First drive: 2016 Chevrolet Malibu [Review]

The Chevy Malibu gets a significant update for 2016.

Fifty-one years and over 10-million units sold, Chevy's bread and butter Malibu is like the McDonald's hamburger. Satisfying, to a point, it is nothing, if not consistent. But it wasn't always this way. With the introduction of the latest version, has the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu gone gourmet? Leftlane goes taste testing to find out.

Global reachThe Chevrolet Malibu is sold in over 25 markets worldwide, with the bulk of sales coming from the U.S., China and Korea. This ninth-generation sedan features a new look that borrows the best designs from Asia, Europe and America. And it has gone on a diet, too, to the tune of about 300-pounds.

That weight loss allows the Malibu to utilize three different powertrains including one led by a 1.5-liter turbocharged Ecotec four-cylinder engine. That all-new engine produces 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, and is mated to a GM six-speed automatic transmission. While the 1.5-liter, with its ECO start/stop mode, is the base flavor, it is joined by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder Ecotec mill that is similar to the engine found in the Cadillac ATS and other cars in the General's portfolio. In this case, it is good for 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, and in a front-wheel-drive first, uses an eight-speed automatic transmission. In either case, EPA mileage estimates log in at 27 city/37 highway, and 22 city/32 highway respectively.

Finally, a dual-mode hybrid drivetrain is available that utilizes much of the technology and experience gained from the Chevrolet Volt and the Silverado Dual-Mode Hybrid trucks. Powered by a 1.8-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder gas engine, it joins the electric motor for acceleration and EV operation, while the gas engine is used as an overdrive for highway driving and power generation. We had a brief drive time in the hybrid and found it almost like the un-hybrid: Except for the badging, you would be hard pressed to find many dissimilarities from the standard drivetrain models. Although the EPA reports are not finished yet, preliminary General Motors estimates tag the Malibu Hybrid at 48 city/45 highway and 47 mpg combined.

Regardless of whether they are gas or hybrid powered, the competition remains the same, and includes such stalwarts as the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry.

Styling on the boulevardGM officials stated how they didn't want to be too clever or creative in designing this new version. Instead it was decided to go modern but not overdone. Longer, lower and wider, the 2016 Malibu features new styling along the slenderized front clip. Cleanly scalloped side panels add interest and visual strength that sweeps into an integrated decklid spoiler and stylized rear end that seemingly pays homage to the Audi A7.

Now offered in base L, LS, LT, Hybrid, and Premier, the Malibu features a trim level for nearly every taste and pocket book ranging from a low-end, but well equipped L-version that starts at $22,500 to the high end Premier with its $31,795 price of entry.

Between the wheels, Chevrolet engineers have managed to stretch the platform, which the Malibu shares with the new Buick Lacrosse, for a total of four inches. While that's admittedly a small number, in terms of cabin space, that amount yields 1.3-inches of additional legroom and more comfort than found in previous versions. The overall length, from tip to tail, also grows by 2.3-inches, but still slots in below its Impala big brother.

Also inside is the new low and away dashboard design that imparts a feeling of spaciousness inside the cabin.

From a styling standpoint, if we had our druthers, we wished Chevrolet followed the lead of Hyundai's luxury Genesis division, which offers buyers a choice of the brand's corporate H logo, or as an option, a Bentley-esque winged affair. In this case we would love to see a car this attractive with something other than the large Chevrolet bowtie. GM held customer clinics with an un-badged Malibu, where viewers were very pleasantly surprised to find it was a Chevy and not some other brand. It would be sad to think Chevrolet is losing sales due to the peccadilloes of some longtime loyalists. Give the buyer a choice, we say! Regardless, we think the 2016 Malibu is one of the General's best looking efforts to date.

Tech insideIn addition to the high-mileage efforts brought on by the three powerplants, the Malibu is very tech-savvy as well. In fact, it's the reason Chevrolet flew us to Palo Alto, California, home of Google, Apple, HP and Facebook to experience the ‘Bu on the home turf of these tech giants.

Among notable offerings in this new sedan is the latest version of the Chevrolet MyLink system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. While the Android app is on the way, Apple CarPlay has already made its bones, with quick connections minus the pairing process found with standard Bluetooth systems.

Plugging in your iPhone 5 through 6s and the Malibu's eight-inch screen mimics the appearance of your iPhone or iPad. An added bonus: In cars not equipped with navigation, plugging the phone will instantly convert the display into a fully functional nav system (via the phone's GPS system) that was every bit as effective as a Garmin or other factory offering. Additionally, the Malibu is the only mid-size sedan that can take advantage of the available OnStar 4G LTE system for high speed Wi-Fi connectivity.

Also new in this Malibu is Chevrolet's Teen Driver System that allows parents to program in a recommended high speed that they don't want their young drivers to exceed. Other features like Geo-fencing alert parents when a car leaves a prescribed area and serves to encourage safe driving habits. Parents can also follow up by checking the "Report Card” that, for a subscription fee, will display recent infractions. In this case, big brother may actually be your parent, too.

Forward Collision alerts, Forward collision avoidance braking, Low Speed Front Automatic Braking, Front and Rear park assist, Front Pedestrian Braking, and Lane Change Alert with side blind zone alert, Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Alert with following distance indicator are a select group of safeties that are part of the Malibu's Driver Confidence Package ($1,195). Those wanting to go further can opt for the Driver Confidence II system ($1,295) and its Adaptive Cruise Control, Automatic Parking Assist and Front Automatic Braking.

Drive timeThe Chevrolet Malibu cut a fine swath during our drives in and around Silicon Valley. Power from the 1.5-liter turbo four-cylinder Ecotec engine was more than enough for most non-enthusiast drivers while those seeking more oomph will likely choose the 2.0-liter turbo four. The 1.5's six-speed automatic was perfectly at home for most situations including windy roads leading to Alice's Restaurant in Woodside, California.

Switching over to the 2.0-liter version with its eight-speed automatic displayed a quick shifting gearbox that didn't hunt unnecessarily on quickly ascending roadways. With either engine choice, the ride was exceptionally quiet except on all but the worst roads. At that point, the Continental all-season radials let us know of their displeasure while encountering the patched up backroads that we traversed.

Handling was extremely well-modulated from the lengthened wheelbase and the pair of MacPherson struts in front and the multilink kit in the rear. The speed-sensitive power-assisted rack and pinion steering was light enough to handle all the slow speed maneuvering that we encountered, and firmed up nicely, as we like it, when at highway cruising speeds.

Leftlane's bottom lineTaking nothing for granted, Chevrolet extends the wheelbase and fuel economy of its 2016 Malibu. With those and other improvements in quality and features, they have also extended the life of their venerable fifty-plus year old Malibu sedan.

2016 Chevrolet Malibu Malibu L base price, $22,500.Malibu LS base price, $23,995.Malibu 1.5 LT base price, $25,895.Malibu 2.0 LT base price, $29,495.Malibu 2.0 Premier base price, $31,795.

Photos by Mark Elias.

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