Chevrolet continues to impress with nearly every new model, or revamped model it launches, and the latest Chevy Malibu is no exception.
The tweaked styling makes the Malibu more like a Camry, especially from the rear. To me, that’s a good thing as the current Camry is the most stylish it has been in years. I tested a sharp-looking metallic crystal red Malibu in 1LZ trim, which is near the top of the line.
The 1LZ starts at $27,830, right in the midst of the mid-size family sedan market. But this one added loads of options to push it to $32,360. That’s pressing it, but in the Malibu’s defense, it was well equipped, including a back-up camera.
Those who are on a more moderate budget can get a base Malibu LS for $22,390 and there are seven trim levels, with the 2LZ being the top. Most come with the same 2.5-liter 4-cylinder semi-direct injected engine that creates 197 horsepower. That’s plenty.
There’s an ECO version with hybrid electric power coupled with a 2.4-liter 182-horse I4 engine. That model is available starting at $25,335 and boasts 25 mpg city and 37 highway. The test car delivered 25.1 mpg and is EPA rated at 22 mpg city and 34 mpg highway.
Chevy links its strong 2.5-liter power plant with a 6-speed automatic transmission that is fine, but can feel a little notchy compared with other 6-speed automatics. So you’ll feel some shifts. But acceleration is good and can be pretty peppy if you crunch the gas pedal hard.
Overall I like the Malibu’s feel. It’s fairly quiet inside and smooth in its operation. The 107.8-inch wheelbase along with 18-inch tires and four-link independent rear suspension give the front-drive Chevy a comfortable ride whether on bumpy city streets or Midwest highways with large expansion joints. Passengers praised Malibu’s ride, some likening it to mid-size luxury cars.
Handling is decent with only slight steering wheel play. Cornering is fine, with only slight lean in hard-pressed turns. Braking is stout with four-wheel discs, plus traction and stability control systems.
I like Malibu’s look, and its interior is another selling point. It’s stylish, and that’s not something you find often at this price point. The test car featured a dark brown and black leather ($150 extra) interior with a rugged finish that reminded me of old comfortable leather gloves. There was more texture on the dash and seats than you’ll see in most car interiors.
Chevy uses two shades of brown on the seats, and there’s metallic gray trim on the center stack with wood and chrome on the wheel hub. The wheel is wrapped in leather and there’s a chrome and wood look trim around the console-mounted shifter.
Malibu’s seats are well contoured and power adjusted on the 1LZ model, complete with power lumbar support and three levels of front seat heat. Four adults fit comfortably in Malibu and there’s a large trunk in back for luggage.
The Chevy’s dash is not only attractive, but well laid out. All gauges and buttons are easy to see, as is the screen at mid-dash. I like the car’s large easy-to-see and understand buttons so that you can spend more time driving and less futzing with the controls.
The car comes with a tilt/telescope steering wheel, keyless entry, dual zone climate controls, XM radio, Bluetooth for your phone and My Link radio system to synch up all your electronics. There are plenty of those here because the test car added a $1,900 electronics and entertainment package that includes a sunroof, Pioneer premium audio system, 9-speakers, 250-watt amp, a rear vision camera, 120-volt outlet and universal home remote. That rear vision camera is a particularly good safety device.
For $395 more you get the always annoying lane departure system, but the forward collision alert that could help keep you from rear-ending another vehicle if you’re busy texting or using your cellphone. Neither is recommended while driving.
An LTZ premium package adds HID headlights, push-button start and memory settings for the driver’s seat and mirrors for another $1,000.
Beyond all those add-on goodies, Malibu comes standard with automatic lights, a bin that folds from the dash just left of the steering wheel, while overhead there’s OnStar and visors that slide.
Inside I found only one small drawback, the storage bin between the front seats. It felt a bit cheap and didn’t latch with the authority common in vehicles at this price.
All told, Malibu is a fine mid-size car with sharpened styling inside and out. If value is what you’re after, look at the lower end of the trim levels for your family mover.