You could be forgiven if you weren’t aware that the Chevrolet Malibu is now on its third generation since 2008. The 2013 model, in fact, marked the beginning of a new generation, but it maintained so much continuity with its predecessor that it appeared to be more like a refresh.
With the debut of the all-new ninth-gen model, however, so much has changed that there’s a good chance you might not even realize it’s a Malibu.
One of the biggest differences is under the skin where GM engineers have lengthened the Malibu’s wheelbase (by a whopping 91 mm) and its overall length (by 58 mm), while keeping the same width.
They’ve also shed 136 kilograms (300 pounds) of weight. More than one-third of the reduction (54 kg) comes from a structure that uses more high-strength steel than its predecessor, which enabled GM engineers to use thinner components that are lighter, yet deliver similar levels of crash worthiness.
A greater use of aluminum, in suspension and chassis components and the hood (which itself is three kilos lighter than the steel hood on the outgoing car), has also contributed to the Malibu’s reduced mass.
The lightweight theme continues under the hood, where the Malibu offers three four-cylinder engines, two of which are all-aluminum. An all-new 1.5-litre turbo (160 hp / 184 lb-ft) serves as the base engine, while a higher-out-central put 2.0-litre turbo (250 hp / 258 lb-ft) powers the range-topping Premier model. A 1.8-litre mill with a cast iron block mated to an electric two-motor drive unit (182 total hp / 129 lb-ft) powers the Malibu Hybrid.
Two automatic transmissions are available, a carry-over six-speed pairs with the 1.5, while the 2.0 is mated to an all-new eight-speed, the first to be offered in a GM front-wheel drive vehicle.
From a design perspective, the Malibu cuts a sleeker, more handsome profile compared to the boxier look of the outgoing model. Slim headlamps and a two-port grille opening bear a striking resemblance to other Chevrolets, the new Volt and forthcoming Cruze in particular. Strong character lines running the length of the car give the Malibu a more dramatic-looking profile.
The interior is spacious, handsomely finished and pleasingly straightforward. Soft touch plastics and fabrics complement controls and switches that are well-placed and easy to use. In addition to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, with the former being available first, and the latter to follow later in the 2016 model year, safety is a primary focus for the new Malibu.
On that front, the Malibu offers a broad range of collision mitigation technology, the sort of which has become common on many cars these days – front and rear park assist, front pedestrian braking, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert are among its many available safety features.
What’s new here is Teen Driver, an industry first, which essentially enables parents of teenage drivers to monitor their kids’ driving habits. Standard issue on the Premier trim and optional on LT models equipped with the Convenience Package and upgraded radio, Teen Driver enables a parent to set the car’s maximum speed (between 65-120 km/h), and all of the equipped safety features (stability control, front and rear park assist, side blind zone alert, etc.) are enabled and cannot be turned off.
So-equipped Malibus can also track distance driven, maximum speed travelled, over-speed warnings issued and stability control events, among other data. Teen Driver isn’t subscription-based, so once a parent sets up a PIN to go with their teenager’s key fob using the Malibu’s MyLink system, it’s a permanent part of the vehicle. It’s an innovative feature on a car that feels very well-engineered and carefully calibrated to suit consumer preferences
After spending the better part of a day driving several trims on highways and local roads in the Palo Alto area, it seems to me GM has accomplished what it set out to do with the Malibu.
All trims deliver a quiet, comfortable ride over a variety of road surfaces. Acceleration is reasonably brisk with all three engines, and the handling, while not exactly sporty, feels secure in everyday driving environments. The weight saving measures help give the car a lighter, nimbler and more responsive feel.
Inside, the Premier trim is certainly the most luxe with its sheer volume of stuff, but the lower and mid-range trims (the LT in particular) also comes with an impressive array of standard equipment. That said, if performance matters, the Premier’s 2.0-litre turbo and eight-speed auto powertrain is the trim of choice as it offers the most engaging driving experience.
In all, the 2016 Malibu offers a compelling value proposition, nicely packaged with an impressive array of safety features and technology for the broad mid-size segment. Its predecessor has been a solid sales performer on both sides of the border and I suspect this car will continue that trend.
BY THE NUMBERS | $128 /HP (CALCULATED W/ AS-TESTED PRICE) | 125 HP/L | 6.14 HP/TON | 9.0 L/100 KM
2016 Chevrolet Malibu Premier
BASE PRICE: $21,745 (L trim)
AS-TESTED PRICE: $32,045 (plus $1,750 freight & PDI)
ENGINE: 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder
HORSEPOWER: 250 hp @ 5,300 rpm
TORQUE: 258 lb-ft. @ 1,700 rpm
DRY WEIGHT: 1,536 kg
CONFIGURATION: front-engine, front-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (CITY / HWY. / COMB.): 10.6 / 7.1 / 9.0 L/100 km
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 36 / 60,000
ALTERNATIVES: Ford Fusion Titanium, Honda Accord Touring, Toyota Camry XL