By Greg Williams, Driving.ca – Malibu is a hallowed nameplate in the General Motors’ garage. First introduced in 1964, some classic Malibus can make the heart of an avid car collector beat a little big faster. But so can the automaker’s all-new for 2016 Malibu.
Reader Reviewer Greg Mundy didn’t require medical attention for a raised pulse rate during his week-long test drive, but he certainly approved of GM’s latest design for the Malibu.
“It’s a great-looking car,” Mundy said. “The body lines are really attractive, and this generation of the Malibu has a much more premium aura about it. It looked better than I’d expected.
“When my wife first saw the car, she said, ‘This is a Chevy Malibu?’ with a big question mark at the end.”
The current Malibu is now in its ninth generation, having morphed from a somewhat muscular rear-wheel-drive vehicle of the 1960s to a rather staid front-wheel drive mid-size sedan in the late 1990s. There was, however, a break in Malibu production between 1983 and 1997.
General Motors describes the 2016 iteration of the Malibu as a brand new from the ground up. Although riding on a wheelbase 101 millimetres longer than the previous Malibu, the car is lighter by 136 kilograms. There’s increased passenger room, and fuel economy has improved.
Available in four trims, from base L to increased-content LS, LT and top-of-the-line Premier, the first three Malibus are powered by an Ecotec 1.5-litre turbo-charged four-cylinder engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. There’s a hybrid version of the car available, and the Premier features a larger 2.0-L turbo-charged four cylinder that produces 90 more horsepower than the 1.5-L engine.
In a first for a GM front-wheel-drive car, the Premier model comes equipped with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
“I had a 2012 Malibu as a company car,” Mundy said, “and I wouldn’t say it was my favourite vehicle.”
However, the new $38,145 Premier version (including $1,650 destination charge and $4,450 in options) Mundy drove was a different story.
“It’s night and day, the difference between the 2012 Malibu and this new one,” he said.
A self-professed nerd, Mundy appreciates and embraces new technologies. He wholeheartedly enjoyed many of the features his Malibu Premier featured as part of the $1,450 Driver Confidence and $1,350 Driver Confidence II packages.
“The lane-keeping assist, the self-parking and the adaptive cruise control features really tickled me to see, and they worked great,” Mundy said.
The car also came equipped with the $1,550 power slide and tilt sunroof that has an additional skylight in the rear section.
A family man with a five-year old son, Mundy maintains a 2015 Subaru Outback as a daily driver and a 2015 GMC Sierra HD Denali with Duramax diesel to haul a fifth-wheel trailer.
He loaded up the Malibu to head down the highway to the Nanton Bomber Command Museum of Canada. The first problem he had was finding the LATCH locations to secure his son’s car seat.
“That wasn’t intuitive, and what should have taken me about eight minutes took an hour,” Mundy said. “It’s not well documented in the manual, and I had to walk away for a bit in frustration. I did finally find them behind a leather panel with open sides, but they weren’t where I would have expected them.”
On the highway, the new 2.0-L turbocharged engine impressed him, and he said there was more than enough “oomph” to merge and quickly come up to road speed. The eight-speed transmission seamlessly settled down into top gear and allowed the engine to loaf along with a low tickover speed.
But, Mundy added, “My complaint about the turbo and the transmission would be in city stop and go traffic, it felt a bit choppy.”
The brakes were powerful and the steering was firm, and both offered good feedback. The ride was also rated as firm, but not quite sports-car like.
Mundy found the leather driver’s seat comfortable and supportive, and said the memory function is a useful feature. The instruments and controls all made sense, and the overall layout was declared “nice and clean”.
“The infotainment screen itself was one of the nicest, brightest and crispest I’ve seen,” Mundy added. “But the centre console is very minimalist, and the driver has to reach around the shifter to reach a beverage in the cupholder.”
Mundy said the Malibu is an ideal family car, and he wouldn’t hesitate to recommend one to a family of three or four; it could be used with ease, given the wide-opening doors and huge trunk.
He did mention that he’d like to see the car available with all-wheel drive, although.
“It’s a car I could drive everyday for sure,” Mundy concluded. “It sure got a lot of attention, and I was sad to see it go.”
Day 1: Striking appearance. Chevrolet has done a nice job of designing this car. Interior surfaces are mostly soft touch, giving the car an upmarket look and feel. Took my wife for a drive, she was very impressed; surprised that this was a Chevrolet. She really liked the looks of the car.
Day 2: Family road trip to test the highway capabilities. This necessitated me installing my son’s car seat. Chevrolet needs to better document where the LATCH connectors are behind the seat; it is not intuitive. The 2.0-L turbo engine provides plenty of power, both in the city and on the highway. I found myself getting up to local street speeds very fast, and on the highway I had plenty of power to spare for acceleration and passing. The Malibu is a real treat to drive on the highway; the suspension is soft enough to be comfortable, but not so soft that there is no feedback. Steering is unlike anything I have experienced in a Chevrolet, plenty of feedback and just the right amount of power assist.
Day 3: Played with the electronic goodies. This car has plenty. The infotainment system is very fast and responsive. My son loved the Wi-Fi, and that he could watch Netflix while road tripping. The car has both Apply CarPlay and Android Auto; I have both types and tried them both. Apple CarPlay is very intuitive; once you connected the USB cable, the phone and car initiate the setup process. I had to install the Android Auto app on my phone to use it. Once set up, it is as simple as connecting the USB cable for both devices. Both are intuitive, although I would give the edge to Apple CarPlay, as it works just like the phone on the screen in the car.
Day 4: Driving to work, I played with some of the safety features of the car. The lane-keep assist is very nice; it will steer your car back into the lane if you drift out, although the lane lines had to be very clear for this feature to work consistently. The car also has “self parking,” which I tried in the garage of my office. You press the button on the lower console, the screen in the dash then tells you what to do – drive slowly until it finds a spot, put the car in reverse and let go of the steering wheel. It works very well. I showed this to a co-worker, and to quote him, “That is bad ass.”
Day 5: My only complaint about driving the car is in stop-and-go traffic. The combination of the 2.0-L turbo and the eight-speed transmission cause it to be a little jerky in traffic. The turbo spins up, and the transmission shifts quickly and then I step on the brake to stop. I am not sure if this would improve as the computer learned my driving style.
Days 6 and 7: Time to return the car. It started to rain pretty heavily on the drive and the car rides well on wet roads.