New & Used Chevrolet Malibu: In Depth
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The Chevrolet Malibu is a mid-size sedan that competes with the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Honda Accord, and the Toyota Camry.
For more details on prices, options, and specifications, see our preview of the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu. You can also review the Chevy Malibu vs. its competition. And be sure to check out The Car Connection's full coverage of the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu.
There's been a Chevy Malibu in GM's lineup for decades, since the 1960s. It was a rear-wheel-drive sedan throughout the 1980s, but then transformed for 1997 into a smaller front-wheel-drive four-door sedan to replace the Corsica sedan. The last 15 years of Malibus haven't necessarily been known for advanced features or swift performance, but they have a reputation for providing good value.
The newest, most efficient generation of the Malibu was introduced for the 2013 model year. The new model is a bit smaller than the prior car, with a wheelbase 4.5 inches shorter--downsized to make room for the new 2014 Chevy Impala. While the interior package is tighter, new safety package and infotainment features are among its best ever, Chevy says.
A new trio of drivetrains makes the 2013 Malibu a four-cylinder-only car, like the Hyundai Sonata and Ford Fusion. While the base engine is a 197-hp, 2.5-liter four, the first model to launch was the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco. That high-MPG model teams a 2.4-liter four with a six-speed automatic and eAssist technology that uses an electric motor and a smlal lithium-ion battery pack to provide engine stop/start and electric assist for the gasoline engine. Active aero shutters and regenerative braking add up to better fuel economy of 37 mpg highway. At the top of the lineup is a turbocharged four-cylinder with 259 hp, good for a 0-60 mph time of 6.3 seconds, according to Chevy, and a higher grade of trim, including standard 18-inch wheels.
Eight airbags, including knee airbags, are standard, and rear side airbags are an option. Bluetooth and a rearview camera are available, as are a forward collision-alert system, and a lane-departure warning system. The Malibu offers Color-Touch navigation, an inexpensive GPS option, and offers smartphone connectivity that allows streaming of Bluetooth audio and feeds from Stitcher and Facebook.
.The 1997 Malibu was by all means a bland car. Powered by an economical 150-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine (a version of GM's much-maligned Quad Four) or 155-hp (later 170-hp), 3.1-liter V-6 (which felt much stronger, actually), the Malibu was only offered with a cushy suspension and four-speed automatic—and its interior, though it had the comfort basics covered, was drab and dull. Chevy dropped the four-cylinder engine completely in 2000.
The Malibu got a much-deserved full redesign for 2004. Built on a new global platform, the 2004-2008 Malibu was a bit more refined, handled better, and had a far improved interior (though it still felt too plasticky on the cheaper trims). The Malibu was a half-step smaller than mid-size entries like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, yet its interior was surprisingly roomy and comfortable. Its powertrain lineup consisted of a nice, fuel-efficient 144-horsepower Ecotec four-cylinder (with a manual gearbox possible), but the V-6 option on most Malibus—a 201-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6—was a little disappointing, saved only by its prodigious torque. A four-speed automatic was again the only transmission, and the combination just didn't feel very refined.
Oddly, the Malibu Maxx wasn't at all packaged for the sportwagon crowd; it was only offered with the 3.5-liter pushrod V-6 and four-speed automatic. A later Maxx SS model got a 3.9-liter version, making 240 horsepower, but this engine is thirsty in city driving.
The Malibu boredom was remedied for 2008, when GM completely redesigned the model, making it much longer to match mid-size rivals, with an interior and back-seat space that outclassed many sedans its size. The interior has vastly upgraded materials, and a design that's a clear step better than the layout of the former rental-car favorite. Powertrains included a 169-horsepower, 2.4-liter version of the Ecotec four-cylinder engine and a 252-horsepower, DOHC 3.6-liter V-6 that's a version of the engine previously used in the Cadillac CTS and SRX, among others.
For a short time, a mild-hybrid version of the 2009 Malibu was offered; it offered very slightly improved fuel economy over the four-cylinder versions and it failed to catch on. It was discontinued after a very short production run.
For 2010, the Chevrolet Malibu was named a Top Safety Pick under the new tighter requirements from the Insurance Industry for Highway Safety (IIHS), which include new roof-strength tests, and has also been more reliable than past models. The changes in 2011 to crash-test scoring leave the Malibu an IIHS Top Safety Pick, but the NHTSA ratings have fallen to four stars overall. The Malibu carried over essentially unchanged through 2012.