Since its debut back when the Beatles were singing about holding hands, the Chevrolet Malibu has gone through several iterations. The initial lineup consisted of rear-drive midsizers that included coupes, sedans, wagons and the legendary, high-horsepower SS-badged muscle car. After a downsizing in the late 1970s and a quiet death in the early '80s, the Malibu was reincarnated as a smaller, anonymous, front-wheel-drive favorite of rental fleets.
The latest Chevy Malibu, however, builds upon the good graces established by its strong predecessor and is well deserving of some "Love Me Do." It boasts a level of refinement and overall competence that puts it head and shoulders above its past generations and among the best midsize family sedans. Traits such as a high-end cabin, a composed and quiet ride, handsome styling and advanced electronics features make the latest Chevrolet Malibu a top choice.
Current Chevrolet Malibu
The current Chevrolet Malibu represents an all-new generation introduced for 2013. It boasts welcome improvements in refinement, feature content and efficiency.
The Malibu's appeal is best seen inside. Even lesser-equipped models enjoy an abundance of sound deadening, soft-touch materials, high-quality switchgear and an attractive appearance. There's also an emphasis on technology, as Chevy's MyLink system connects your smartphone to the car via a USB jack and/or the Bluetooth system, allowing for not only hands-free calling, but audio connectivity and Internet music streaming as well. A well-designed center control stack with an integrated touchscreen makes the Malibu more user-friendly than its Chevy cousins.
There are four well-equipped trim levels: LS, LT, LTZ and Eco. Under the hood, the Malibu comes standard with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. From there, shoppers can go either the performance or fuel economy route. The former is satisfied by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder for those who want more power on hand in their family sedan. The Malibu Eco, on the other hand, features a 2.4-liter four-cylinder connected to a mild hybrid system that provides some electric-motor assistance during acceleration but primarily powers an auto stop/start system as well as certain vehicle accessories that would normally draw power from the engine-run alternator. The Eco's 29 mpg combined is certainly impressive fuel economy, but only a smidgen better than several competitors with normal four-cylinder engines.
In total, however, the Chevrolet Malibu is among the best choices in the midsize family sedan class that includes very appealing competitors from Ford, Hyundai, Kia and Volkswagen. We suggest checking them all out before deciding, but the Chevy's handsome cabin, high-tech features and general level of refinement are its particular strong points.
Used Chevrolet Malibu Models
The previous-generation Malibu was produced from 2008 through 2012. With its crisp, tailored lines, this Malibu looked more like a luxury sedan than its forgettable predecessor. Its cabin was similarly handsome, with a stylish design and two-tone color schemes that stood out from the crowd (while disguising less-than-ideal materials).
Throughout its life, this Malibu was available in four trims (LS, 1LT, 2LT and LTZ) and with a choice of two engines. A 169-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder was initially standard on all but the LTZ, but for '09 it became available for every Malibu. That year also saw a six-speed automatic transmission replace the original four-speed unit on all but the LS and 1LT trims, though every Malibu got it a year later.
A 3.6-liter 252-hp V6 served as the optional engine upgrade (though it was initially standard on the LTZ). This always had a six-speed automatic, as well as a different steering system than the four-cylinder. Its hydraulic steering (versus electric) offered more weighting and a bit more road feel, but neither system was really a standout in the class. Similarly, this Malibu's handling in general was responsive enough, but few would deem it sporty.
Our staff was generally impressed with this Chevrolet Malibu. Its combination of handsome looks, a spacious and attractive cabin, competent performance and a quiet ride gave Chevy a serious player in this tough segment. Subpar rear seat space and hit-or-miss interior construction were notable drawbacks, along with a few missing features like a navigation system. Besides its transmission, changes were restricted to features availability, with items like Bluetooth and an iPod interface eventually added.
The previous version of the Chevy Malibu was offered from 2004-'08. As there was that one-year overlap, Chevrolet distinguished the two different Malibus by calling the retiring version the "Malibu Classic." In addition to a sedan body style, the outgoing Malibu was also offered in a longer-wheelbase hatchback version called the Malibu Maxx. Compared to earlier Malibus, this one came with more powerful engine choices, a roomier layout and state-of-the-art safety features like available side curtain airbags and adjustable pedals. We noted balanced, predictable ride and handling characteristics, plenty of passenger and cargo space, ample safety and convenience features and an innovative new remote start feature for preliminary warm-up/cool-down.
Base LS and midlevel LT models made up the bulk of the Malibu's production. The lack of style and performance was addressed in 2006 when the lineup was beefed up with the leather-trimmed LTZ and high-performance SS. For power, that generation offered a 2.2-liter four-cylinder rated at 144 hp (LS and LT models), a 217-hp 3.5-liter V6 (standard on the LTZ and optional on LT) and a top-dog 3.9-liter V6 with 240 ponies for the SS. All were hooked up to a proven four-speed automatic transmission, and the SS featured a manual-shift mode. We'd suggest choosing one of the V6 engines, which provided an agreeable combination of performance and fuel economy. In reviews, we commented favorably about the car's smooth ride quality, fuel economy, roomy interior and top safety scores. Noted downsides included a lackluster interior design and subpar braking and handling.
Previous to this, there was the Chevrolet Malibu from 1997-2003. Following its introduction, this midsize Malibu went upscale with optional leather trim and a sunroof in 1998. In 2000, the front styling was modified to be more Impala-like and the 3.1-liter V6 was improved with more power. Minor detail changes like exterior/interior trim revisions, automatic headlamp control, new audio systems with a CD player and new colors carried the Malibu through its next few years.
Read the most recent 2014 Chevrolet Malibu review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Chevrolet Malibu page.