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Review: 2016 Chevrolet Malibu 2.0T Premier

by Byron Hurd

We take Chevy\'s new midsize for an extended spin.

In 2007, Chevrolet set out to make a splash with its redesigned Malibu. It was all-new from the ground up, sporting updated styling, a vastly overhauled interior and a modernized suite of powertrains. It worked, at least at first. GM was so proud of its new family sedan that its marketing team even bought ad time just to poke fun at how old and dowdy its predecessor was—remember the forgettable getaway car?

But it wasn't all roses. Launching a new car for the 2008 model year turned out to be a gamble far greater than anybody realized. The stock market was on its way to the floor. Gas prices were soaring. For domestic automakers, the story was even worse—a lesson General Motors and Chrysler learned the especially hard way.

The market for inexpensive, fuel-efficient cars expanded by leaps and bounds in the world of $4.00/gallon gas and stingy credit markets. By the time the Malibu was due for an overhaul, it was virtually impossible to find one with a V6.

That overhaul brought us the thoroughly adequate (and often overlooked) 2013 model, a car which didn't even induce enough of an emotional response for critics to pan it. In many ways, the Malibu had reverted to its pre-2008 form. It was A Car for people who needed A Car—nothing more, nothing less.

This lukewarm reception was partially responsible for Chevy's push to overhaul the Malibu yet again--years before such a thorough redesign would normally have happened. That brings us to 2016, and the all-new (again) Malibu. Was it all worth it? Read on to find out.

What is it?The 2016 Malibu is longer, roomier, safer and more tech-laden than its predecessor. It's still a midsizer, but with the old model often being criticized for its lack of rear seat room, it was obviously engineered to be more spacious and welcoming for all five potential occupants.

The packaging victories don't end there. While the new Malibu may be bigger, it's also substantially lighter. Nearly 300lbs have been trimmed off at every equipment level, with the base model weighing in at just 3,086lbs--only a few grocery bags heavier than a Ford Focus Titanium.

The new Malibu got a powertrain overhaul too, and is now powered exclusively (with the exception of the Hybrid model) by turbocharged engines. The up-trim engine found in our tester is a 2.0L unit making 250 horsepower at 5,300 RPM and 295lb-ft of torque at 1,700 RPM.

Our tester was equipped with GM's new transverse-mounted eight-speed automatic (the 1.5L turbo gets a six-speed auto) and this combo is rated for 22 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway. With a bit of a city bias to our driving, we averaged around 26--well within the expected range.

As a Premier model, it also boasted all of the big-ticket bells and whistles--eight-inch touchscreen navigation, adaptive cruise control, heated and ventilated leather seats and premium Bose audio, just to name a few--along with some of Chevy's newest staple features. 4G LTE hotspot? Check. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability? Absolutely.

Chevy's Driver Confidence package throws in a handful of semi-autonomous safety and convenience features, including auto high beams, forward collision alert, blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assist and forward pedestrian detection.

What's it up against?The Malibu is aimed squarely at the tech-enabled end of the midsize sedan segment. The Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima are the segment's most prolific sellers, with the Ford Fusion representing the strongest domestic alternative.

Other competitors include the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata--both of which have made smartphone integration a priority--and the Subaru Legacy.

What does it look like?Chevy abandoned the old Malibu's looks, which is a good thing. The long-nose look of the previous car wouldn't translate well to the new model's underpinnings. Instead, we get what could best be described as "Diet Impala" looks. It's probably no coincidence that this look invokes the 2008 model we mentioned before, but we're not sure that's for the best.

That theme is most evident in the three-grille design up front, but the new model's more aggressive and angular face is a clear departure from the rounded, almost manatee-like lines of the '08. It's arguably the new Malibu's best angle.

The rear, by comparison, is a bit of a mixed bag. There's a lot of sheet metal around its hips, which looks fine from some angles but makes no sense from others. It lends the car visual heft, which isn't a bad thing by itself, but when viewed up close from the rear 3/4 view, it's less heft and more bloat. The good news is, the awkward rear fenders are somewhat redeemed by the integrated ducktail swoop of the trunklid.

And the inside?The front/rear dichotomy of the Malibu's exterior look is repeated inside. The dash is clean and attractive, with a well-integrated touchscreen sitting slightly proud of the top of the center stack. As in many newer cars, controls are divided between the touchscreen and physical buttons on the console and stack.

The good news is, the seats are comfortable and supportive, and the controls in the cabin generally easy to use. We did find the cruise control buttons on the wheel a bit tricky to use without looking due to their inconsistent protrusion from the spoke surface, and we weren't in love with the faux wood trim in the center console, but those were both minor complaints.

Rear passengers in our Premier model were treated to their own HVAC interface and charging ports, but otherwise, sitting in the rear felt like taking a trip back to 2008. The door trim, especially, brought us right back to the model we've discussed multiple times. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's just... odd.

But does it go?250 horsepower in a ~3,200lb car? Those are basically hot hatch numbers these days, so it should stand to reason that the Malibu can get up and go fairly well, and it does. Acceleration is more than adequate when you boot it, making highway merges a breeze.

We were less than thrilled with the powertrain's responsiveness in other situations, however. The engine isn't lacking in torque, but the transmission can still strand you in the abyss of turbo lag. Get stuck behind slow-accelerating traffic and the Malibu will get so many gears ahead of you that once your lane clears, you're in for what feels like an eternity of downshifting before you can grab that power again.

Which brings us to another thing we noticed, and this may have been a fluke of our particular tester. The eight-speed's gear selector does not like to be rushed. Shifting from park or reverse to the opposite requires a patient pause.

The good news is, the Malibu's front strut/rear independent suspension package makes for a perfectly good ride, pairing nicely with the sedan's comfortable seats when it comes to longer drives. Its primary mission, after all, is the transportation of anywhere from one-to-five people over distances great and small, and in that capacity it is quite capable.

The Malibu may not be the enthusiast's choice in this segment (and what even is these days?) but it's a capable and comfortable sedan with enough power to make short work of a highway passing situation.

Leftlane's bottom lineThe 2016 Chevy Malibu tries to recapture the magic of the 2008 redesign that put it back on the map, but we're not sure it completely succeeds. In a midsize segment that is flooded with reliable and tech-laden options, we're not sure if the new Malibu can stand out, but that doesn't make it a poor choice.

2016 Chevrolet Malibu Premier (2LZ) base price $30,920. As tested, $34,285Driver Confidence Package, $1,195; Driver Confidence Package II; $1,295; Destination, $875

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