2016 Chevrolet Malibu

INDIANAPOLIS — Chevy Malibu is a storied nameplate, dating to 1964, with generations behind it — some icons and others bombs.  Two generations ago, Malibu debuted with elegant European styling, two-tone interiors, and rear legroom that was the envy of mainstream mid-sizers.  Then, Chevrolet moved Malibu to its shorter mid-size architecture and gave it granny styling that crunched rear legs and left it blending into a sea of sculpted competitors.  It wasn’t a bad car — just boring.  That changes for 2016.

The first smart move was handing design responsibility to John Cafaro, best known for designing the C5 Corvette and current Impala.  The low and wide body with flying buttress affect fastback roofline and body creasing the recalls the Mercedes S-Class are gorgeous.  A horizontal twin-port grille is flanked by signature LED running lamps and flows into a deftly-creased hood.  A high rump flaunts wrap-around taillamps.  It all looks great over 18-inch alloys that resemble Chinese stars.
“Malibu’s gorgeous styling is the result of a masterful understanding of proportions,” said Ed Welburn, General Motors’ vice president of Global Design.  “The roofline has been stretched rearward giving a more sleek profile, while the front wheels have moved forward and front and rear overhangs have been reduced.  Along with the sculpted boy side, these cues help Malibu appear more dynamic and sophisticated.”
A four-inch stretch in wheelbase not only helps sleekify the styling, but also gives rear passengers stretch-out legroom.  Too bad our test car traded upscale contrasting color leather for low-rent gray cloth and hard plastic on the doors and dash.  Cloth inserts on the dash and doors echo the Cruze and look good next to the slick touchscreen attached to the center dash.  It’s a very Apple look that works well.

Except, it comes up a little short on features.  Sure, the infotainment system is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible.  Without navigation, you’ll have to call OnStar or use your smartphone.  It does have Bluetooth calling/streaming audio, wireless phone charging, keyless starting, several USB ports and 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, but you’ll have to adjust your own climate control.  There’s no sunroof or heated seats either.  I know, such sacrifice.  Adding plusses, the leather-wrapped steering wheel and metallic painted surfaces on the console and doors were first class.
Our 2LT trim level presented a weird combination of low rent interior bits combined with cutting edge technology.  You’re really paying for the crash avoidance systems that include low speed mitigation braking, rear camera, blind zone alert, front/rear park assist, and forward collision alert systems.  It seems like a car chosen by fleet managers to keep salespeople safe.  Leather will cost you over $2,100 because it’s only available with the Technology and Convenience package.
But, those are just first impressions.  Getting behind the wheel is more convincing as the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers 250 horsepower to the front wheels through an 8-cog automatic gearbox.  Run any reasonable speed and there’s plenty of power ready with the tap of a toe.  The powertrain plus aerodynamic bodywork enable 22/33-MPG city/hwy.  If that doesn’t suit you, opt for the 48/45-MPG Malibu Hybrid or base 1.5-liter turbo-four that delivers 37-MPG hwy.
While I was griping about the interior trim to a co-worker, I launched the car into a sweeping Interstate on-ramp and put the hammer down.  I came out the other side as if channeling a sport coupe.  Removing 300 pounds from the car helps, but the chassis is firm and fun, soaking up city ugly patches with not a squeak nor harsh bump.  Typical GM, Malibu provides a nice balance of handling and comfort.
I give Cafaro and his team mad props for the styling — it’s absolutely beautiful, a world-beating work of art.  And, the powertrain and chassis engineers were clearly wide awake.  Vastly improved rear legroom also go on the leader board.  But, it’s hard to ignore the dash and door plastic and gray canvas seats.  Malibu’s interior does not fail in design; it fails in details.  Fix that and Malibu will slay all competitors. 
“Midsize car customers tell us they want great fuel economy and connected technologies, wrapped in a gorgeous exterior.  This is exactly what the 2016 Malibu was engineered to do,” said Jesse Ortega, Malibu chief engineer.
So, for “fun” part.  You can get a base Malibu with a 163 horsepower turbo-four for $21,625, but our test car came to, um, well, it’s, $30,490!  You’re paying for the larger engine and safety tech, but not getting much else.  Competitors include the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, and VW Passat.

— Casey Williams (MyCarData)