2016 Chevrolet Malibu Review
Christian Wardlaw | May 01, 2016
IntroductionWith the redesigned 2016 Malibu, Chevrolet has nowhere to go but up in terms of the family sedan's ranking in the annual J.D. Power Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM Ranked lower than 11 other midsize cars in the 2015 U.S. APEAL Study, the Malibu was just three model years old at the time and yet according to the people who own them–and despite receiving a J.D. Power award for initial quality that year–this Chevrolet required a significant upgrade in terms of its overall appeal.
For 2016, the Malibu is completely redesigned, and the changes are significant. In the process, Chevrolet has addressed owner complaints while improving the model's overall allure. Highlights include new powertrains for better fuel economy, next-generation infotainment technology, upgraded driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems, improved safety, and a larger rear seat.
What Owners SayFor this review, our expert evaluated a Malibu Premier, the most expensive version of Chevy's redesigned family sedan. Equipped with both of the optional Driver Confidence option packages, the price came to $34,285, including the $875 destination charge.Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the redesigned 2016 Malibu, it is helpful to understand who bought the previous version of this car and what they liked most and least about it.
Compared with the Midsize Car segment average, Malibu owners are more often women and make substantially less money in terms of median household income, at $71,667, compared with the segment average of $83,127.
Malibu owners overwhelmingly claim to prefer buying a vehicle from a U.S. company, at 94%, compared with 52% for the segment. They are less likely to select a vehicle with reliability as their first consideration, and just 3% identify as performance buyers, compared with 10% for the segment. Otherwise, Malibu owners' preferences align with consumers who choose other midsize car models.
In the 2015 U.S. APEAL Study, the Malibu ranked 12th among 12 models in the Midsize Car segment. Among individual study factors, the Malibu outperformed the segment average in several areas related to the infotainment system, with seven of the car's top 10 strengths related to the audio, communication, entertainment, and navigation system.
Conversely, seven of the 10 opportunities identified for improvement related to driving the Malibu. Engine and transmission complaints proved common, and owners even voiced dissatisfaction with "ground clearance." Rear-seat room and visibility were also cited by owners as areas ripe for improvement.
Owners of the previous-generation Malibu indicate that their favorite things about the car are (in descending order) the exterior styling, interior design, driving dynamics, infotainment system, and the seats. Owners indicate that their least favorite things are (in descending order) fuel economy, the climate system, engine/transmission, storage and space, and visibility and safety.
What Our Expert SaysIn the sections that follow, our expert provides his own assessment of how the new 2016 Malibu performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2015 U.S. APEAL Study.
ExteriorIn Premier trim, with available 19-in. aluminum wheels, extra chrome detailing, and LED taillights, the new 2016 Malibu looks terrific. This is an attractive car, and it looks better in person than it does in pictures.
Artistic sculpturing gives the Malibu an impressive definition, natural light playing off the bodywork in appealing ways. Front styling has just the right amount of aggression and immediately identifies the Malibu as a Chevrolet (in a good way). The rakish roofline, tapered taillights, and deftly integrated trunk and rear bumper seams contribute to the Malibu's remarkably cohesive appearance.
Perhaps the only misstep here is the downturned LED running lights at the lower corners of the front bumper, which look a bit out of place. Also, it is worth noting that the car's lower front air dam frequently scrapes the pavement, which means owners of the new Malibu may continue to complain about the car's lack of ground clearance.
InteriorChevy's artful approach to design extends to the Malibu's new interior, which employs modern and inviting forms and materials. Color selections and treatments, however, could do a better job of conveying an upscale ambience, especially in the top-of-the-line Premier trim level.
The test car's Dark Atmosphere and Medium Ash Gray cabin came across as drab and inexpensively trimmed, a problem that could be solved through greater color contrast for a more definitive 2-tone appearance. Furthermore, the hard plastic on the lower door panels shows scratches, adding to the Malibu's low-rent undertone.
