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2016 Chevrolet Malibu: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Mark Elias December 2015

It seems like everyone is on a diet. That includes the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu, which joins other svelte Chevrolet models such as the Camaro and Corvette in this downward trend. Now in its ninth generation, it gets a total makeover that includes a weight loss of 300 pounds, positioning it to better battle its international rivals.

A World Car

More than 50 years old, the Malibu was one of the first members of the midsize segment. Now longer, lower and leaner, it features more design considerations and content that company officials hope will allow it to continue its strong sales (more than 10 million units) to more than 25 worldwide markets. The bulk of those sales are in the U.S., China and Korea.

Smaller Is Bigger

It's a tough segment with competition from the Hyundai Sonata, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and, of course, the Toyota Camry, so GM is taking nothing for granted. To that end, Chevrolet is offering three powertrains for the front-wheel-drive 2016 Malibu, including an all-new 1.5-liter turbocharged Ecotec 4-cylinder engine. In addition to its start/stop functionality, it's good for 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, which it sends to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates mileage figures of 27 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway.

Those seeking more power can buy their Malibu with General Motors' well-respected 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder Ecotec engine that's also at home in the Cadillac ATS and CTS models. Making, in this case, 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, it's mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. GM claims it's the first use of an 8-speed in a front-wheel-drive configuration and should be good for fuel economy numbers of 22 mpg city/32 mpg hwy.

Rounding out the trio is the Malibu Hybrid, which uses the technologies and experiences gleaned from the Chevrolet Volt and Silverado dual-mode hybrid engines. With its 1.8-liter naturally aspirated 4-cylinder gas engine, it combines with an electric motor for acceleration and EV operation. The gas engine can act as an overdrive during highway driving and regenerates electrical charge to the prismatic lithium-ion batteries.

While the power-generating gas engine produces 122 hp on its own, the entire gas and electric package combines for a total 182 hp. During brief drive loops, the refinements from this hybrid powertrain made us actually forget that we were driving an alternative power vehicle. While the EPA has not released fuel economy figures for the Malibu Hybrid, preliminary results by GM come in at 48 mpg city/45 mpg hwy and 47 mpg combined.

Stylishly Handsome

For 2016, the Malibu features a new, longer look (by 2.3 inches) that GM officials claim to be modern, but it's not particularly creative or clever. Sitting lower than before, it appears nearly as large as the Chevrolet Impala in our mind's eye. But like many things in life, looks can be deceiving. What has happened with the new Malibu is that engineers have managed to stretch the platform, also shared with the new Buick Lacrosse, by adding 4 inches to the wheelbase. Inside, that allowed designers to use a new low and away dashboard design that imparts a feeling of spaciousness inside the cabin and an additional 1.3 inches of rear-seat legroom.

The 2-stage Chevrolet grille is once again prominently displayed, although we think the brand's bowtie logo could go on a diet of its own. From the side view, we were instantly drawn by the sculpted yet clean side panels that sweep rearward into an almost Audi-like tail. Overall, we think the Malibu is one of GM's best looks to date.

Chevrolet will offer the Malibu in five trim levels ranging from the base L, LS, LT, Hybrid and Premier levels. A well-equipped L carries an MSRP of $22,250, while the high-zoot Premier starts at $31,795. All prices include a destination fee of $875.

Tech and Design Inside

While not laden with features -- such as an adaptive suspension system or cylinder deactivation, for instance -- the Chevrolet Malibu does not scrimp as far as high tech is concerned. Notable in this new Malibu is the latest iteration of the Chevrolet MyLink system with Apple CarPlay and the soon-to-be-available Android Auto apps.

Accessing Apple CarPlay is as easy as plugging in your iPhone (compatible smartphones range from the 5 to the 6s). Gone are the days of Bluetooth pairing because the system software immediately recognizes the compatibility and makes the 8-inch display screen mimic the appearance of your iPhone or iPad. Drivers with non-navi-equipped cars can access the Apple Maps app display on the big screen for directions and a moveable map as though it were a factory-installed option. The Malibu can also take advantage of the available OnStar 4G LTE system for high-speed Wi-Fi connectivity.

Other tech applications include a new Teen Driver system, which is available on the LT version and standard on the Premier. This is similar to Ford's MyKey system. The system allows parents to program a specific speed they don't want their young drivers to exceed. A geo-fencing app notifies parents when their young children drive beyond a prescribed area. And the best part? Parents can follow up by checking the report card feature, which (for a subscription fee) displays recent behaviors. Big Brother, indeed.

The Malibu's Driver Confidence package ($1,195) is new for 2016 and includes forward-collision alert, forward-collision avoidance braking, low-speed front automatic braking, front park assist, rear park assist, front pedestrian braking, lane-departure warning and lane-change alert with side blind-zone alert. Those wanting more assurances can order the Driver Confidence II system ($1,295) and its adaptive cruise control, automatic parking assist and front automatic braking.

On the Road

Power from the Malibu's 1.5-liter Ecotec engine delivered enough power for most non-enthusiast drivers. Mated to the 6-speed automatic transmission, it was perfectly at home in most situations, including winding roads and climbing grades on suburban highways.

At the same time, the 2.0-liter Ecotec engine, with its 8-speed automatic transmission, was quick-shifting without any hunting throughout its range. With either engine choice, we were extremely impressed with the Malibu's exceptionally quiet ride on all but the worst roads.

Handling was top-notch thanks to the 4-in wheelbase extension and the pair of MacPherson struts in front, as well as the multilink kit in the rear. The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system offered steering ease at slow speed and firmed up nicely when at highway cruising speed.

Through all the improvements in engineering and fuel economy, the automaker made the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu viable for at least the next few years, if not the next 50.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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Used 2016 Chevrolet Malibu LS
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Chevrolet Malibu: First Drive Review - Autotrader