New & Used Chevrolet Malibu: In Depth
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The Chevrolet Malibu is the automaker's mid-size sedan, wedged in between the Cruze compact cars and the Impala full-size four-door.
In the past, Chevrolet has used the Malibu nameplate on larger cars, with on-and-off use at Chevy since the 1960s. Today's Malibu is a front-driver with optional turbocharging and modern touchscreen controls. It's aimed at some of the best-selling vehicles on the market today, including the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Hyundai Sonata.
MORE: Read our 2016 Chevrolet Malibu review
The 2016 Chevy Malibu
Chevrolet is introducing a new Malibu for the 2016 model year. It wears much more dramatic styling and sits atop a wheelbase that's been stretched by four inches compared to the current model (which itself was shorter than its predecessor, something customers apparently didn't appreciate).
Standard models have a choice of turbocharged four-cylinder engines, with a 1.5-liter for base models and a 2.0-liter available as an option. The 1.5 earns a 37-mpg combined rating. Despite the size increase, Chevy claims a weight loss of about 300 pounds on comparable models.
There's also a new Malibu Hybrid, this time with a system that goes beyond the mild-hybrid setups offered in years past. The new system is essentially based on the battery and motor set from the 2016 Chevrolet Volt. Chevy pegs fuel economy at 48 mpg city, 45 mpg highway for its most efficient Malibu, which beats the ratings of the rest of the mid-size hybrids.
Chevy has sold a vehicle named Malibu since the 1960s, but it's evolved over time as tastes changed, from the V-8 and rear-drive Malibus of the Sixties and Seventies gave way to the downsized cars of the Nineties.
In 1997, the first modern Malibu was introduced. A replacement for the Chevy Corsica sedan, this Malibu was a smaller sedan than the most recent vehicle to wear the badge. It also was engineered around a front-wheel-drive architecture.
The 1997 Malibu was, by all measures, 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 nicer 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), or a V-6 option. That 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.
Within this generation only, Chevy offered a hatchback version of the Malibu. It carried the odd name of Malibu Maxx and featured a longer roof and not-quite-wagon shape. While it wasn't terribly sporty, it was originally offered only with the larger engine, a 3.6-liter V-6. Chevy also added an SS variant of the Maxx later in its lifecycle,featuring a 3.9-liter, 240-hp V-6 that was pretty thirsty and not terribly thrilling.
The Malibu boredom was remedied for 2008, when GM completely redesigned the model, making it much longer to better match mid-size rivals. GM also gave it an interior and backseat space that outclassed many sedans its size. The interior wore vastly upgraded materials, and a design that was a clear step better than the layout of the former rental-car favorite. Powertrains included a 169-hp, 2.4-liter version of the Ecotec four-cylinder engine and a 252-hp, DOHC 3.6-liter V-6, 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 tighter requirements from the Insurance Industry for Highway Safety (IIHS), which included new roof-strength tests. The changes in 2011 to crash-test scoring left the Malibu's IIHS Top Safety Pick award intact, but like many vehicles, its scores would fall as newer, tougher tests were introduced. The Malibu carried over essentially unchanged through 2012.
Chevy Malibu, 2013-2015
The Malibu that's on the way out after 2015 was just introduced for 2013. That car made a bit of an about-face, to focus more on efficiency in packaging, and in fuel efficiency. Chevy chose to make it smaller than its predecessor—it was about 4.5 inches shorter in wheelbase than its predecessor—in order to make room for a new Impala that was launched for the 2014 model year.
Though smaller on the inside, the new Malibu boasted advanced safety tech and new infotainment features that are big improvements over the car it replaces.
A new trio of drivetrains was launched with the latest Malibu, making it a four-cylinder-only car, like the Hyundai Sonata and Ford Fusion. In 2013, the base engine was a 197-hp, 2.5-liter four, but the first model to launch was the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco. That high-MPG model teamed a 2.4-liter four with a six-speed automatic and eAssist technology that uses an electric motor and a small lithium-ion battery pack to provide engine stop/start and electric assist for the gasoline engine. Active aero shutters and regenerative braking added up to better fuel economy of 37 mpg highway. At the top of the lineup was 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, were standard on this Malibu, and rear side airbags were an option. Bluetooth and a rearview camera were available, as were a forward collision-alert system, and a lane-departure warning system. The Malibu offered navigation and smartphone connectivity that allowed streaming of Bluetooth audio and feeds from Stitcher and Facebook.
GM attempted to address several shortcomings of the relatively new Malibu for the 2014 model year. The car was given a mild exterior refresh, with a new grille, headlights, and taillights. Inside, the rear seat was reshaped to increase room for adults. The suspension was also retuned with the goal of supplying better ride control.
For 2015, Chevy further refined the Malibu's powertrain options. The Eco model was no longer offered, while the turbocharged 2.0-liter was reprogrammed to produce more torque. With the figure rising to 295 lb-ft, the Malibu was capable of a 0-60 time of about six seconds. The Malibu also offered a high-speed data connection through AT&T's 4G LTE network, which also allowed owners to set up an in-car Wi-FI network for mobile devices.