2019 Chevrolet Malibu Review

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2018
The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Andrew Ganz Andrew Ganz
August 27, 2018

The 2019 Chevrolet Malibu is a likeable sedan, but it requires some compromises when it comes to essential safety tech.

The 2019 Chevrolet Malibu is a mid-size sedan that almost makes up in style what it lacks in advanced active safety tech.

Attractive styling, a quiet demeanor, and excellent infotainment software elevate the 2019 Malibu to 6 out of 10 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

For 2019, the Malibu gained a new transmission for most models, an RS appearance package, and light styling revisions for all trims including L, LS, LT, and Premier.

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The new look works well on the Malibu, a sedan that already had curves and lines in all the right places. Up front, its grille stretches extra wide with chrome lines that run into its squinting headlights. Large side windows and a sloping roofline give the sedan a hatchback look, one that’s reinforced by its tapered tail.

The Malibu doesn’t score points for its interior, though. It’s fine—little more, little less. The highlight is its standard 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, but the tech story doesn’t end there. High-spec Malibus are rolling mobile wi-fi hotspots with numerous USB outlets, a wireless charging pad, parent company GM’s OnStar concierge and safety telematics, and digital instrument clusters.

Underhood, the Malibu comes standard with a 1.5-liter turbo-4 rated at 163 horsepower that pairs to a new continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The transmission works well with the turbo engine and features simulated “gears” to eliminate the rubber band feel of older CVTs. A 2.0-liter turbo-4 is optional, and with 250 hp it endows the sedan with excellent acceleration. The larger turbo-4 pairs exclusively to a 9-speed automatic.

The Malibu Hybrid uses a non-turbo 1.8-liter inline-4 paired to a lithium-ion battery and an electric motor to sip fuel at a rate of just 46 mpg combined, according to the EPA. The Malibu Hybrid’s powertrain makes a respectable 182 horsepower.

All Malibus ride and handle well, with quick, accurate steering and a ride tuned for comfort rather than sportiness. This year’s new RS trim level looks the part with its 18-inch wheels and blacked-out trim, but it doesn’t bring any suspension tweaks to the party.

Where the Malibu lets us down is in its weak active safety gear availability, even if its crash-test scores have been good. Rivals such as the Toyota Camry, Mazda 6, and Honda Accord come standard with automatic emergency braking. On the Malibu, that tech we consider essential for mid-size sedan buyers is a costly option available only on certain trim levels.

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2019 Chevrolet Malibu

Styling

The 2019 Chevy Malibu draws heads outside, but its interior doesn’t excite.

A light refresh has left the 2019 Chevrolet Malibu looking better than ever. We award it a point for its stylish exterior, but we can’t get into its dull interior. It’s a 6 out of 10 in our eyes. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The 2019 Malibu casts an upscale shadow thanks to its long roofline and three side windows. Its sides are voluptuous, but not excessively so. Up front, an extra-wide grille is flanked by narrow strips of headlights. Chrome detailing ties it all together nicely. We especially like the Malibu’s clean tail with its pert styling and Audi A7-like detailing.

The Malibu RS is new this year and it adds 18-inch alloy wheels and blacked-out trim for an upscale, sporty look.

Inside, the Malibu is pleasantly laid out but light on thrills. Models with cloth seats have an odd mesh-like fabric festooned to their dashboards, but the vinyl on leather-seated Malibus works better.

Most controls are grouped below a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment that takes center stage. Credit to Chevy for not abandoning traditional “PRNDL” shift levers in favor of the frustrating buttons and knobs now used in some rivals.

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2019 Chevrolet Malibu

Performance

The 2019 Chevrolet Malibu’s suspension smothers bumps and its turbo engines provide good power.

The 2019 Chevrolet Malibu has sporty looks, but it stops well short of entertaining when it comes to its driving experience. That’s all right, as we’re able to overlook its lack of thrills thanks to its comfortable ride quality.

We rate the 2019 Malibu line at 6 out of 10, but the powerful engine in the Malibu Premier would be worth a point on its own. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Most Malibus on dealer lots feature a 1.5-liter turbo-4 rated at 163 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque that shuttles power forward via a new continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). We’ve only had brief stints behind the wheel of the 2019 Malibu with this new transmission, but what we’ve seen has been favorable. It simulates “geared” shifts well and healthy torque means that the engine doesn’t have to be revved for power.

The optional 2.0-liter turbo-4 is rated at 250 hp, but it’s relegated to only the Malibu Premier trim level. This engine doesn’t overwhelm the Malibu’s front wheels and works well with the 9-speed automatic to provide solid, confident highway passing power.

The Malibu that surprises us is the Hybrid. It uses a 1.8-liter inline-4 teamed with a 1.5-kwh lithium-ion battery. This duo is rated at 182 horsepower combined and is capable of scooting to nearly 55 mph on electric power alone. However, there’s no “EV” mode like in rivals such as the Honda Accord Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid, so drivers can’t decide when they want to go gas-free.

The Malibu Hybrid weighs just 3,500 pounds and scoots to 60 mph in just 7.8 seconds, making it a little quicker than the base 1.5-liter.

All Malibus handle well with confident handling thanks to a poised chassis and accurate steering, even if they’re not sporty cars. RS and Premier trims ride on 18-inch alloy wheels that provide a little more grip, but their reflexes are no sharper than other Malibus with 16- and 17-inch wheels.

