It’s amazing what a difference relatively minor things like seat position, dash height, and trim contouring will make in the perception of interior space; these are all reasons why the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu feels far roomier than its predecessor than its modest gains in interior volume will otherwise suggest.
While the Malibu is 3.6 inches longer between the wheels than the previous version (and 2.3 inches longer overall), that still places it at the smaller end of the class.
The new platform is a reworked version of past GM mid-sizers, and the body structure—including the roofline—is completely new. The cant of the roofline in particular brings some meaningful improvement, as do that host of improvement to the front-seat space.
In particular the Malibu's interior feels like a spacious place to ride. The front-seat area is bettered with a lower driving position, while the dash has been lowered somewhat and the corners pushed outward—rather than following a "dual cockpit" layout. Thoughtful touches like console padding at knee height, and a little more bolstering and length in the seats, make this an interior that now feels bigger than those of many other mid-size sedans. In front, most adults will find that the Malibu's seats are supportive for all-day drives, or for especially long commutes.
Where the Malibu really overcomes the past model's shortcomings is in rear-seat space. It's clear that moving to a new architecture has boosted its status, making it one of the best back seats among all family four-doors. Chevy says rear-seat leg room is up 1.3 inches, and it feels like more—nearly as much as the larger Impala. There’s good leg support and a flat floor, and in this day of swoopier rooflines, the Malibu still has some of the best rear-seat head room now—although we caution that those well over 6 feet tall aren’t going to be comfortable with the carved-out portion at the back portion of the headliner.
Gas-powered Malibu models have 15.8 cubic feet of trunk space, while Hybrids have 11.6 cubic feet, the rest given over to batteries. The space available in Hybrids doesn’t seem that much smaller, realistically—although you forgo the mostly continuous flat space for a hump in the middle (that’s where the battery pack is).
GM has gone to lengths to cut noise from the Malibu as well, routing air intakes under the rear seats, and including active noise cancellation (a simple, sound-system-integrated version in sync with engine revs and aiming to cut low-rev engine resonance especially) on the non-hybrid models.
As such, the Malibu is a very quiet operator. You hear very little engine noise in the two non-hybrid versions. A little more engine noise makes its way into the cabin in Malibu Hybrid models, and it’s a bit more noticeable as the engine’s revs and intensity aren’t always in step with momentary acceleration and speed. Wind noise and road noise are kept out of the cabin, for the most part, although you do hear some impacts and rough patches from the surface.
About the only area in which the Malibu reveals that it’s not truly a luxury sedan is in its interior trims and materials. There are plenty of soft-touch surfaces up where it matters; yet the number of color and surface combinations are very limited.