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Review of the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu: Better than expected

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On: Tue, May 3, 2016 at 12:44PM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Review of the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu:  Better than expected

In the American automotive world, few things are certain. It is an ever-changing cornucopia of styles, brands, trends, companies, and needs. One year it seems like America wants giant SUVs, big as can be, that can traverse everything from three feet of standing water to the curb at the closet outlet mall. Then a few years later, everyone wants to ditch their global destruction vehicles and jump into cars that have less than 100 horsepower and can barely get out of their own way, but can get 900 miles per gallon. Then when that craze dies down, everyone wants SUVs that can still act like SUVs, but get the fuel mileage of a smart Car. Then people want SUVs that are still kind of SUVs, but looks more like cars, but taller cars, or sedans that look more like coupes, but with four doors, and not as appealing… The list of demands just gets crazier and crazier every other year.

But throughout all that chaos of needs, wants, desires, and crazy impulses, there have been a few mainstays in the car kingdom. One of, maybe the biggest, constants over the last couple decades has been that the entry-level midsize sedan market is cutthroat and harder to break into than a coconut without any tools. The other constant in that time has been that the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry have been the perennial leaders of that segment before the internet was even a thing. But that daunting thought has not kept companies from throwing their challengers into the ring with the big boys, and, for 2016, Chevrolet has decided to reboot the Malibu and see if it can stand up to the champs.

The new Malibu comes to fight with a sleeker look to it than its predecessors. A high belt line (a bit reminiscent of the Camaro) makes the windows seem a little high, and the cabin a little closed-in. But that initial impression is countered by the expansive-feeling dashboard that provides control to just about every feature one could expect in a modern sedan. There is plenty of room for five, thanks to the Accord-beating 111.4-inch wheelbase, especially for rear passengers, where the Malibu had lost points in the past.

That dash comes with either an optional 8-inch (Premier model) or 7-inch (all other models) that offers controls to things like Apple CarPlay, OnStar, or even Chevy's MyLink technology that can enable their new Teen Driver programming, which can crush the spirit of any newly-licensed driver with a multitude of fun-sapping abilities like: Setting a volume limit on the radio, giving visual and audio warnings when the car exceeds a preset speed limit, muting audio when the front seat belts are not being worn, keeping the car's safety features like Side Blind Zone Alert activated without any way to defeat them from the cockpit, and, finally, notifying the owner if any of the emergency features are needed (such as Forward Collision Alert or Front Automatic Braking).

Also available inside are things like a built-in 4G LTE hotspot, separate USB ports for each of the rear passengers, as well as a 12- and 120-volt power outlet. Think engineers had families in mind? And with those same families in mind, the Malibu has a ton of standard and optional safety features beyond just the teen-defeating ones. 10 air bags are standard, and there are the aforementioned Low Speed Front Automatic Braking, Lane Keep Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Front/Rear Park Assist, Front Pedestrian Braking, Rear Vision Camera, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and of course GM's OnStar system to help you in an emergency.

The 2016 Malibu offers you a choice of any engine you want, as long as you want a four-cylinder engine. Actually, there are, in fact, three different options to choose from: A 1.5-liter Ecotec turbo four that produces 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, a 2.0-liter turbo four cylinder that pumps out 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, and, finally, a hybrid motor that combines a 1.5-liter four cylinder that puts out 101 horsepower and two electric motors powered by a 1.5 kWh battery that makes an additional 81 horsepower for a total of 182. The transmission of choice is GM's 8L90 eight-speed automatic.

In terms of acceleration, the best case is made by the Premier option (there are four trim levels total: L, LS, LT, and Premier). The Premeir comes with the 2.0-liter turbo, and even with a respectable 250 hp, the Malibu doesn't really impress. 0–60 mph takes 6.1 seconds, 0–100 mph takes 15.4 seconds, the quarter mile comes and goes in 14.7 seconds @ 97 mph, and top speed is a drag limited 156 mph. Around the skidpad the Malibu pulls a decent 0.87g and brakes from 70–0 mph in 167 feet. All of these numbers are in the neighborhood of its competition, but an optioned-out Camry or Accord will probably smoke it in any sort of matchup. But then, that's not what the Malibu is expressly built for. Fuel economy, the Chevy more than holds its own. The 22/32 city/highway mpg of the Premier are pretty much a dead match for the Honda or Toyota, and when you consider that the 1.5-liter engine can net up to 37 mph highway, and the hybrid posts a 47 mpg city, the Malibu has got some serious competition for its Japanese rivals. Thank the designers for whittling this car down to a svelte 3,307 pounds for the non-hybrids and 3,457 pounds for the battery-hampered hybrid.

The 2016 Malibu may not blow you away, but it will impress you, and it shows that GM is really trying to improve their brand. This isn't your father's Malibu, or your older cousin's either. This new car feels more genuinely designed than just a mishmash parts-bin Franken-Chevy thrown together and dropped in showrooms. It is quiet and feels solid at speed. It's not a sports sedan by any stretch, but it feels plenty competent, and comfy enough to take the kids on a road trip for the weekend. Priced at a base MSRP of only $21,625, the Malibu will definitely get some interest based on that number alone. Of course, a fully optioned-out Premier model will run you $34,000 or so, but the average buyer will probably end up somewhere in between, which is at a very competitive level for this class of car.

So maybe next year people will want more three-wheeled cars, and the convertible SUV will come back into style. Your guess is as good as ours, but what we do know is that next year and the year after, the mid-sized sedan market war will still be raging on. And no matter how many new fads come and go, there will always be families that want safe, reliable, and comfortable transportation. Now, they have at least one more viable option to explore from Chevrolet.

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