Chevy Malibu is a storied nameplate, dating to 1964, with generations behind it -- some icons and others not so much. Two generations ago, Malibu debuted with elegant European styling, two-tone interiors, and rear legroom that was the envy of mainstream mid-sizers. Then, Chevrolet moved Malibu to its shorter mid-size architecture, crunching rear legs, and gave it granny styling that blended into a sea of exciting competitors. That changes for 2016.
The first smart move was handing design responsibility to John Cafaro, best known for designing the C5 Corvette and current Impala. The low and wide body with flying buttress affect fastback, and body creasing that recalls the Mercedes S-Class, are gorgeous. A horizontal twin-port grille is flanked by signature LED running lamps and flows into a deftly-creased hood. It's all much more aggressive, yet flowing beauty -- looking great over 18-inch alloys.
A four-inch stretch in wheelbase not only helps sleekify the styling, but also gives rear passengers ample legroom. Too bad our 2LT-grade test car traded upscale contrasting leather for low-rent gray cloth and hard plastic on the doors and dash. Cloth inserts on the dash and doors echo the Cruze and look good next to the slick touchscreen attached to the center dash.
Except, it comes up a little short on features. Sure, the infotainment system is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible. Without navigation (optional), you'll have to call OnStar (if you subscribe) or use your smartphone. It does have Bluetooth calling/streaming audio, wireless phone charging, keyless starting, several USB ports and 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, but you'll have to adjust your own climate control. There's no sunroof or heated seats either. I know, such sacrifice. Adding plusses, the leather-wrapped steering wheel and metallic painted surfaces on the console and doors are quite elegant.
It's true our trim level presented a weird combination of inelegant interior bits combined with cutting edge technology. You're really paying for the crash avoidance systems that include low speed mitigation braking, rear camera, blind zone alert, front/rear park assist, and forward collision alert systems. It would be ideal for salespeople. But, for a few thousand more, you can load up the Malibu however you wish.
Getting behind the wheel is more convincing as our car's 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers 250 horsepower to the front wheels through an 8-cog automatic gearbox. Run any reasonable speed and there is plenty of power on tap. The powertrain plus aerodynamic bodywork enable 22/33-MPG city/hwy. If that doesn't suit you, opt for the 48/45-MPG Malibu Hybrid or base 1.5-liter turbo-four that achieves 37-MPG hwy.
While I was musing about the car to a co-worker on the way to lunch, I launched the car into a sweeping Interstate on-ramp and put the hammer down. The sedan came out the other side as if channeling a sport coupe. Engineers removing 300 pounds from the car helps, but the chassis is firm and fun, soaking up city ugly patches with not a squeak nor harsh bump. Typical GM, Malibu provides a nice balance of handling and comfort.
I give Cafaro and his team mad props for the styling -- it's absolutely beautiful, a world-beating work of art. And, the powertrain and chassis engineers were clearly wide awake. Vastly improved rear legroom also goes on the leader board. But, Chevy can do better with some of the interior trim. Fix that, and Malibu will slay all competitors.
You can get a base Malibu with a 163 horsepower turbo-four for $21,625, but our test car came to, um, well, it's $30,490. Competitors include the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, and VW Passat.
Follow Casey on YouTube and Twitter: @AutoCasey.
2016 Chevy Malibu 2LT
- Five-passenger, FWD sedan
- Powertrain: 250hp 2.0-liter T4, 8-spd trans
- Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
- Wheels f/r: 18"/18" alloy
- Brakes f/r: disc/disc
- Must-have features: Style, powertrain
- Fuel economy: 22/33 mpg city/hwy
- Assembly: Fairfax, KS
- Base/as-tested price: $21,625/30,490