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2016 Chevrolet Malibu vs. 2016 Ford Fusion: Which Is Better?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro March 2016

If you're interested in a new midsize sedan, the 2016 Ford Fusion and the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu should be on your shopping list. Both are handsome, well-designed sedans, and both tout a long list of high-tech features along with recently updated designs. But which one is better? We've created a close comparison of both models to help you answer that question, but first let's see what's new with the Malibu and the Fusion for the 2016 model year.

2016 Chevrolet Malibu

The Chevrolet Malibu is a midsize sedan with a bold new look and several available powertrains. It's been completely redesigned for the 2016 model year with a new design, new features, an improved interior and a refined driving experience.

2016 Ford Fusion

The Ford Fusion is a popular midsize sedan with handsome lines and a smooth, comfortable driving experience. Redesigned a few years ago, the Fusion is largely unchanged for 2016.

Reliability

Unfortunately, industry experts at J.D. Power have not yet rated the Ford Fusion and Chevrolet Malibu for reliability. However, Chevrolet ranked near the top of the firm's recent Vehicle Dependability Study by automaker, while Ford ranked near the bottom. As for warranty coverage, the two models are the same: Both offer 3 years or 36,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper coverage and 5 years or 60,000 miles of powertrain protection.

Although we hesitate to pick a winner here, we're leaning toward the Malibu, though we're curious to see J.D. Power's ratings by model before deciding for sure.

Fuel Economy

The Malibu offers three engines. Most models get a 160-horsepower 1.5-liter 4-cylinder, which is mated to a standard 6-speed automatic and returns 27 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway. Drivers looking for more power can upgrade to a 250-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, which is mated to an 8-speed and returns up to 22 mpg city/33 mpg hwy. Finally, Chevy says a Malibu Hybrid is forthcoming. It's not on sale yet, but Chevy says it'll offer a 1.8-liter hybrid 4-cylinder and return up to 48 mpg in city driving.

The Fusion offers an even wider array of powertrains. Base models use a 175-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, which boasts up to 22 mpg city/34 mpg hwy. An eco-friendly 181-hp 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder touts up to 25 mpg city/37 mpg hwy. Drivers looking for more power can get a 240-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, which returns up to 22 mpg city/33 mpg hwy.

For drivers especially interested in gas mileage, the Fusion also offers two other options: a hybrid variant, which boasts a 188-hp hybrid 4-cylinder and returns 44 mpg city/41 mpg hwy, and a plug-in hybrid Energi model, which can travel up to 20 miles on electric power alone before a range-extending gasoline engine kicks in.

So which is best? If you skip the Fusion's mediocre 2.5-liter base powertrain, you'll find that both the Fusion and Malibu offer roughly identical fuel economy from their gas-powered engines. If you want even better gas mileage, the Malibu Hybrid seems like it'll be an impressive contender -- when it goes on sale. For now, the Fusion Hybrid (and plug-in hybrid Energi) is your only option if you're choosing between these two models.

Safety

Because it's so new, the latest Chevy Malibu has not yet been crash-tested by the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). However, last year's model earned strong ratings from both agencies. Meanwhile, the Fusion earned a perfect 5-star overall score from the NHTSA and good -- but not excellent -- ratings from the IIHS. The Fusion fell short of the firm's Top Safety Pick accolade after merely earning an Acceptable rating in the difficult front small-overlap crash test.

As for safety features, these two models offer virtually everything you could want, from adaptive cruise control to forward-collision warning, automatic high-beam control, lane-departure warning and more. The Malibu's sole benefit over the Fusion is an automatic forward-collision braking system (the Fusion merely offers brake priming), though we're told the Fusion will get a similar system next year.

As a result, these two models are tied -- although we think the Chevy could edge out the Fusion if it ends up with stronger safety ratings from IIHS.

Technology

Both the Malibu and the Fusion offer a long list of modern technology and features. In fact, choosing between the two models is hard because they're both among the most advanced midsize sedans on the road.

We've already covered many of their benefits in the Safety section, but their high-tech prowess goes well beyond safety: Both models offer excellent infotainment systems with large screens, heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheels, multispeaker sound systems (up to nine in the Malibu and up to 12 in the Fusion), remote starters, keyless access and much more. In short, these two cars almost feel more like luxury vehicles than midsize sedans, and neither has a substantial advantage over the other.

Value

Dollar for dollar, the Malibu and Fusion are roughly identical -- as are most midsize sedans, each of which tout about the same base price. In fact, the Malibu's starting price is only $240 more than the Fusion's, which is virtually meaningless in the grand scheme of car buying and negotiating.

However, we think the Malibu does offer one advantage. The Fusion offers only three trim levels (S, SE and Titanium), and the Malibu touts four options (L, LS, LT and Premier). The additional trim level, LT, helps to break up the huge price difference between the midlevel LS and the upscale Premier, and we think the Fusion could use a similar trim. To us, that alone makes the Malibu a slightly better value than its Ford rival.

Autotrader's Advice

We really like the 2016 Ford Fusion for its handsome styling, smooth ride and comfortable interior, but we really like the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu more. Although we're a little disappointed that the Malibu Hybrid isn't yet out, we like what we already see from the gas-powered model, from the sedan's excellent interior design to its reasonable pricing, its long list of available technology and its excellent driving experience. The Fusion is a great car, but the Malibu is an even better one.

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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 vs. 2016 Ford Fusion: Which Is Better? - Autotrader