New & Used Chevrolet Malibu: In Depth
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The Chevrolet Malibu is the GM brand's mass-market four-door, a competitor for family cars like the mid-size sedan Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, and Toyota Camry.
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.
A derivative model called the Malibu Maxx was introduced in this generation. With a long hatchback profile, the Malibu Maxx wasn't at all packaged for the sportwagon crowd. Oddly, 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 proved thirsty in city driving.
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 back-seat 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-horsepower, 2.4-liter version of the Ecotec four-cylinder engine and a 252-horsepower, 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.
The newest, most efficient generation of the Malibu was introduced for the 2013 model year. The latest model is a bit smaller than the prior car, with a wheelbase 4.5 inches shorter--downsized to make marketing room for the big new 2014 Chevy Impala. While the interior package is tighter, new safety package and infotainment features are among its best ever.
A new trio of drivetrains 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, are standard on today's Malibu, 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.
For the 2014 model year, GM tried to address several shortcomings of the Malibu, reshaping its rear seat to create more adult-sized room. Chevy engineers also retuned the suspension for better damping.
For 2015, GM has dropped the Malibu Eco model, while it's upped the torque in the turbo four-cylinder. It's up to 295 pound-feet this year, which pushes its 0-60 mph time close to an even six seconds. Other changes are few, but the OnStar system now offers 4G LTE connectivity with the ability to create an in-car WiFi network.