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2019 Chevrolet Malibu

Comfort & Quality

The 2019 Chevy Malibu has a comfortable, roomy interior that could feel a little more special.

The 2019 Chevrolet Malibu handles passengers and their cargo well, but most versions remind buyers that they’re not in luxury cars. We rate the Malibu at a 6 out of 10. We get there by adding points for comfortable front seats and a roomy rear seat, but dialing back one point for some unappealing interior trim choices. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Front-seat passengers have comfortable thrones that offer a good view out. Most 2019 Malibus on dealer lots have an 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, but a 6-way manual seat is standard.

In the well-sculpted rear seat, the Malibu has about 38 inches of leg room. Three abreast is doable thanks to 53.4 inches of hip room.

The Malibu’s sloping tail cuts into its trunk somewhat, reducing volume to 15.8 cubic feet. The Malibu Hybrid is even tighter at just 11.6 cubes thanks to the lithium-ion battery pack’s mounting location.

Malibu sedans with cloth upholstery have an unappealing mesh-like fabric draped across their dashboards. Opt for leather in a Malibu LT or Premier and Chevy swaps in a nicer vinyl trim matched to the seats.

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2019 Chevrolet Malibu

Safety

The 2019 Chevrolet Malibu has performed well in crash testing, but it’s light on active safety tech.

The 2019 Chevrolet Malibu is behind the times when it comes to active safety tech. We rate it at 6 out of 10, adding points for good crash-test results from the IIHS and the NHTSA but dialing one back for the fact that Chevy makes buyers pay extra for what’s standard on rivals. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Over the next few years, nearly all new cars will come standard with automatic emergency braking. The 2019 Malibu comes standard with 10 airbags but makes buyers select not one but two extra-cost packages to gain that life-saving technology that’s now standard on most mid-size sedan rivals.

Only the Malibu LT and Premier are available with the extra-cost Driver Confidence Package, which adds parking sensors and blind-spot monitors, and then you’ll need to select the Driver Confidence Package II with its active lane control, low-speed automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and automatic high-beam headlights.

Bafflingly, Chevy restricts full-speed automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control to the Driver Confidence Package III, which is optional only on the range-topping Malibu Premier.

The IIHS called the low-speed braking system in the second package “Advanced” and said that Chevy’s full-speed system is “Superior.”

Overall, last year’s Malibu equipped with active safety tech was rated a Top Safety Pick. But there were some blemishes: A “Marginal” rating in the passenger-side small-overlap test that simulates impact with an object such as a telephone pole and a “Poor” rating for its headlights. When the IIHS crashes a 2019 Malibu, we’ll make sure to update this space.

The NHTSA rated the Malibu at five stars overall, with four stars for rollover.

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2019 Chevrolet Malibu

Features

The 2019 Chevy Malibu is a high-tech mid-size sedan.

Even the base version of the 2019 Chevrolet Malibu has a terrific infotainment system with high-tech features. That’s enough to get it a point above average, bringing the 2019 Malibu to 6 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

We’d award this sedan another point if Chevy didn’t make buyers jump through hoops to get active safety tech, too.

The base Malibu L comes with power features, an 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, Bluetooth, cruise control, and 16-inch wheels with hubcaps. It’s not a bad value at about $23,000 for a basic mid-size sedan.

Most buyers will probably step up to the Malibu LS, which adds acoustic glass, visor mirrors, an outside temperature gauge, alloy wheels, GM’s OnStar concierge and safety service, and a host of other small items that make it worth the $1,000 more it costs over the L.

This year’s new Malibu RS looks great for $25,000 with its 18-inch wheels, power driver’s seat, and blacked-out trim, and leather-wrapped steering wheel, but there are no suspension changes.

Our recommendation is to start with the Malibu LT, but even then you’ll need to add two extra-cost option packages to get the active safety tech we consider essential for a mid-size sedan. The LT costs $27,300 and adds dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, and rear seat climate vents.

At the top of the line, the Malibu Premier throws in Bose audio, a high-definition touchscreen with navigation, leather seats, 18-inch wheels, cooled front seats, heated rear seats, and the 2.0-liter turbo-4 engine for $32,500. Still, Chevy charges extra for active safety tech on its range-topper.

The Malibu Hybrid is equipped like the LT and it costs about $29,000.

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2019 Chevrolet Malibu

Fuel Economy

We’re waiting on the feds to weigh in on the 2019 Chevy Malibu’s new transmission.

Before we can rate the 2019 Chevrolet Malibu for its fuel economy, we need to hear some numbers from the EPA. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

A new continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) fitted to Malibus with the 1.5-liter turbo-4 engine should improve fuel economy over last year, but the EPA has yet to weigh in.

So far, the feds have only rated the 2019 Malibu Premier with its 2.0-liter turbo-4. At 22 mpg city, 32 highway, 26 combined, it’s fairly economical for a 250-hp sedan. However, the Malibu Premier uses costly premium fuel.

It’s likely that the Malibu Hybrid’s 49/43/46 mpg rating won’t change much from last year. We do expect last year’s 27/36/30 mpg rating for the vast majority of Malibu sedans to improve thanks to the new CVT.

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$22,090
MSRP based on 4-Door Sedan L w/1VL
 
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6.0
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 6
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 6
Safety 6
Features 6
Fuel Economy N/A
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