2016 Malibu

By Harry Pegg,

PALO ALTO, CA – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – 40 years or so later: “That Malibu is a nice-lookin’ car!”  It’s been a long time coming, but the 2016 Malibu gives Chevrolet a big boost, especially in terms of styling.

Chevrolet has just shown me a good reason for seeking a new road between A and B.  Preferably a longer one.

New from the ground up, Malibu is longer, lighter, and more fuel efficient than its predecessor and offers more techno goodies in the bargain.  The starting price is $3,495 lower and the top end price $2,290 less than the previous models.

The people involved in bringing the new Malibu to life take an obvious pride in their new baby, not something often so openly displayed in a new launch.  Even the marketing gurus are excited.

“The mid-car segment is NOT dead,” says Chevrolet marketing manager Sam Coomes, promising this will not be a “launch-it-and-forget-it” affair.  “We have to get people to think differently about Chevrolet.”

Malibu ought to do that.

The car is 58 mm (2.3 inches) longer over-all but the wheelbase has stretched by 91 mm (3.6 inches), producing a roomy passenger cabin with plenty of leg room front and back.  The more aerodynamic shape features a lower hood and more raked windshield along with active grille shutters and LED lighting.  It comes together to create a sophisticated look that stands out in a crowd.

Inside, I’m happy to discover analog gauges, power everything, heated seats and steering wheel, and an infotainment package that’s user friendly, but gives me knobs to control HVAC and audio volume.

Under the hood is a standard turbocharged 1.5L four-cylinder engine that puts out 160-horsepower and 184-lb-ft of torque, comparable to the current Malibu’s 2.5L four cylinder engine.

It’s a surprisingly spirited little engine that puts power to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission.  Off-the-line grunt is more than adequate, and making a pass on the highway, while a bit leisurely, doesn’t invoke any “omigod” moments.  It’s amazingly quiet – even when I mash the throttle, it doesn’t get buzzy when called upon to get busy.

If 1.5L seems a little on the wee side, there’s  2.0L turbo four that yields 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque.  Hooked up to a new eight-speed automatic transmission, it’s livelier than the 1.5L and quicker to make a pass.

With either engine, turbo lag is not a factor and the transmissions go about their business smoothly.

The great thing about California drive routes is their variability.  I find everything from two-lane roads to freeways, from long, straight pavement, to twisty tarmac.

On the twisty bits, the car doesn’t object to hard cornering on switchback courses.  In fact it responds quickly to steering inputs and the weight transfer from side to side is smooth and controlled.  I have to push hard to make the car hint that its limit may be near.

I’ve got a wide range of safety aids lurking in the background, ready to hop in to help me should my attention wander for whatever reason.

Lane Keep Assist with lane departure warning gives me a gently nudge should I wander too close to the lane markers.  A new forward collision alert gets all huffy it if thinks I’m coming up too quickly on a slower vehicle.  Adaptive cruise control with front automatic braking works extremely well.

I never do get to try front pedestrian alert that can apply last-second braking.  Nobody seems inclined to walk out in front of a moving Malibu.

One of the best safety features might be Teen Driver, a system which lets parents restrict certain vehicle functions to support safer driving.  The system also mutes the audio system until driver and passenger have buckled their seat-belts.  And mom and dad can call up a report on their kids’ driving with info on things like maximum speed, warning alerts, and a few other things junior might not want them to know about.  Nothing like an electronic tattle-tale to keep things real.

At the end of a seven-hour drive tour, I can’t find anything to hate about this car.  I can only think of a couple of things that I don’t really like.  For instance, the A-pillars get very wide at the base, restricting visibility at intersections – not a game breaker and easy to get used to.  The other nit-pick?  Rear seats that don’t fold flat.

That’s it.

Welcome back, Malibu.