On a positive note, ambient nighttime lighting in the Premier model is classy, understated, and baked into the design rather than tacked on as an afterthought.
SeatsFlat and somewhat firm, the Malibu's front seats are nevertheless comfortable. In the test car, both front seats offered 8-way power adjustment, including a generous range of lumbar support. Both seats were also heated and ventilated. Note that most of the upper door panel trim is hard; Chevrolet placed the padded portion too far back to make it a comfortable place for resting an elbow.
Thanks to a 4-in. longer wheelbase, Chevrolet improves the Malibu's rear-seat space and uses scooped-out, soft front seat backs to maximize knee and legroom. However, people with longer legs may find that the seat cushion lacks thigh support. Also, on the test vehicle, the front seat frames and hardware were exposed and will almost certainly prove unkind to expensive shoes.
Note that when exiting both the front and rear seats, shoes easily catch on a rubber seal running along the bottom of the door apertures. On the test car, this rubber had come loose on the driver's side. This could become a significant warranty repair item for Chevrolet.
Climate Control SystemBased on the previous-generation Malibu's performance in the 2015 U.S. APEAL Study, Chevrolet needed to improve the car's climate control system. This evaluation says that owners of the new Malibu should find little in this regard about which to complain.
Controls for the Malibu Premier's dual-zone automatic climate control system are logically laid out, making it easy to adjust temperature by touch and without looking away from the road. Commonly used functions are located closer to the driver, and chrome detailing helps to visually guide the driver to the airflow and fan speed controls. The flush-mounted buttons also feature clear markings, and both look and feel like quality components.
Testing was performed during relatively temperate weather conditions, so the seat and steering wheel heating elements were not used. On sunny days, the front-seat ventilation system could operate with greater effectiveness. Rear-seat occupants enjoy air vents for improved comfort.
Infotainment SystemChevrolet's MyLink infotainment system is, in my opinion, one of the best available from a car company. From its modern and pleasing graphics to its fast response time and tablet-style gesture control, MyLink impresses as a relatively simple and intuitive piece of technology.
Features include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone-projection technology, OnStar subscription services, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi connection, and Tune Select for setting alerts related to specific artists. Chevrolet also makes it easy to go back to the previous screen, find the Home screen, and to access main menus. Plus, in the Malibu, the screen resists fingerprints with a remarkable degree of success.
All that's missing from the Malibu's infotainment system is a tuning knob to go along with the power/volume knob. Chevrolet does, however, provide the ability to cycle through radio station pre-sets and to adjust volume using controls mounted to the back of the steering wheel spokes. This is a simple but effective and useful touch.
Storage and SpaceChevrolet may find that Malibu owners are unhappy with the amount of interior storage space. The center console and glove box are of average size, and the tray located forward of the shifter and cupholders is stylish in appearance, but it's also shallow and oddly shaped. The cupholders are small, forcing storage of 1-liter water bottles to the generously sized front door panels.
A smartphone holder is located just forward of the center console, but if you position the driver's seat farther back in its tracks, this location is invisible from view. As a result, it is easy to forget about the device and to inadvertently leave it in the car.
At 15.8 cu. ft., the 2016 Malibu's trunk is smaller than the previous model but not by much. Near the wheel arches, the trunk floor is not completely flat, but the most significant complaint is that Chevrolet provides no interior slot or handle to use for closing the trunk. This means the owner must place his or her fingers on the dirty exterior lid in order to slam it shut.
Visibility and SafetyEquipped with a fast roofline and a tall rear deck, the new 2016 Malibu could continue to suffer visibility problems to the rear.
However, the car's wide side-view mirrors, reversing camera (standard for all but the base Malibu L version), and optional blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert elevate driver confidence levels when backing up and changing lanes. Chevrolet also offers a semi-automatic park-assist system as an option for the Malibu Premier, which can steer the car into a parking space while the driver operates the transmission and pedals.
