The Mature 'Merican
Chevrolet's refreshed Malibu is a mid-size sedan with a different track in mind
What once started as a variant of the Chevrolet Chevelle with a rear-wheel drive platform in 1964, was reintroduced as its own model in the late 90s as a front-wheel drive family saloon. It took on seasoned Japanese manufacturers in the mid-size segment and saw moderate success, but nothing that would bring GM the big bucks. Late 2016, Chevrolet revealed the all-new 9th-generation Malibu. Right off the bat, it seems like a car that could challenge the likes of the Camry, the Accord etc - but for different reasons. Here are our thoughts on the 2.5L-powered, range-topping LTZ variant we drove.
DESIGN & AESTHETICS
The current Chevrolet Malibu is a near-5-metre-long handsome sedan that is some 130kg lighter than the model it replaced. The sleek lamps, slim split grille detailing and triangulated Corvette-reminiscing tail lamps fit into, and along, the subtle creases of the bodywork, which makes for a very cohesive design. We are pretty sure it has many aerodynamic benefits as well.
Nighttime illumination comes from regular yellow halogen lamps, while the HIDs are reserved for the LTZ. The latter also add some visual sophistication to the look. And visibility is a non-issue during all times of day and night, thanks to the inverted-L LED DRLs upfront.
The LTZ rides on 18-inch alloy wheels that have a sporty accent. As large as they are, even larger 19-inch ones would easily fit those wheel wells for a sportier look (the base LS models start with 16-inch and the LT gets the 17-inch variety).
We also liked the fastback profile; it certainly gives the Malibu a modern outlook. But we think it could use a better show of power like its rivals - even the 2.5L model - by exposing its exhaust tips instead of neatly tucking them under the black rear lower valance.
The 2018 Malibu, like many other Chevrolet products, isn't a beauty built to take your breath away. But it's more an acquired taste that builds favour with time. That being said, everything in its class has appeal now - even the Camry.
Enticed by the appeal of one? Do make sure to check out the interiors as well before making a purchase. Chevy have thoroughly revamped the interiors, giving it a striking yet balanced design. While some of the surfaces are hard, like the upper dash, softer materials go on key touchpoints like the doors, arm rests, the dash etc.
The central instrument readouts are bright and legible - meaning convert buyers won't have an issue adjusting. Leather upholstery on the LTZ model is soft and supple, and presumably not authentic. It comes in either medium ash grey or loft brown. Real leather wraps the steering wheel, one that is both functional thanks to its aptly-sized diameter and rubberised multi-function buttons, whilst being elegant, thanks to metallic satin accents. These shiny trims are also seen on air vents' surrounds and other bits - which help raise the Malibu's identity from rental car banality to almost a luxury car feel. The stitched leather on the dash and faux wood is also deserving of some credit.
The layout of the centre console is clutter free. The optional 8-inch screen on the LTZ replaces the standard 7-inch variety and it sits elegantly atop, with a good mix of hard buttons - including a physical knob for volume - and responsive on-screen buttons to ease infotainment operation.
Space in the front cabin, like most mid-sized vehicles, is in abundance. Also, having a long wheelbase means that there is plenty of rear passenger legroom. You can strike the laziest sitting posture and not feel constricted. The centre seat is serviceable and there is plenty of stowage under it, and all around the cabin.
POWERTRAIN & PERFORMANCE
The available 2.5-litre 4-cylinder motor hits the sweet spot between performance and economy. It may not be a screaming motor with breakneck performance with which you are able draw tread marks on the tarmac, but punch the throttle and it drives forward with purpose and without struggle. The 186-rated horsepower is slightly higher than other 2.5L motors available in the market; this makes both getting off the line and overtaking easy.
When on the move, you're not subject to the harshness of ambient noises of a bustling city. The Malibu has a cabin that is rather well insulated from the hustle and bustle of said big city. The vertical motions caused by the bumps on the roads and transferred through the springs are made subtle, making every day driving - and riding - a comfortable one.
The steering feel is appropriately light with some feedback and decent accuracy. It is not made to make you feel connected with the car and course, but to give you a sense of surety as you travel through the lefts and rights of in-city traffic and change lanes on fast-moving highways.
Helping put that power down to the front wheels is a 6-speed automatic that is tuned more for smoothness than abrupt gear swaps. There are some unusual thumb buttons on the shifter for your share of manual labour. And if you go looking for paddle shifters behind the wheel, you'll find buttons that can change radio stations and volume - at a convenient touch.
Claims are tall for the 2.5L Malibu in terms of fuel economy. On average, it is supposed to deliver 14.3km/L, which is about 7L/100km for those who look at it the other way around. If you travel alone, and mostly on the highway, this is possible. Otherwise, something closer to 11L/100km is more reasonable. Surprisingly, the more powerful 2.0T model returns 14.2 km/L - so, that is something you may want to think about before making a purchase.
FEATURES & FUNCTIONALITY
We did hook up our portable devices via the Bluetooth to the audio system to get our personalised share of harmony. The LTZ gets the big boy 9-speaker Bose system that will beat with the tune of your heart while lesser models get a factory-fitted 6-speaker unit. Phone mirroring is made easy for Apple and Android aficionados, and the Chevy MyLink system is generally easy to use too.
Where safety is concerned, Malibu doesn't miss a trick. The LTZ comes with a rearview camera, six airbags, tyre pressure indicator, and front and rear parking sensors as standard. In addition, you can add the advanced safety pack which adds Active Safety, Lane Keep Assist, Semi-Automatic Parking Assist, Pedestrian Detection System, Advanced Active Safety Pack, Collision Avoidance & Mitigation Sensor (at low speed), Rear-Cross Traffic, Blind Spot Alert, and Hill Start Assist, amongst other things.
It also gets dual-zone climate control (LTZ only) to go with the ventilated seats that is bound to make a lot of sense in the summers, especially with leather seats. Although some of the draft may be interrupted by the steering wheel, rear passengers can direct air to themselves using dedicated rear vents too.
At the rear is a reasonably big trunk with a wide opening. And by dropping the seats, you may not get a fully flat floor but it can certainly swallow larger items with ease.
The Malibu may not have the reputation amongst mid-size buyers but, for all its worth, it's deserving of your consideration, simply because it offers things that rivals don't or offer in different proportions. It's styled with a verve and is cavernous beyond its sleek silhouette. The general feel of the cabin is nice and cosy without wanting in technology. It also drives well, with a high comfort factor attached to it. Also, for just over Dh5k, you can have the car serviced every 10,000km till 110k km, which sounds pretty reasonable. Although reliability and resale is in favour of its Japanese competitors, there isn't any significant discernible flaw with the vehicle. One more thing: the pick of the lot seems to be the LT trim with 2.0T engine.