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2018 Chevrolet Malibu: New Car Review

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author photo by Autotrader September 2017

The 2018 Chevrolet Malibu is a midsize sedan with a sporty appearance, numerous engine options, including a hybrid (reviewed separately), and a price tag that keeps it competitive with segment leaders like the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. The 5-passenger Malibu is also a technological triumph, offering one of the best infotainment systems we've tested, as well as a full complement of advanced driver-assist features. Fuel economy is also a Malibu strong point, as is its improving resale value.

But does the Malibu's bold look hide a mediocre car underneath? For the first time in years when talking about this Chevy, we can honestly say that we don't think so. While some might lament the lack of a V6 engine option, the Malibu's turbocharged 2.0-liter has enough power to prove even the most stubborn skeptics wrong. If you're interested in a midsize sedan, it might surprise you to discover that this is absolutely one that deserves a spot on your shopping list.

What's New for 2018?

The Malibu remains largely unchanged for 2018. A new Redline Edition appearance package is offered this year, and all models get an upgrade to the Premier trim's 15.8-gallon gas tank.

What We Like

Handsome design; modern interior; comfortable ride; large infotainment screen

What We Don't

Mediocre base engine; 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder only available on most expensive trim; no all-wheel-drive variants

How Much?

$22,555-$38,000

Fuel Economy

The latest Malibu offers three engines: two traditional gas-powered engines and a hybrid power plant we've covered in a separate review. Most models use a 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that touts 163 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, mated to a standard 6-speed automatic transmission. This engine is the best choice for drivers who prioritize fuel efficiency, as it offers an Environmental Protection Agency-rated 27 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway.

Drivers who want more power can upgrade to the Premier's 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, which boasts a bulky 250 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. This engine is mated to a standard 9-speed automatic transmission and earns an estimated to 22 mpg city/32 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The 2018 Chevrolet Malibu comes in four trim levels: L, LS, LT and Premier.

The Malibu L ($22,555) is pretty basic, as it comes standard with only 16-inch steel wheels with hubcaps, Bluetooth, a 6-speaker stereo, power accessories, air conditioning, cruise control and keyless entry with push-button ignition.

Next up is the LS ($24,100), which adds GM's OnStar system with 4G LTE Wi-Fi, 16-in alloy wheels, GM's MyLink infotainment system (accompanied by a 7-in touchscreen and both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay), a rearview monitor and Bluetooth audio.

From there, drivers can opt for the LT ($26,000), which adds 17-inc alloy wheels, a power driver's seat, rear climate-control vents, satellite radio, LED running lights and heated mirrors.

Topping the range is the high-end Premier ($31,850), which offers a luxury-carlike array of features that includes the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, 19-in wheels, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8-in touchscreen, a power passenger seat, a wireless smartphone-charging system, a navigation system and a 9-speaker Bose sound system.

The Malibu also offers a few options, most of which include features from higher trim levels. Also optional is a sunroof and two different Driver Confidence packages, which tout modern safety gadgets such as automatic high beams, forward-collision warning with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and even a self-parking system. A new Redline Edition package adds 19-in black alloy wheels, blacked out grille and bowtie badges, Jet Black interior and one of four exterior color choices: Silver Ice Metallic, Iridescent Pearl, Summit White or Mosaic Black Metallic.

Safety

In government crash tests, the Chevrolet Malibu earned an overall 5-star rating, with 5-star scores in the front- and side-impact tests and 4 stars in the rollover test. The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Malibu its highest rating of Good in every crash test, Superior in the crash avoidance and mitigation category, and even awarded it a Top Safety Pick honor.

As for safety features, the Malibu has a lot to offer. While we bemoan the lack of a standard rearview monitor on the base L, all Malibu models offer standard anti-lock brakes, side-curtain airbags and GM's Rear Seat Reminder, which helps remind the driver to check the rear seat for children or pets before exiting the vehicle. The latest Malibu also touts a wide range of safety options, from forward-collision warning with automatic braking to lane-departure warning, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, a blind spot monitoring system and more.

Behind the Wheel

On the road, the 2018 Malibu offers a lot of impressive characteristics. While it isn't the most engaging midsize sedan -- that honor goes to the Mazda6, with the Ford Fusion a close runner-up -- we vastly prefer the new Malibu's driving experience to that of the model that came before it. It's light on its feet, sporty and yet composed in corners. It also offers high levels of comfort and a cabin that's well-insulated from road and engine noise.

If there's one kink in the Malibu's otherwise excellent design, it's the rather weak 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. At 163 hp, this motor offers less power than any competitor's and even falls behind the engines in some compact cars such as the VW GTI and Mazda3. We almost wish Chevy had kept the previous generation's 196-hp 4-cylinder -- which was one of the most potent among midsize sedans, returning 25 mpg city/36 mpg hwy, figures nearly identical to the current model's.

Other Cars to Consider

2018 Volkswagen Passat -- The Passat offers more rear seat room but slightly worse fuel economy. The Passat's base engine is more powerful than the Malibu's standard offering, and its driving characteristics are more athletic.

2018 Ford Fusion -- The Fusion is an excellent contender in this popular segment, boasting handsome styling, forward-thinking technology and several available models, including a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid and an all-wheel-drive variant.

2018 Honda Accord -- The Honda Accord is all new this year, but it remains among the best midsize sedans thanks to notorious durability, a roomy interior, reasonable pricing and a lot of different variants.

Used Chevrolet Impala -- If you like the Malibu's general design and interior but need more space, consider Chevrolet's larger Impala. Higher pricing means you may need to consider a used 2014 -2016 model, however.

Autotrader's Advice

If you're choosing a Malibu, it's hard not to pick the upscale Premier model. In addition to touting high-end features such as a navigation system and ventilated seats, it also comes standard with some must-haves, including a more powerful 2.0-liter engine, dual-zone automatic climate control and a power passenger seat. Opt for one of Chevy's Driver Confidence packages and you're basically driving a luxury car.

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New 2018 Chevrolet Malibu LT
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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.
2018 Chevrolet Malibu: New Car Review - Autotrader