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PowerSteering: 2017 Chevrolet Malibu Review

PowerSteering: 2017 Chevrolet Malibu Review

By Liz Kim, August 02, 2017

Introduction
Collectively, midsize family sedans have been the most popular vehicles on the American market for some time. Though that is changing with consumer tastes that favor crossover SUVs, it’s nevertheless a golden age for the midsize car, a segment offering excellent choices from a range of car companies. Whether they’re sold by a traditionally domestic or import brand, most of the cars in this class are built in American factories and provide a terrific balance of functionality, style, and comfort for the people who buy them and for the loved ones they carry around.

When someone is in the market for a midsize family sedan, the two sales leaders—the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry—almost always make an appearance on the consideration list. However, depending on your needs and preferences, it’s always helpful to check out some of the less obvious choices in the segment, such as the 2017 Chevrolet Malibu.

2017 Chevrolet Malibu front quarter right photoRedesigned for the 2016 model year, the Malibu is no longer an also-ran destined for rental car lots. Upscale design, sophisticated technologies, impressive driving dynamics, and a genuinely competitive hybrid variant make the latest Malibu not only ready for prime time, but also ready to take on the class leaders without apologies.

For this review, we evaluated a 2017 Malibu Premier with the Driver Confidence package and the Driver Confidence II package. The price came to $34,040, including the $875 destination charge.



What Owners Say
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2017 Malibu, it’s helpful to understand who buys this midsize car and what they like most and least about it.

Compared with midsize car buyers as a whole, Malibu buyers are more likely to be women and are more likely to live on a smaller median annual household income. J.D. Power research data shows that 43% of Malibu buyers are women (compared with 39% for the segment) and that households owning a Malibu earn $73,958 annually (compared with $86,876). A Malibu buyer’s median age is 54, matching the segment average.

Overwhelmingly, Malibu buyers prefer to purchase a vehicle from a domestic company (88% vs. 48% for the segment). They also like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (77% vs. 68%), and are less likely to agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (43% vs. 47%). Malibu buyers also like a vehicle that offers responsive handling and acceleration (91% vs. 87%). Otherwise, their sentiments related to vehicle choice are similar to other midsize car buyers.

Buyers say their favorite things about the Malibu are (in descending order) the interior design, exterior styling, driving dynamics, seats, and storage and space. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the Malibu are (in descending order) visibility and safety, engine/transmission, infotainment system, climate system, and fuel economy.


What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own assessment of how the 2017 Malibu performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM

Exterior
My test vehicle was wrapped in a fetching Arctic Blue Metallic paint job that highlighted its painstakingly sculpted creases and curves. That’s a good thing, as this is the best-looking Malibu in a long, long time.

Gone is the homely, non-descript façade, replaced by a distinctive and handsome body that looks better when riding on larger wheels. The Premier test vehicle’s standard 18-in. rims looked good, but the optional 19-in. wheels look even better.

While the rear overhang seems a bit long, the front overhang is short for a front-drive car, and the Malibu looks taut, tapered, and muscular. Overall, the result is a vehicle that appears to be upscale and athletic, and in Premier trim, it is both.

Interior
Malibu buyers cite interior design as their favorite thing about their cars. Perhaps the majority of them own one in a color other than black. Rarely do all-black interiors best showcase a cabin’s design, so I was a bit bummed to step into the cabin of the test Malibu.

Save for a gray headliner, polished metal-finish accents, and a smattering of obviously fake wood trim, the test Malibu’s interior displayed little in the way of visual contrast. This, in turn, served to highlight Chevy’s choice of materials.

While the overall design was cohesive and the graining was consistent, I thought the car had an overabundance of surface texture variations. While most of the materials with which you would normally come into contact were soft, other plastics were hard, brittle, and unpleasant to the touch.

Additionally, the test car’s accelerator pedal was metal with rubber studs, but the brake pedal was not. And the tray located with the USB ports was not sized to hold a modern smartphone, which meant I needed to put it in the cupholder area. In many instances such as these, the interior gives the driver the sense that someone at Chevrolet started a job but didn’t finish it.

In my opinion, the Malibu’s interior requires additional refinement if it is to match the promise made by the car’s exterior appearance.

Seats
I found the Malibu’s driver seat to be comfortable, if a bit wide and flat. Because I frequently ride in the front passenger’s seat, I’m always happy to find a height adjuster in that location.

Perhaps more importantly, the Malibu’s rear seats are habitable by three adults, though two will be happier, which is true of almost all cars in this class. Until last year’s redesign, the Malibu’s lack of rear-seat space was an issue, but it is now resolved even if it still is not as spacious as some of its competitors.

Also, note that the test car had dual USB charging ports, a 110-volt power outlet, and rear air conditioning vents, which are important details that Chevrolet gets exactly right.

Climate Control System
Aside from buttons that are a bit small, closely spaced, and arrayed upon uneven topography, it is easy to adjust the Malibu’s automatic climate control system. Two knobs control temperature for dual temperature, and while the buttons are imperfect they are undeniably well marked.

