggerated, scooped-out rear headliner situation that some taller back-seat occupants won’t be happy with. In LT models the sunroof is paired with a universal garage-door remote and 18-inch alloys.

Leather upholstery is available on the LT and standard on the Premier. The Premier steps up to a small wireless charging pad for small electronics, remote start, a 120-volt power outlet, dual USB ports, and some added leather trim; those are all also available as part of a Convenience and Technology Package on the LT.

Ventilated front seats are exclusive to the Premier, as is a heated steering wheel (both are standard). Adaptive cruise control and semi-automatic park assist are only offered as options on the Premier. Top Premier models are also the only ones in the lineup to get 19-inch wheels and LED taillights.

One odd omission in the features list is dual-zone climate control. That—or any automatic climate control—is reserved only for the top Premier model and isn’t even available in the other models.

If you value connectivity technology and active safety, and smart fuel-saving powertrains, the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu offers a lot of value for the money.

Fuel Economy
8.0

With two gasoline powertrains earning more than 25 mpg combined, and a 47-mpg Hybrid, the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu offers three flavors of fuel-efficient.


This year's Malibu models with the 1.5-liter turbocharged engine earn 27 mpg city, 37 highway, 31 combined, according to the EPA. Meanwhile those with the turbo 2.0-liter 4-cylinder earn 22/33/26 mpg.

There isn’t the variance in ratings across trim levels that you’ll see on some rival models. All models with the 1.5-liter come with engine stop-start, while those with the 2.0-liter do not.

The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid, with its 1.5-kwh battery pack and a version of the Voltec system that was originally developed for the Chevy Volt, earns 47/46/46 mpg, according to the EPA.

While we haven’t yet driven the Malibu Hybrid on a long enough loop to make any pronouncements about its fuel economy, we have observed that one test car had produced an average, on city stop-and-go loops, of nearly 49 mpg over 25 miles.

In our own real-world driving, we observed essentially the same mileage from models with the 1.5-liter turbo as with the 2.0-liter turbo in somewhat rapid driving on a combination of mountainous and coastal two-lane roads and freeways. Both models returned trip-computer averages in the low 30s—although we’ll temper that with the advice that if you spend more time in slow-moving urban and suburban commuter traffic, you’re bound to do quite a bit better in the 1.5-liter than the 2.0-liter.

With two gasoline powertrains earning more than 25 mpg combined, and a 47-mpg Hybrid, the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu offers three flavors of fuel-efficient.




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