In federal government tests, the Malibu receives a 5-star (out of 5) overall crash-test rating. Chevy's new family sedan earns 5-star ratings in all collision assessments except for frontal-impact protection for the front passenger, which receives a 4-star rating. As this review is published, testing is underway with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). In late April, the IIHS had established that the Malibu performed at a "Good" level in the moderate offset frontal- and side-impact tests.
Chevrolet is offering numerous driver-assistance and collision-avoidance technologies for the new Malibu, and the test vehicle had them all. Naturally, the lane-keep assist system introduced unusual steering sensations, which is common for this type of technology. It can be shut off. The forward-collision warning system produces a bright red flashing light and a shrill alarm when it determines a dangerous driving situation, and the effect is startling. Thankfully, drivers can adjust the system's sensitivity level.
New Teen Driver technology debuts in the 2016 Malibu, designed to encourage safer driving habits in young people. What makes it different from what most other automakers provide is that it supplies parents with driving reports, including the number of times the forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking systems may have activated while your child was driving the car.
Engine/TransmissionChevrolet offers the 2016 Malibu with one of three powertrains: a new turbocharged, 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission; an updated, turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder bolted to a new 8-speed automatic transmission; and a hybrid powertrain comprised of a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine and a 2-motor electric drive unit.
Standard on the Malibu 2LT and Premier trim levels, the test car's turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder makes 250 horsepower at 5,300 rpm and 260 lb.-ft. of torque from 2,000 rpm to 5,000 rpm. This calibration provides a strong and responsive band of power, making this version of the Malibu quick and rewarding to drive.
Calibrated to upshift quickly in order to conserve fuel when the driver is not in a hurry, the 8-speed automatic transmission willingly holds engine revs for a longer period of time when the driver pushes harder on the accelerator pedal. Floor the accelerator and the Malibu Premier responds with full power, which generates some torque steer.
During testing, the 8-speed automatic occasionally shuddered when shifting, as though it was not quite sure what to do given the driving situation and the driver's inputs.
Fuel EconomyAccording to the EPA, the Malibu Premier should return 26 mpg in combined driving. On the test loop, the Malibu averaged 27.4 mpg, an impressive figure considering that the turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is the thirstiest one offered in the new Malibu.
For better fuel economy, choose the smaller and less powerful turbocharged, 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine or the new Malibu Hybrid model, which is rated to get 46 mpg in combined driving.
Driving DynamicsEquipped with handsome 19-in. aluminum wheels, the Malibu Premier most certainly is the best-handling version of Chevy's midsize sedan. So equipped, the Malibu displays a light, tossable nature with predictable amounts of body roll and understeer when really hustling the car around a corner.
However, those same wheels are wrapped in 245/40 tires, and the shorter sidewalls no doubt contribute to a stiffer and busier ride quality than other versions of the Malibu might demonstrate. Taut and athletically tuned, the Malibu also felt a bit unsettled on patched, undulating pavement and when traveling across pavement transitions in the middle of curves.
Steering feel and response are outstanding, though, proving quick, accurate, and easy to fine-tune in terms of making small corrections. The car's brakes work beautifully, too, though the pedal requires a little more muscle than might be expected.
Final ImpressionsWith the redesigned 2016 Malibu, Chevrolet must prove that its midsize sedan delivers more than just quality. Emotional appeal must become a part of the Malibu's recipe in order for Chevrolet to put more cars into customer driveways than it does rental and government vehicle fleets.
Based on this expert evaluation of the 2016 Malibu Premier, Chevrolet has resolved owners' most common complaints related to powertrains and fuel economy, as well as rear-seat room and comfort. At the same time, Chevrolet also improves upon those aspects of the Malibu that owners claim to like the most, such as styling, interior design, driving dynamics, and the infotainment system.
Time will tell if the new 2016 Malibu contains the right ingredients for success. At the very least, it is more competitive than it has been for several years.
General Motors supplied the vehicle used for this 2016 Chevrolet Malibu review.
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