Ready For Battle: The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Chevrolet Malibu
The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu.
I had just begun my career as a professional TireKicker (automotive journalist) when Chevrolet announced it was bringing back the Malibu. The name, first used in 1964 for the top-of-the-line midsize Chevelle, was retired in 1983 and replaced by the now-unloved, unmissed Corsica.  Needless to say, as a child of the 60s and 70s, I was excited...until I saw the 1997 Malibu.  If ever a car was destined to be seen more often at airport rental car lots than in the driveways of actual car-buying people, the '97 Malibu was it.

Each generation of the Malibu since has been an attempt to crawl out of that hole and make a car that Americans would choose to spend their hard-earned money on instead of a Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Mazda 6, Subaru Legacy,  Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Ford Fusion or Chrysler 200.

It appears the fifth time could be a charm.

Rear 3/4 view of 2016 Chevrolet Malibu
2016 Chevrolet Malibu.
I say "appears" because nothing is certain in the car business and the Malibu faces stiff and abundant competition from no fewer than nine other midsize sedans as well as its own lukewarm image from previous generations.  But get behind the wheel, as I did for a week, and the 2016 Malibu makes a strong case for itself.

All new from the ground up, it gets its good looks directly from big brother Impala and rides better and has more rear seat legroom than the previous-gen Malibu thanks to a longer wheelbase.  It's more nimble because it weighs 300 pounds less than last year's model.  It sips gas (EPA estimate 27 city/37 highway) thanks to a standard 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with start/stop technology.

I can hear the scoffing through the computer screen.  "A Malibu...hell, any midsize sedan with a liter and a half four-banger?  Pass."  And you're wrong.  The 1.5 makes 160 horsepower and 184 pounds per foot of torque. The torque figure is in the same ballpark as last year's 2.5-liter engine and with 300 pounds less bulk to move, the car is quicker. A week of city street and urban freeway driving, including a down-and-back to San Francisco in heavy rain never once resulted in a moment where I felt like there wasn't enough power.  In fact, dip into the turbo and the Malibu is downright quick. And it's smooth.  It's a 1.5-liter four that feels like a 3-liter six, except the fuel tank takes a long time to empty itself.

Interior view of 2016 Chevrolet Malibu
The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu interior.
The interior is vastly improved and completely up to date, with interesting, engaging shapes, patterns and contrasts.  It's supremely comfortable and the sightlines are excellent, despite the sloping rear roof.

The starting price for the 2016 Malibu in base trim (Malibu L) is $21,625, which is $840 less than last year's model.  Our two steps up 1LT begins at $25,020 and adds a rear-vision camera, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, upgrades the 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers to 17-inch aluminum wheels along with a tire upgrade, LED daytime running lamps, an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat with power lumbar control, adds express up and down to the driver's-side power window, compass and exterior temperature display, a rear console vent, illuminated vanity mirrors in the sun visors, interior ambient lighting and reading lamps in the back seat, Chevy MyLink radio, OnStar with 4G LTE, a body-color antenna, a rear-vision camera and opens up options that simply can't be had on the Malibu L.

Our tester had two optional packages, the Driver Confidence Package (Intellibeam automatic high beam control, front and rear park assist, following distance sensor, forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert, lane keep assist, low-speed front automatic braking, side blind zone alert with lane change alert, and front pedestrian detection) for $1,195 and the Convenience and Technology Package (remote vehicle start, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, an upgraded MyLink audio system with 8-inch color touchscreen, Bluetooth, and Apple Car Play, which puts the most often used apps (Phone, Music, Maps, Messages, AudioBooks, iHeartRadio, Podcasts) onto that touchscreen by linking with your iPhone (there's also an Android Car Play).  That cost $895.

About Apple Car Play:  I like it in that all you have to do is plug your phone in and all those features are available.  No more forgetting to turn on Bluetooth and having the phone ring at 70 miles per hour.  The one drawback (as we found in our review of the 2016 Honda Accord EX-L with Apple Car Play) is that it's only as good as your cell signal.  Drive outside that and anything your phone has to have a signal for is useless.  That didn't happen during the week I drove the Malibu, and everything performed flawlessly.  But if you are an adventurous spirit, prone to exploring where cell companies fear to tread, consider getting GPS in addition.

With $875 destination charge, the bottom line for this Malibu came to $27,985...a bargain for the level of equipment, both standard and optional.  But this car does not sell on price alone---this time the Malibu's got looks, performance, handling and fuel economy hard-wired into the equation as well. For the first time in decades, Chevy has a fully competitive entry in the midsize family sedan segment.