Also, the test car’s front seats included heating and ventilation, and the buttons for them were grouped with the rest of the climate controls.

Infotainment System
Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system is one of the more intuitive, easy-to-use, and fully featured systems available in any car at any price. Especially when equipped with the 8-in. touch-screen display, the system’s large menu icons, pleasing graphics, and quick response to inputs is absolutely delightful.

Below the screen, drivers can use a volume and power knob flanked by tuning buttons to quickly make radio changes on the fly. A large “Home” button gives a driver speedy access to the system’s main menu, and a big “Back” button aids the user experience.

Beyond this, MyLink includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone-projection technology. Also, as one of the many useful OnStar subscription services, owners can access a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot connection so that you don’t have to burn through data while streaming podcasts.

Simple, easy, and full-featured, MyLink gives car buyers plenty to like.

Storage and Space
Pop the Malibu’s trunk and you’ll find 15.8 cu. ft. of space, which is competitive with other midsize vehicles. In terms of interior storage, the center console bin and glove box are average in terms of size, and as alluded to earlier it would be nice if Chevrolet would install a larger bin or tray that could easily store my iPhone 6 Plus while driving.

Visibility and Safety
A steeply angled windshield and thick windshield pillars impede forward vision a bit, but the low dashboard helps to ameliorate the overall impact on outward visibility.

The Malibu’s available safety features help, too, such as the reversing camera and blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert. The test car included a diverse array of driver-assistance technologies, too, like forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, and a lane-keeping assist system.

Chevrolet also offers safety features that you won’t find on other cars, such as a Rear Seat Reminder that chimes as you’re turning off your vehicle if you’ve opened the rear door before leaving on your most recent errand, commute, or trip. It’s supposed to remind drivers that they may have someone in the back seat, and will hopefully help to avert the types of tragedies that you often see with alarming frequency during summer weather.

Another useful feature for parents is Teen Driver technology, which gives parents a peek into—and greater control over—how the Malibu is driven by newly minted drivers who might be a little short on sound judgment and thoughtful decision-making skills.

In the event that a collision proves unavoidable, it’s nice to know that the 2017 Malibu receives a “Top Safety Pick” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Apparently, the car needs better headlights to receive the “Top Safety Pick+” designation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also weighs in on Malibu safety, giving the car a highest-possible 5-star overall rating.

Engine/Transmission
Standard, and available only on the Malibu Premier, the test car’s turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine delivers 250 horsepower. It’s impressively speedy, with plenty of power across the rev range. Never did this engine lose steam, whether swiftly climbing hills or smoothly merging onto freeways. Independent publications have timed turbocharged Malibus to run from 0 to 60 mph in a few ticks over 6 seconds, which is quick for a mainstream midsize sedan.

For 2017, the engine is paired to a new 9-speed automatic transmission that sends the power to the front wheels. Although it had a manual shift feature, I never felt like I needed to use it, as the unit always shifted smartly and quickly. Besides, the driver must use a rocker switch awkwardly placed on top of the shift knob, making the activity decidedly unsatisfying.

Fuel Economy
It rarely happens, but every once in a while my observed, real-world fuel economy beats what the EPA says I should expect. This happened with the Malibu, which delivered 27.1 mpg on my test route, beating the EPA-stated 26 mpg in combined driving. This is particularly notable because turbocharged 4-cylinder engines rarely deliver on expectations, but the Malibu’s mill beat the EPA rating.

Puzzlingly, this finding is in direct opposition to the greatest owner complaint about the Malibu. However, it must be noted that J.D. Power findings are largely attributable to the smaller, turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder that is standard in all other versions of the car except for the Hybrid model.

Driving Dynamics
While the Malibu’s appearance leaves the impression that Chevy has created an athletically oriented sedan, my week with this car disabused me of such notions.

The suspension doesn’t seem very well sorted, allowing plenty of harshness and vibration into the cabin when traveling over imperfect urban roads. The steering isn’t very communicative, either, so it wasn’t much fun to drive on curvy roads, although the suspension nicely managed body motions and the brakes proved firm and effective.

While the Malibu isn’t a terrible car to drive, many vehicles in the midsize family sedan segment, such as the Honda Accord and Mazda 6, are able to inject a good amount of driving enjoyment into a similar package. Except for the excellent powertrain, the Malibu’s dynamics fall short of class leaders.

And it sure doesn’t help that the plastic front air dam scrapes on seemingly every drainage dip and driveway, causing a loud, grimace-inducing noise every single time.


Final Impressions
In the current iteration of the Malibu, Chevrolet has, at long last, created a sedan that doesn’t lag far behind segment leaders. At the same time, it has yet to craft a breakthrough star.

When you’re competing with some of the most prolific and well-established cars on the road today, every detail matters. While the 2017 Malibu is a handsome and likable package, it lacks the finishing touches that could make it a best-seller.

However, thanks to terrific lease deals and deep discounts, a Malibu could easily prove to be appealing enough to warrant strong consideration.

General Motors supplied the vehicle used for this 2017 Chevrolet Malibu review.


Additional Research:


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