The Chevrolet Malibu emerged at about the same time that the Beatles wanted to hold your hand. Back then, it was available as a midsize rear-wheel-drive coupe, sedan, wagon or burly, high-horsepower muscle car. Downsizing in the late 1970s preceded a quiet exit in the early '80s, followed by a resurrection in the late '90s as a smaller, front-wheel-drive favorite of rental fleets.
More recent Malibu models don't often get the respect they deserve from car spotters and enthusiasts, and we've often felt that the Malibu has fallen a bit short of benchmark family sedans such as the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord. But the latest Malibu is a fully competitive midsize sedan with strong performance, a quiet and composed ride quality, advanced tech features and, if we do say so, a handsome look and style. The Malibu may not stir your soul exactly, but it should ease your mind.
Current Chevrolet Malibu
The current Chevrolet Malibu is a five-passenger front-wheel-drive sedan that comes with a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine (160 horsepower) and a six-speed automatic transmission. Drivers seeking more performance can opt for a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder (250 hp) paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission offered only on the Premier trim level.
The Malibu comes in four trim levels: L, LS, LT and Premier. The base L is indeed pretty basic but includes 16-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, cruise control, OnStar services, and Bluetooth phone connectivity. The LS has some nicer upgrades, with alloy wheels, thicker insulated glass, a 4G LTE data connection, Bluetooth streaming audio, smartphone integration and a 7-inch touchscreen media display. The LT — our recommendation — adds features including 17-inch wheels, heated side mirrors, a power-adjustable driver seat and satellite radio. Options such as leather upholstery, an 8-inch touchscreen display, heated seats, wireless phone charging and premium Bose audio are also only available starting with the LT level.
The loaded Premier trim includes features and options listed above as well as the more powerful 2.0-liter engine, 18-inch wheels, unique styling, ventilated front seats and a navigation system.
The Malibu is also available as a hybrid. It's equipped similarly to the LT trim level with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motor combination rated at 182 hp. It returns an EPA-estimated 46 mpg combined.
We think the Malibu stacks up well with its competition in performance and long-haul comfort, while sharp handling, a solid, buttoned-down ride quality and a quiet cabin give it personality it had been lacking. The Malibu does suffer from smaller cargo capacity than its rivals. At 15.8 cubic feet, the trunk is just average, and the interior's various bins aren't ideal for smartphones and other odds and ends we all carry around these days. But unless you're nostalgic for its muscle-car heyday, today's Malibu is as good as it's ever been, and a strong choice for family sedan shoppers.
Used Chevrolet Malibu Models
The current-generation Chevrolet Malibu debuted for the 2016 model year. Longer, lighter and loaded with advanced technology, it's a significant update from the preceding model. The new Malibu Hybrid debuted this year as well. In that first year, note that the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine came with an eight-speed automatic instead of the nine-speed that came out a year later. Otherwise, this Malibu generation hasn't received any major changes.
The previous-generation Malibu spanned the years 2013 to 2015. More refined and fuel-efficient and offering more features than models before it, this Malibu still suffered from limited backseat room. It offered a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine producing 196 horsepower or an optional turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder good for 259 hp. Front-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission came standard.
A Malibu Eco trim for this generation came with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder (182 hp) connected to a mild hybrid system that helped return nearly 30 mpg combined. But the base engine achieved the same fuel economy, rendering the Eco a short and curious experiment.
The 2013-2015 Malibu offered four trim levels: LS, LT, LTZ and Eco. The base LS came equipped with alloy wheels, cruise control, air-conditioning and a power driver-seat height adjuster. The LT had three sublevels (1LT, 2LT and 3LT) that added perks such as dual-zone automatic climate control, a power driver seat, a 7-inch touchscreen, MyLink interface with smartphone integration and upgraded audio with iPod-USB connectivity. The LTZ boasted leather upholstery and heated front seats. Aside from its hybrid hardware, the Eco was equipped much like a 1LT. Options, depending on trim, included xenon headlights, a navigation system, Pioneer audio, and safety features such as lane departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert.
Numerous revisions in 2014 attempted to quell early criticism, including a fuel economy bump for the base four-cylinder, more torque for the turbocharged engine, revised suspension tuning and some new interior features. These changes didn't significantly elevate the Malibu's place in the family-sedan pecking order, but they do make the 2013 model marginally less appealing as a used option.
In our testing, we identified the Malibu's ride quality and refinement as particularly strong points. Impacts rarely filtered into the cabin, which remained whisper-quiet at highway speeds. Moreover, all Malibus enjoyed an abundance of soft-touch materials, decent-quality switchgear and an attractive dashboard. The main downside was a relative lack of rear-seat legroom. Overall, this generation Malibu doesn't fully stand out from the talented crowd in this segment, but it's still a solid choice for family sedan shoppers.
From 2008 to 2012, the Malibu offered crisp, tailored lines that assumed a more luxury sedan look than the forgettable models before it. The 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 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 169 hp 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 V6 packing 252 hp served as the optional engine upgrade (though it was initially standard on the LTZ). The V6 always had a six-speed automatic, as well as a steering system that differed from the four-cylinder's. 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.
We liked many aspects of this Chevrolet Malibu, including its combination of handsome looks, spacious and attractive cabin, competent performance and a quiet ride. Subpar backseat space and hit-or-miss interior construction were notable drawbacks, along with missing features such as navigation. Besides its transmission, changes were restricted to features availability, with items including Bluetooth and an iPod interface eventually added.
From 2004 to 2008, the Malibu had a one-year overlap when Chevrolet offered both a "new" Malibu and an outgoing model it called "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 safety features such as available side curtain airbags and adjustable pedals.
Base LS and midlevel LT models made up the bulk of the Malibu's production. In 2006, a leather-trimmed LTZ and high-performance SS injected some style and pep into the otherwise sedate lineup. For power, this 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 four-speed automatic transmission, and the SS featured a manual-shift mode.
In reviews, we commented favorably about the car's smooth ride quality and roomy interior. Noted downsides included a lackluster cabin and subpar braking and handling. We'd suggest choosing one of the V6 engines, which provide an agreeable combination of performance and fuel economy.
The preceding Chevrolet Malibu generation was sold during the 1997-2003 model years. 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 such as exterior and interior trim revisions, automatic headlamp control, new audio systems with a CD player, and new colors carried the Malibu through its next few years. We liked this Malibu at the time, viewing it as something of an overlooked gem in GM's lineup, but its advancing age and spotty consumer reviews make it less ideal as a used-car consideration.