Thumbs Up: Takes styling cues from the Camaro, inside and out.
Thumbs Down: Takes styling cues from the Camaro, inside and out.
Buy This Car If: You’re looking for a solid value in a domestic family sedan.
Chevrolet sold a boatload of its previous Malibu sedan, which critics panned for not being as stylish, refined or well-equipped as the competition. The engineers at GM’s mainstream division took that criticism to heart when they set about designing an all-new Malibu for the model year. It’s better-looking and far more refined than the model it replaces, but that may be where the good news ends for Chevrolet.
Unfortunately, Chevy had the misfortune of releasing the new Malibu at the same time Ford was introducing a new Fusion, Toyota was touting its new Camry and Honda debuted a new Accord. As before, the new Malibu is a good car, but it struggles to keep up with the newly-launched competition on multiple levels. It’s hard to clear a bar when its height keeps changing.
That’s perhaps a kind way of saying that the new Malibu gets lost in the backscatter of its competition, and that’s a shame since it really does have a lot going for it. Take the exterior styling, for example; it’s conservative without being bland, and Chevy does what it can to spice things up by borrowing from the hot-selling Camaro. Admittedly, this may not be to everyone’s liking.
Look at the shape of the C-pillar, for example, or the bold five-spoke wheels used on higher-trim variants. Out back, there are square tail lights (particularly pronounced at night), and all of these design cues tie the Malibu back to the Camaro. It’s as if Chevy were saying, “we know what you’d rather be buying if you didn’t need a family sedan.”
That not the case up front, though, where the Malibu looks more like the popular Cruze than the Camaro. In fact, that may well be the car’s most disappointing angle; while there’s nothing wrong with the Malibu’s front-end styling, there’s nothing particularly cutting-edge about it, either (especially when compared to the new Ford Fusion).
That minor bit aside, the rest of the Malibu looks good. We love its profile, and the choice of 19-inch wheels with 40 series tires is particularly bold for a mainstream family sedan. In fact, if you’d just ridden a time machine from 1980 and stepped out next to the Malibu 2LZ, you’d likely wonder what sort of a fire-breathing sport sedan would require such low-profile rubber, monstrous disc brakes or oversized dual exhausts.
Inside, the new Malibu is a quantum leap forward in styling from the model it replaces. Acres of drab plastic are now replaced by a multi-tiered dash that clearly defines spaces for driver and passenger, giving it a cockpit-like appearance. The center stack now uses a bolder, oval design, allowing more room to integrate a touchscreen infotainment or navigation system. As before, two-tone plastic is used, but to much better effect in the new car. We’re still not fans of the faux wood trim, however, and can’t help but think that brushed or patterned aluminum would look better in the interior. While we’re griping, we found the blue interior ambient lighting to be odd, as if Chevy were trying to out-do Buick by adding more blue LEDs. Also, how is it possible to design a modern car without a trunk release button on the inside?
The instrument cluster inside the will likely be polarizing, too, but we salute Chevrolet for adding a bit of Camaro style to the inside of its mainstream family sedan. In our eyes, the square tachometer and speedometer pods shrouded by a deep hood (split by a color information display) work great, and go a long way towards livening up the Malibu’s interior.
Front seats in our 2LZ trim level tester came wrapped in beige leather (or leather seating surfaces) piped in black. It looks good, and the style-conscious detail lends an upscale air to the Malibu’s cabin. Seats are power adjustable, and both driver and passenger get an inflatable lumbar support, as well as seat heaters. Our car included the LTZ Premium Package, which adds (among other things) a driver’s seat memory to the mix.
Rear seats, like the front, are comfortable enough for the car’s primary commuter mission. Head room is on the generous side, though there’s a bit less leg room in the back than in the previous Malibu. If that’s a deal-breaker, though, chances are good you really need to be shopping for a full-size car instead of a mid-size one. If hauling oversize cargo is something you do on a regular basis, the Malibu comes with the much-appreciated split folding rear seats.
Power for our 2LZ tester came from Chevrolet’s 2.0-liter Ecotec turbo four-cylinder engine, rated at 259 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The sole transmission choice here is a six-speed Hydra-Matic, which Chevrolet claims can deliver a 0-60 mph time of 6.3 seconds. While we didn’t try to clock this ourselves, our precisely-tuned butt-dyno would have us agreeing that the time sounds realistic. The EPA says you can expect 24 mpg combined, 30 mpg highway and 21 mpg city, and our 22.5 mpg in mostly-city driving seems to back up this claim.
On the road, the Malibu delivers a comfortable, quiet and composed ride that should meet the expectations of most buyers. It’s not soft enough to be a luxury sedan, nor is it firm or precise enough to be a sport sedan, but if your preference is for the middle ground, the Malibu won’t disappoint. The 19-inch wheels shod with 40 series tires help with both turn-in and grip, yet surprisingly don’t create an overly harsh ride over bumps or broken pavement. Steering is a bit on the numb side, though it’s really no worse than most of the Malibu’s competition, and we’d give the car’s brakes two thumbs up for stopping power. There are no surprises with the Malibu’s ride and handling (except perhaps how noise-free the cabin is), but in the midsize family sedan class, no surprises can be a valuable selling point.
While some have panned the new Malibu compared to the car it replaced, we’re not among them and would easily choose this over the previous generation. We suspect its poor sales are indicative of how good the competition has become, or at least how proficient they’ve gotten at marketing their wares. The new Malibu won’t be the right mid-size family sedan for everyone, but we think its combination of style, comfort and content make it worth driving if you’re in the market.
Chevrolet provided the Malibu 2LZ for the purpose of our evaluation. Base price on our car was $30,925, including a $760 destination charge, and options included the $1,350 Electronics & Entertainment Package (19-inch aluminum wheels, Pioneer audio system, rearview camera system, 120 volt power outlet, universal home remote), the $1,000 LTX Premium Package (HID headlamps, push-button start, keyless entry, memory settings for driver’s seat and side mirrors), the $395 Advanced Safety Package (forward collision alert, lane departure warning) and the $150 Cocoa Fashion Trim for a total sticker price of $33,820.
For comparison, a similar Ford Fusion Titanium would sticker at $33,685, while a comparable 2012 Toyota Camry XLE would list for $31,860.