The Malibu nameplate has been a follower in recent history; but styling is one way GM hopes it can leap to more of a leadership position.
Although the Malibu that had been in production until 2013 had pleasant proportions—just with a few fine details lacking—the outgoing car through 2015 took some undeniable steps backward in overall comeliness. With tall, ungainly proportions and some unnecessary theming, such as taillights that were supposed to suggest the Corvette, and an arched roofline that looked out of step with the rest of the profile.
Now, it looks like Chevy has worked downward from its handsome Impala, tidying it to svelte proportions, with a long new body and rich-looking interior that do completely away with any historic references or cues.
Instead, the new Malibu shares a lot of themes with the best sellers in its class. Now that every automaker from Kia to Toyota is aiming for drama—or at the very least, some decidedly European-luxury cues—in what was formerly Bland City. To that, the Malibu dives cautiously in—with a subtle wave stamped into its flanks, and a gentle intersection of sculpting that conjured up some of the "flame surfacing" that BMW has used to cut visual heft from its cars.
Proportionally, the car's been stretched quite a bit, and the nose has dropped—though it's actually lost weight, all credited to more high-strength steel. There’s more length in the doors, designers had to place "Malibu" script on the front pair to break up the big swaths of sheet metal. The strategy earns more of a greenhouse around the front two thirds of the car—accented even more by thinner front pillars—yet the lift of the rear flanks and tail manifest in a narrow rear window.
Narrow taillights in back aren’t too far from what’s used in the Mazda 6 or Kia Optima, and they fit right in with the tapered tail and hexagonal exhaust outlets. At the front, the Malibu feels bolder, reinterpreting its twin grilles into narrower bands—one at the top, with headlights and air intakes sitting atop a larger grille, and a lower set that gives the front end a balanced feel and more stylish lighting signature. It’s a bit hard to know where to focus the eyes at first, and we’re split on whether the face is a great introduction for the rest of the “at ease” design; it’s almost as if Chevrolet designers tried too hard to make this model’s snout some midpoint between Chevy’s small cars and its trucks. Yet despite it all, the thing worth pointing out is how balanced the new Malibu feels, front-to-rear.
Inside, the look is charming and elegant while also somewhat understated. The upright, swoopy, two-tiered layout to the dash has been dropped for 2016 in favor of a more conventional shape. GM has lowered the dash and pushed it forward slightly; corners have also been pushed outward, adding up to a Inside, the Malibu has dropped the twin-binnacle, tiered look, striking out with a more conventional shape that's far more unified and appealing. The center stack makes space for bigger MyLink infotainment screens, while it also factors in some interesting trim choices—fabric-wrapped panels on less expensive trim levels, metallic-look on others, a leather-looking synthetic wrap on dash and console trim on top models.
There’s a place for buttons in this interior—both a design and functionality decision that many buyers will appreciate. Thankfully, Chevy hasn’t renewed its contract for plastichrome trim, as there’s very little of that brightwork here.