The Malibu has excellent front seats and a generally good level of fit and finish. It's on the smaller end of the mid-size class in wheelbase length, and that cuts down on back-seat space and comfort.
Those front seats are some of the best we've experienced in a mass-market GM product. We've been pleasantly surprised by the seats in the Cruze and Sonic in the recent past, and the Malibu performs even better for long-distance driving comfort. The front seats are deeply pocketed, and have a wide range of adjustment to both cushions. The low-slung driving position goes well with the the low-set gauges, and even six-footers can find a good driving position with the telescoping wheel. After a half-dozen hours in every available Malibu, over two separate test drives, we've still felt fresh. The Malibu's active headrests get special notice, since they don't jut forward as far as those on some competitive models. It's a problem we're finding on more new vehicles as automakers seek out top crash-test ratings.
Moving into the back seat, the decision to recast the Malibu as the smaller, sportier Chevy mid-size sedan has its compromises. The Malibu's wheelbase is about 4.5 inches shorter than before, and it delivers 42.1 inches of front-seat leg room and 36.5 inches of rear legroom. Compare that with the Hyundai Sonata, at 45.5 inches front and 34.6 inches rear, or the titanic VW Passat at 42.4 inches front and 39.1 inches rear, and it's clear the Malibu sizes up more directly against the current Ford Fusion--or even the new Dodge Dart. It's gone from having one of the most spacious and comfortable rear seats, to one with much less elbow room.
The back seat is shaped in such a way to maximize the numbers, and that leaves it less comfortable for adult passengers. The rear bench is short and low, and still a little lacking in headroom for the tallest adults. We'd gladly give up a couple of tenths of an inch for a rear seat in the Malibu that sat a little higher, or was a little longer.
Trunk space is better, with more than 16 cubic feet of storage space. On the Eco model, it's slimmed down to make room for 2.0 cubic feet of Eco batteries; in all, the Eco trunk measures 14.3 cubic feet, larger than that found in many hybrids.In other small ways, the Malibu's been carefully shrunk. The center console doesn't seem to have room for a storage bin, but flick the protruding niblet under the LCD touchscreen and the panel flips up, revealing a storage space--albeit one without a USB port or power point, where you might expect them. They're in the center console, which doesn't have any rear-facing air vents on its backside for back-seat passengers.