The 2021 Chevrolet Malibu is the largest sedan in Chevy’s lineup. As such, this midsize 5-seat front-wheel-drive sedan competes with the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, plus others like the Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, and Kia K5.
For the most part, the Malibu holds up well against these challenges, even though its turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, with 160 horsepower, is satisfactory at best. At least it gives the Malibu excellent fuel economy. The base 2021 Chevy Malibu with the 1.5 and the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) gets an impressive 36 mpg on the highway.
While we wish the Malibu had more advanced driver-assist features as standard equipment, it does have a great standard infotainment system. And if you’re willing to pay for the top model, the Malibu Premier, you’ll get a full complement of driver-assist features and much better engine: a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that puts out 250 horsepower and teams with a conventional 9-speed automatic transmission.
Although this Chevrolet might not be first in mind when thinking of midsize sedans, the Malibu is good enough to deserve consideration.
What’s New for 2021?
Wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto is standard on all versions of the 2021 Chevrolet Malibu. Other changes include a new Sport appearance package (that’s heavy on black trim), and a new color: Cherry Red Tintcoat.
The only other change of significance is Buckle to Drive being made standard in all 2021 Malibus. This safety feature requires that the driver’s safety belt be fastened before the Malibu can be shifted from Park into Drive. See the 2021 Chevrolet Malibu models for sale near you
What We Like
- Wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Handsome styling
- Modern interior
- Comfortable ride
- Large infotainment screen
What We Don’t
- Mediocre base engine
- Turbo 2.0-liter engine available only in top model
- No all-wheel drive (AWD) version
- Only the top models get advanced driver assists
- No Malibu Hybrid (discontinued in 2020)
The latest Malibu is available with two gasoline engines. Standard in all models except the top Malibu Premium is a turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder that puts out 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. It mates exclusively to a CVT.
Drivers who place a big importance on fuel economy should choose the 1.5. The Malibu with the 1.5 is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at 29 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. That’s good.
The 2021 Malibu Premier is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, a much punchier powerplant with a healthy 250 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. This engine mates to a conventional 9-speed automatic transmission, and it gives the Malibu respectable EPA figures of 22 mpg city/32 mpg hwy.
Standard Features & Options
As in 2020, there are five trim levels for the Malibu for 2021: L, LS, RS, LT, and Premier.
The Malibu L ($23,065) is well-equipped for a base model. Standard fare includes cruise control, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, an 8-in touchscreen, keyless ignition, air conditioning, keyless ignition, and Chevy’s good Infotainment 3 interface.
OnStar with 4G LTE Wi-Fi is standard on the Malibu LS ($24,195), along with Teen Driver, Buckle to Drive, an outside temperature gauge, and an available power driver’s seat.
The RS ($25,195) brings a blacked-out sport grille and badges, plus 18-in alloy wheels, power mirrors, a rear spoiler, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift lever.
If you want satellite radio, an available sunroof, rear a/c vents, and dual-zone automatic climate control, they come on the Malibu LT ($27,595), which also profits from 17-in alloy wheels, a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, heated power-adjustable mirrors, and LED running lights. The sporty-looking Malibu Sport and Malibu Redline versions are based on the LT.
Luxury abounds in the Malibu Premier ($34,295). This flagship Malibu gets the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and 9-speed automatic transmission, plus 19-in alloy wheels, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated power front seats, a heated steering wheel, wireless smartphone charging, heated rear seats, a sunroof, navigation, and a 9-speaker Bose sound system. The Malibu Premier also has LED headlights and taillights
Most Malibu options are included in packages that offer equipment from higher trim levels. Two different Driver Confidence packages are available, offering modern safety features like forward-collision warning with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and even a self-parking system.
The Malibu Premier can be ordered with an Enhanced Driver Confidence package that includes enhanced emergency braking (with pedestrian detection) and an electronic parking brake.
In U.S. government National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash tests, the Chevrolet Malibu has earned an overall 5-star rating, with 5-star scores in the front- and side-impact tests and a 4-star rating in the rollover test.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has given the Malibu its highest rating of Good in every crash test except the passenger-side small overlap front test, which earned a Marginal rating. The Malibu earned a Superior rating in the crash avoidance and mitigation category.
Safety features include 10 airbags and a reminder for the driver to check the rear seat for children or pets before exiting the Malibu. The Malibu also comes with Teen Driver standard.
Don’t know Teen Driver? It’s a system that helps groom high school kids into better drivers by allowing their parents to set limits on parameters like vehicle speed and stereo volume. At the end of each teen driving session, a driver report card issued by Teen Driver can be used for a later coaching session.
One other standard safety feature on the 2021 Chevy Malibu is Buckle to Drive. When activated, this feature prevents the car from being shifted into Drive if the driver’s seat belt hasn’t been buckled. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data show that the majority of teenagers who die in crashes are unbuckled.
Optional safety features on the Malibu include a forward-collision warning with automatic braking, a 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 2021 Malibu impresses. While it isn’t the most engaging midsize sedan — that honor goes to the Mazda6 — the Malibu feels light on its feet, sporty and totally comfortable yet composed in corners. Its cabin also is well-insulated from road and engine noise.
If there’s one kink in this Chevrolet sedan’s otherwise excellent design, it’s this: The Malibu’s 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine puts out only 160 hp, which is quite a bit less than its competitors. At least the 1.5 is good for fuel economy – the Malibu returns an impressive 36 mpg in EPA testing.
A much better choice is the 2.0-liter engine with 250 horsepower and the 9-speed automatic. But it’s available only in the Malibu Premier, the most expensive model.
Other Cars to Consider
2020 Honda Accord — The Accord is hard to beat, thanks to its proven durability, roomy interior, outstanding resale, fun driving manners, and multiple variants.
2020 Toyota Camry — Like the Accord, the Camry is another proven player. Still available with a V6. You can get an all-wheel-drive Camry, too.
2020 Volkswagen Passat — VW’s sedan offers more rear-seat room, but slightly worse fuel economy. Its driving characteristics are a bit more athletic.
2020 Nissan Altima — The Altima looks good, and it’s available with a 2.5-liter cylinder or a turbo 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with variable compression. Both have more power than the Malibu’s 1.5.
2020 Hyundai Sonata — The Sonata also has a small-displacement turbo engine, but its 1.6-liter puts out 180 hp. It also has more standard safety equipment.
Used Chevrolet Impala — If you like the Malibu but need more space, consider a used Chevrolet Impala, a larger sedan that ceased production in February of 2020.
Questions You May Ask
Where is the Chevrolet Malibu built?
The 2021 Chevy Malibu is built in Kansas City, Kansas.
What is the warranty on the 2021 Chevy Malibu?
The 2021 Chevrolet Malibu has a 3-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. The powertrain warranty is better, lasting five years or 60,000 miles.
Is the 2021 Chevrolet Malibu a good family car?
If you have a couple of small kids, the 5-seat 2021 Chevy Malibu works well as a family sedan. It’s roomy, it has a large trunk, and it’s comfortable, plus it gets good fuel economy.
Does the 2021 Chevy Malibu have a V6?
No. Most 2021 Malibus are powered by a turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with 160 horsepower. The Malibu Premier, with its 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine, offers the power of a V6 (250 hp) but better fuel economy.
If you can afford it, we recommend stepping up to the upscale Malibu Premier. It’s a complete sedan with plenty of power and niceties like leather upholstery, navigation, dual-zone automatic climate control, and wireless smartphone charging. And when you order the Enhanced Driver Confidence package, it comes with all the latest in modern safety technologies. Find a Chevrolet Malibu for sale