By Graeme Fletcher, Driving.ca - With only a brief hiatus, the Malibu has been a Chevrolet staple since it was introduced at around the same time the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Over the years, the good, the bad and the plain ugly have worn the nameplate. The ugly badge is pinned to the tail of the so-called Iraqi Malibu.
In 1981, GM produced a special version of its popular sedan for the Iraqi government. It had a V6 engine, a three-speed manual transmission and precious little else. The order was abruptly cancelled, so GM sold the majority of these oddball orphans in Canada, and at a fire-sale price.
Fast-forward to today and the all new, ninth-generation Malibu is as far removed from that abomination as is possible. For example, the designed-by-committee interior has been shelved.
This is not your father's Malibu anymore. Gone is the fuddy-duddy finish in favour of a more upscale look and feel that's dominated by the iPad-like screen and Chevy's MyLink infotainment system. It now looks like it was designed to be there, not like it was an afterthought.
The system is readily mastered. It supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and also delivers a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot. CarPlay proved to be remarkably easy to use once the phone was paired, which was itself a simple task. Hold the talk button for two seconds and the on-board "Molly of the maps" is overridden by Siri. Ask "where am I?" and Siri gives you the exact address and then puts the location on the map in the screen. Having Siri read or respond to texts is also easy, as is placing a call or finding a song. Even more impressive is the quality and clarity of the screen. The high-definition colours are vivid and the clarity better than many similar setups.
As for the driver's lot in life, the seat is comfortable and offers lots of adjustments, so taller folk will find ample legroom. And it's more of the same in the back - lots of toe-leg- and headroom. A 6-foot-2 passenger will find a comfortable, un-scrunched seating position. With split/folding seats and 447 litres of space, the trunk accommodates a family of five's luggage with ease.
The latest Malibu is offered in three very different flavours. The tester arrived with GM's Ecotec 1.5-L turbocharged four-cylinder married to a six-speed automatic transmission. The 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque it puts out is enough for most eventualities. Yes, it takes almost nine seconds to trot to 100 kilometres an hour, but the plus proved to be the fuel economy - a test best of 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres. The average for the entire test was 10.8 L/100 km, and this included the acceleration testing.
That said, the better choice is the 2.0-L turbocharged four-cylinder that's married to an advanced eight-speed automatic transmission. It brings a rabble-rousing 250 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque and is much quicker, running to 100 km/h in 6.7 seconds. The vigour arrives at the cost of fuel efficiency, but it transforms the Malibu into a smile inducer. The final alternative, if you're really into fuel economy, is the Hybrid.
The six-speed transmission worked well with the base engine, especially on the highway, where it kept the revs low and the cabin eerily quiet. The anomaly proved to be the controls on the back side of the steering wheel; they control the audio, not the shifting. The latter is done through a toggle switch atop the shifter, and then only after selecting low. Given this 1.5-L engine does not tempt the driver to play cowboy, this setup was passable, but it will likely be awkward with the sportier 2.0-L engine and the performance it puts at the driver's right boot.
On-road comportment is where the Malibu comes into its own. The new car is significantly lighter, which makes it feel much more agile on its P225/55R17 tires. This new-found nimbleness makes the Malibu an entertaining drive; nobody could ever accuse previous generations of the car of being fun! The amount of body roll is minimal and the response to driver input is crisp. Ditto for the steering and brakes; both have a much sharper feel than before.
It is the quality and quietness of the ride, however, that will be the Malibu's defining quality and strength. The rigours of a rough road simply disappear. In the end, the Malibu does a very credible job of mimicking a luxury car.
The latest Malibu represents a vast improvement over the outgoing model. It has style (some will see shades of the Audi A7 in the rear three-quarter, which is not a bad thing), a broader model mix, a swanky new interior as well as the aforementioned ride quality and cabin quietness. The combination means it now has the wherewithal to cater to a much wider array of potential customers. Heck, even younger buyers looking to start a family will find it appealing.