Fully redesigned, the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu makes its presence felt with standard turbocharged power, an optional hybrid version and much sleeker styling inside and out. The family sedan segment is so competitive that it's hard to pick a winner, but the new Malibu is now in the conversation.
What Is It?
The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu is a front-wheel-drive midsize family sedan that's pitted squarely against stalwarts like the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. For this year's clean-sheet redesign, it's clear that Chevy pulled out all the stops in an attempt to make the Malibu more competitive. By and large, they've succeeded. The 2016 Malibu is a strong product across the board that should give the perennial sales leaders plenty to think about.
What's New About It?
The 2016 Chevy Malibu redesign starts with a nearly 4-inch-longer wheelbase that opens up the previous car's cramped backseat. The exterior styling is immeasurably more sophisticated, showing no trace of the familiar rental-lot look; we even see a little Audi A7 in the rear three-quarter view. You won't mistake the interior for anything German, but it's still much more appealing than its predecessor and broadly class-competitive. Technology integration is likewise impressive, particularly when the tablet-like 8-inch touchscreen is specified.
Equally notable is what's missing from the 2016 Malibu, namely, about 300 extra pounds compared to the last generation. With the new base engine under the hood (a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder), curb weights settle between 3,100 and 3,200 pounds, which is extraordinarily light for a midsize sedan. The 160-horsepower 1.5 gives up 36 hp to the previous Malibu's 2.5-liter nonturbocharged four-cylinder, but the new engine has significantly less mass to haul around. Plus, there is 184 pound-feet of torque on tap, most of it from low rpm, so the standard six-speed automatic transmission seldom has to downshift to maintain speed on uphill grades.
Still, 160 hp is the lowest figure you'll find in the class, which is why there's also a zesty 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder available as an option. According to Chevy, the 250-hp "2.0T" engine — largely carried over from the outgoing Malibu — punches above its rating, running neck-and-neck in acceleration tests with the more powerful Accord V6 and Camry V6. It also comes with a new eight-speed automatic transmission that's a more precise tool than the standard six-speed.
There's also a 2016 Malibu Hybrid, which shares technology with the new 2016 Volt but lacks that car's plug-in functionality. Rated at an estimated 47 mpg in combined driving, the 2016 Malibu Hybrid ties the Accord Hybrid for best-in-class frugality, so there's no doubt it's a serious player.
What Body Styles and Trim Levels Does It Come In?
The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu is a four-door midsize sedan offered in four main trim levels: L, LS, LT and range-topping Premier. The latter comes standard with the 2.0T powertrain, which is optional on the LT trim. Note that most LT models and every L and LS will employ the 1.5-liter turbo engine.
The base L trim is pretty basic, as it lacks a central touchscreen and is the only Malibu to roll on steel wheels with plastic covers instead of alloy wheels. The LS gets alloy wheels and a 7-inch touchscreen (with Chevy's MyLink infotainment system) along with a rearview camera, 4G LTE connectivity with mobile WiFi, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration and eligibility for a wider range of options.
If you want the slick 8-inch touchscreen with its superior graphics, you'll need at least the LT trim, which offers it as an option and comes standard with 17-inch wheels (18s for the 2LT with the 2.0T engine), LED running lights, ambient interior lighting, a power driver seat, rear console vents and a variety of other perks. The Premier makes the 8-inch screen standard along with a nine-speaker Bose audio system, and it throws in 19-inch wheels, a color driver information display, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, perforated leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel.
Also standard on Premier (and optional on LT) is a new Teen Driving system that places electronic limits on inexperienced drivers, à la Ford's MyKey. These top trims are additionally eligible for a Driver Confidence package that adds forward-collision warning with low-speed automatic braking, automatic high beams, front and rear parking sensors, lane-departure prevention and a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert. Offered exclusively on Premier is a Driver Confidence II package that tacks on adaptive cruise control, a collision mitigation system with advanced autonomous braking and a self-parking system.
How Does It Drive?
