I wasn’t particularly fond of the last-generation Malibu. Compared to the competition, it was loud, unrefined, dynamically flawed, and remarkably cramped inside. The “emergency refresh”—GM for “Oh, drat, we forgot we had competition”—was but a small improvement. The new 2016 Chevrolet Malibu is the first clean-sheet redesign since that frankly quite awful car, and thankfully it appears that Chevy has taken a lot of the constructive criticism it received regarding the last-generation car to heart.
Lighter and longer than the version that came before it, the new 2016 Malibu is a much needed reimagining of what’s long been an also-ran in the midsize family-sedan segment. On our base Malibu 1LT tester, the buzzy, old base 2.5-liter I-4 that used to be found under the hood is long gone. In its place is a new 1.5-liter, turbocharged I-4 that makes 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Although that’s a 37-hp and 7-lb-ft deficit versus the old engine, the Malibu’s weight loss means the 1.5-liter mill doesn’t give up much to the old 2.5-liter four-banger in terms of performance. The 1.5 is only available with a six-speed automatic, though an eight-speed automatic is available on the 2016 Malibu’s optional 250-hp, 2.0-liter, turbocharged engine.
At the track, the 2016 Malibu 1.5T accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, only a tenth of a second slower than the last 2.5-equipped Malibu we tested. The Malibu is also a touch slower than the equivalent Ford Fusionâthe last Fusion we tested, a 2013 SE equipped with a 1.6-liter turbo-four and six-speed auto, needed 8.2 seconds to hit 60 mph from a standstill. At the dragstrip, the 2016 Malibu takes 16.5 seconds to go through the quarter mile, hitting 84.6 mph (136 km/h) in the process. That class-competitive performance ties the old Malibu’s time but is seven-tenths of a second slower than the old model.
Thanks to low-rolling-resistance eco-tires, the Chevy’s 60-0-mph braking performance leaves a bit to be desired, as it needs 127 feet to come to a stop. Those tires hurt a bit when it comes to limit handling performance, too. The Malibu lapped our figure-eight course in 27.4 seconds averaging 0.63 g through the process and managed 0.84 g average during lateral acceleration tests. The old Malibu lapped the figure eight in 27.8 seconds at 0.57 g average.
On the street, the new Malibu 1.5T is a pleasant surprise. Based on my experiences with the base engine in the last Malibu, I expected this one to be a dog. I’m quite happy to report that’s no longer the case. Although the last Malibu had lots of trouble dealing with freeway travel, whether it was merging, staying in one gear, or just not being a noisy box of bees, the new one has plenty of power to quickly and quietly merge on to the freeway or pass traffic, and it doesn’t have trouble picking and choosing a gear. From a ride and handling perspective, the 2016 Malibu is a major improvement over the old car. The suspension is compliant and happily soaks up bumps, and steering feel is pretty good considering the Chevy isn’t designed with sporty driving in mind.
Inside, I’m not fully sold on this base-level interior. Higher-spec Malibus have quite nice interiors, but our Malibu 1LT leaves much to be desired from a materials standpoint. My main complaint is with the cloth trim on the dash that wraps around the center stack. Other Malibus are finished with nice leather trim here. Our Malibu 1LT’s cloth trim, though, screams 1995 Lumina. The high-res MyLink infotainment system is quite good and makes the surrounding cloth and plastics look even more dated. Choice of trim notwithstanding, the rest of the interior is a big improvement over the outgoing Malibu, especially in the back seat. Back-seat passengers now have much more leg- and kneeroom than before, and headroom is fine for a 6-foot-tall adult. Back-seat passengers will also benefit from USB plugs and, more important, their own air-conditioning vents. The new Malibu’s trunk is shallow but long and otherwise spacious.
Ultimately, the new 2016 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT equipped with the new 1.5-liter turbo-four is a drastic improvement over the unloved (by us) car it replaces. As for how the improvement fairs against steep competition from Toyota, Honda, Ford, and others, only time (and a Big Test) will tell.
|2016 Chevrolet Malibu LT|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$27,985|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||1.5L/160-hp/184-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||193.8 x 73.0 x 57.7 in|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,124 lb (61/39%)|
|ACCELERATION, 0-60 MPH||8.5 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.5 sec @ 84.6 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||127 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.84 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.4 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||27/37/31 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||125/91 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.63 lb/mile (est)|