Stick with the midsize sedan or go crossover?
With the rise of crossovers as the popular choice for American consumers, should you rule out midsize sedans as your next vehicle? Let’s take a look at the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox and 2018 Chevrolet Malibu to compare the two family cars’ advantages and disadvantages. For 2018, the Malibu is essentially unchanged from the previous model year, save for a larger 15.8-gallon fuel tank becoming standard on cars with the smaller 1.5-liter turbo-four. The Equinox is all-new and now features an all four-cylinder-engine lineup that includes the same turbocharged units found in the Malibu plus an efficient diesel engine.
This car comparison is based on our extensive knowledge and understanding of the automotive market, but not necessarily on recent driving experience.
Cargo Space Advantage: Equinox
Crossovers excel at carrying cargo, and the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox can haul between 29.9 cubic feet to 63.5 cubic feet depending on whether you fold down the split-folding second row. Additionally, thanks to the Equinox’s crossover body style, you’ve got a lot of vertical space to work with.
The Malibu has 15.8 cubic feet of trunk space, a decent cargo capacity for a sedan. Even with split-folding rear seats, however, the sedan won’t give you as much flexibility as the Equinox. Opt for the Malibu Hybrid, and the battery takes up a bit of the trunk space, cutting cargo capacity to 11.6 cubic feet.
Fuel Efficiency Advantage: Malibu
All of the Equinox’s utility comes at the cost of fuel economy compared to the Malibu. When both Chevrolets are equipped with the 1.5-liter turbo-four and six-speed automatic, the front-drive 2018 Equinox is EPA-rated at 26/32 mpg (9/7.3 L/100km) city/highway, compared to the 2017 Malibu’s 27/36 mpg (8.7/6.5 L/100km) (the 2018 Malibu hasn’t yet been EPA-rated). Go for the more powerful 2.0-liter turbo-four and its nine-speed automatic, and the front-drive 2018 Equinox is good for 22/29 mpg (10.7/8.1 L/100km), with the 2017 Malibu coming in at 22/33 mpg (10.7/7.1 L/100km).
Should you want the absolute best fuel efficiency, the Malibu is also available as a hybrid that’s EPA-rated for the 2017 model year at 49/43 mpg (4.8/5.5 L/100km). In comparison, the upcoming diesel-powered Equinox is expected to get 40 mpg (5.9 L/100km) on the highway, but its official fuel economy figures haven’t been announced yet.
Handling Advantage: Malibu
The Chevrolet Malibu offers better handling than a tall crossover such as the Equinox. In a recent test of the Malibu 2.0T Premier, we noted the car offered good handling for its size. The Equinox has secure handling for a crossover, but it’s still not going to beat a lighter car with a lower center of gravity.
In Motor Trend testing, a 2016 Malibu 1.5T finished the figure-eight course in 27.4 seconds with a 0.63 g average. As for the Equinox, a 1.5T model did the figure eight in 27.7 seconds with a 0.61 g average.
Acceleration Advantage: Malibu
Among midsize sedans, the Chevrolet Malibu equipped with the 250-hp 2.0-liter turbo-four and nine-speed automatic is one of the quickest, posting a 0-60-mph time of 5.7 seconds before finishing the quarter mile in 14.3 seconds at 99.4 mph (160 km/h). The same engine and transmission combo will also be available in the 2018 Equinox, but we doubt it will be able to match the sedan’s pace with or without the available all-wheel-drive system.
The lighter Malibu 1.5T offers quicker acceleration than a front-drive Equinox 1.5T, with a 2016 model hitting 60 mph in 8.5 seconds and finished the quarter mile in 16.5 seconds at 84 mph (135 km/h). The 2018 Equinox 1.5T, on the other hand, clocked in at 9.2 seconds to 60 mph and completed the quarter mile in 16.9 seconds at 81.2 mph (131 km/h).
Features Advantage: Tie
The Chevrolet Malibu and Equinox offer a comprehensive list of available features that includes everything from Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration to heated and ventilated front seats. On the tech front is where both cars excel, thanks to Chevrolet’s MyLink multimedia interface, which is easy to use. Additionally, both cars can be had with wireless device charging, a Bose premium audio system, and a 7.0-inch or 8.0-inch touchscreen.
Other Equinox and Malibu features include a panoramic sunroof, multiple USB ports, a heated steering wheel, and leather upholstery.
Safety Advantage: Tie
Regardless of whether you choose the Malibu or the Equinox, a full suite of active safety features is offered, with adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, low speed automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, auto high-beam headlights, and blind-spot warning. The Equinox offers full LED headlights in the Premier trim.
The Malibu got a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS because the car’s headlights got the lowest rating of Poor in testing and five stars from the NHTSA. As for the Equinox, the crossover hasn’t yet been fully tested by the IIHS or NHTSA, but its headlights received a Marginal rating from the IIHS (Marginal is one step above Poor in the organization’s ratings).
Four-Season Capability: Advantage: Equinox
Not everyone needs all-wheel drive, but for those who do, the Chevrolet Equinox offer you the option. Regardless of which engine you choose, the Equinox is available with four-wheel traction. If you want a midsize sedan with all-wheel drive, your options include the Subaru Legacy and select models in the Ford Fusion lineup.
Passenger Space Advantage: Tie
Both the Chevrolet Equinox and Malibu can seat up to five and have nearly the same passenger volume. Being taller and boxier, the Equinox comes up with slightly more passenger volume at 103.2 cubic feet versus the Malibu’s 102.9 cubic feet. In overall headroom, the Equinox offers 0.9 inch and 1.0 inch more front and rear headroom, respectively, compared to the Malibu without a sunroof. Add a sunroof and the Malibu comes out ahead by 0.9 and 0.6 inches, respectively.
The Malibu wins in front passenger legroom, with 42 inches versus the Equinox’s 40.9 inches, but the crossovers makes up for it with more rear-seat legroom at 39.7 inches versus 38.1 inches for the Malibu.
Ride Comfort Advantage: Tie
The Malibu and Equinox are both offered with a variety of alloy wheel sizes that go up to 19 inches in diameter. You’d think that only models with smaller alloy wheels will ride well, but that’s not the case with these two. In a 2018 First Test of the Equinox 1.5T, we noted that the crossover had a comfortable ride even with the 19-inch alloy wheels.
As for the Malibu, the loaded 2017 example we recently tested also features a smooth ride. Because the Malibu’s suspension veers more toward the comfort end of the spectrum, you won’t feel as many bumps on the road, and rough surfaces won’t bounce you around as much.
Which Fits Your Needs Best: The midsize sedan or the crossover?
For those who need utility, the Chevrolet Equinox is the better choice because it offers more usable space and a boxier shape. On the other hand, traditionalists should consider the Malibu and its superior fuel economy, thanks to its lighter weight. Go for the Malibu Hybrid for the best fuel economy (the Equinox isn’t offered as a hybrid), but that does come at the cost of trunk space.
Read more on the Malibu:
- Chevrolet Malibu 2.0T Premier First Test
- Chevrolet Malibu 2.0T First Test
- Chevrolet Malibu 1.5T First Test
- Chevrolet Malibu Turbo First Test
Read more on the Equinox