The 2016 Malibu's crash diet is palpable from behind the wheel. The car feels nimble and light on its feet despite its enlarged dimensions, providing enough driver engagement to keep things interesting on a winding road. Chevy says the hood and dashboard have been lowered to enhance visibility, and we can confirm that the view out the front is expansive. On the flip side, the rakish, coupelike rear roof line makes it unusually difficult to check your blind spot before changing lanes, so the optional blind-spot monitor is a particularly valuable addition.
At highway speeds, the new Malibu remains quiet on most surfaces, though coarse ones can occasionally produce intrusive road noise. Ride quality is very good, even with the sharp-looking 19-inch wheels that come standard on the Premier. The base 1.5-liter engine is respectably refined, but it's not exactly thrilling during full-throttle passing and merging, and its estimated 8.5-second sprint to 60 mph is a bit below average. The smooth and strong 2.0-liter option quite simply blows it away; pity, then, that you can't get into a Malibu 2.0T for less than $30,000, as a more affordable version would give Chevy a real edge versus the competition.
As for the Malibu Hybrid, its 182 combined system horsepower may not seem like much, but full-bore acceleration is adequate as long as you don't mind the loud gas-engine droning that comes with it. If you've driven a Camry Hybrid or even a Toyota Prius, the Malibu Hybrid will feel instantly familiar. As in those models, it's possible to creep along at low speeds (and theoretically up to 55 mph) solely under electric power, but the 1.8-liter gas engine comes to life frequently and sometimes noisily in ordinary driving. Of course, the main draw here is fuel economy, which Chevy projects to be 47 mpg in combined driving (48 city/45 highway), trouncing the 2016 Camry Hybrid by 6-7 mpg.
What's It Like Inside?
The 2016 Malibu does a great job of accommodating drivers of all sizes. The seat slides back far enough for NBA-length legs, putting the Accord to shame, and the deep, generously padded door armrest is similarly hospitable. Front seat comfort is satisfactory, if not particularly memorable, while rear passengers enjoy an additional 1.3 inches of legroom for 2016 that puts the Malibu on par with rivals like the Ford Fusion, although the Accord, Camry and Hyundai Sonata feel roomier still.
Ergonomically, most controls are where you'd expect them to be, and the interior design team nailed the location of the optional touchscreen. It sits high up and conveniently close to the driver, and reflections were never a problem on our evaluation drive. We also like how the screen is neatly integrated into the flow of the dashboard, as opposed to being perched on top like so many screens these days.
Storage for personal items is adequate, though not class-leading. Same goes for the interior materials, which are upgraded from the previous Malibu but not always convincing. Nonetheless, the dashboard's curvaceous new look lends an upscale vibe that should help earn consideration from nonbrand loyalists.
What Kind of Mileage Does It Deliver?
With the 1.5-liter engine, the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu is EPA-rated at 31 mpg in combined driving (27 city/37 highway). That ties the base Accord and nearly matches the 32 mpg Mazda 6 at the head of the segment. Step up to the 2.0-liter engine and you can expect 26 mpg combined (22/33), according to Chevy's estimates, which is about average for an upgraded engine in this class. As noted, the Malibu Hybrid is pegged at a class-leading 47 mpg combined (48/45), also according to internal estimates.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
The Honda Accord gets a number of tweaks for 2016 and is a very well-executed car, from its peppy four-cylinder engine and remarkably responsive CVT to its attractive and spacious interior.
The stylish Mazda 6 has also been recently updated with more contemporary infotainment options, and it remains the sport sedan of this group, providing responsive handling with the added benefit of best-in-class fuel economy.
The Toyota Camry has never been the most exciting choice, but it's a top seller for good reason. Resale value is excellent, there's plenty of room in both seating rows, and while the base four-cylinder engine is forgettable, the optional V6 is exceptionally capable.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
The 2016 Malibu offers upscale looks, competitive powertrains and a larger cabin with ample passenger space. Much like the larger Impala, it's no longer the rental-fleet special of its segment; on the contrary, it's right up there with the top performers.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
Compared to the entry-level Accord LX or Sonata SE, for example, the sparsely equipped Malibu L isn't a great value, and desirable features like the blind-spot monitor and 8-inch touchscreen aren't even offered on the midgrade LS.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.