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2017 Chevrolet Malibu Test Drive Review
With the 2017 Malibu, Chevrolet perfects its midsize sedan recipe just as people are migrating away from family cars and into family crossovers.
Rodney Dangerfield was a legendary stand-up comedian, and while his on-stage shtick was all about how he didn’t get any respect, as a comedic talent he was held in the highest esteem. That’s not the case for the 2017 Chevrolet Malibu. The oft-maligned Malibu literally gets no respect, which is too bad because with its most recent redesign for the 2016 model year, the car absolutely deserves it.
Look and Feel
Similar to how many people experience the 2017 Chevrolet Malibu, I picked up my test car at a parking facility near a major airport. Unlike a rental car, though, my Malibu was immaculately detailed, equipped with the top Premier trim level, and powered by an excellent turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. All three of those details have a significant and positive impact on first impressions.
Basically, what I’m saying is that you can’t really judge any car by what you rented at the airport, because most rental cars suck. The Malibu 2.0T Premier most definitely does not suck.
Painted Arctic Blue Metallic and equipped with both of the Driver Confidence option packages, my test car’s price came to $34,040 including the $875 destination charge. That’s a big jump over the base Malibu L, which starts at $22,555. From there, at $1,500 to $3,000 intervals, Malibu models include the LS, LT, Hybrid, and then Premier.
The only major option missing from my test vehicle was the Sun and Wheel Package, which installs a dual-pane power sunroof, a universal home remote, upgraded floor mats, and attractive 19-inch wheels. The Malibu’s artfully swept and dramatically sculpted bodywork almost demands the larger wheels to keep the car from looking overweight and ponderous. My test car’s polished 18-inch alloys were fine, but they looked just a little too small.
The sunroof comes in handy, too, especially for a Malibu equipped with a Jet Black interior. Chevrolet provides just enough brightwork on the dashboard to alleviate some of the gloom, but the rest of the Malibu’s cabin is relentlessly black (except for the gray headliner). If you’re wondering what other colors are available, they include brown over black or gray over black, each providing welcome contrast for a more upscale appearance.
Generally speaking, the Malibu is attractively and cohesively styled. I’m not a fan of the grimacing LED running lights in the front, a handful of interior elements look tacked onto rather than integrated into the design, and some cabin materials instantly strike an observer as cheap, but otherwise this car is executed in a visually consistent and aesthetically pleasing fashion.
Malibu buyers can choose from three different powertrains. Standard equipment includes a turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and a 6-speed automatic transmission. Good for 163 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, this engine is acceptable and was probably installed in a Malibu you may have rented.
You can also buy a Malibu Hybrid rated to get 46 mpg in combined driving. This car makes 182 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque and is priced from $28,750. The main downside here is that the trunk shrinks by 4.2 cubic feet, to 11.6. Well, there’s that, and the fact that the word “Hybrid” is part of the car’s name.
Seriously, if someone told you that for less than 30 grand you could get a car with lots more power than a typical midsize sedan and that it would also get 46 mpg, you’d want to know where to put your name on the waiting list. Add the word “Hybrid” to that description, and suddenly nobody is interested.
My test car had the turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that is exclusive to the Premier trim level. It makes 250 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, and one or the other is essentially peaking between 2,000 rpm and 5,300 rpm. What this means is that the driver enjoys a whoosh of power from nearly any point in the rev range.
For 2017, this engine gets a new 9-speed automatic transmission. While some 9-speed automatic transmissions have developed reputations for unbecoming behavior, the Malibu’s new unit is a model of sophistication and refinement, except for the silly rocker switch on top of the gear shifter that provides access to a manual shifting mode.
According to EPA ratings, the Malibu Premier should get 26 mpg in combined driving. My test car averaged 27.3 mpg on my test loop, which bodes well for satisfaction with this car’s efficiency.
Where the Malibu shines unexpectedly brightest, however, is in the driving dynamics department. Sure, the 2.0-liter turbo’s rapid acceleration and the perfectly calibrated automatic transmission go a long way toward making the Malibu enjoyable to drive, but it is the steering, braking, and suspension tuning that have the power to sell you on this car.
In my opinion, and with few exceptions, GM is doing a great job with its electric steering systems. From the design, size, and shape of the wheel to how natural the system feels throughout the range of motion, the Malibu’s steering can be improved only by making it a little bit sharper.
As it stands, however, the steering impresses, allowing a driver to place the car right where he or she wants it and requiring little in the way of mid-course correction. On highways it feels secure and connected on center, and the lane-keeping assist technology works in subtle fashion to keep the Malibu between the painted lines.
The 4-wheel disc brakes with long-lasting Duralife rotors are outstanding, too. Granted, during testing it wasn’t quite 60 degrees outside, but despite heavy use they displayed not a hint of fade. Furthermore, the pedal is expertly tuned, making it possible to smoothly modulate the brakes in traffic and bring the Malibu to a lurch-free stop.
Best of all, the Malibu’s MacPherson strut front and four-link rear suspension is remarkably composed. When driving in town, some people might find it too stiff, and Chevrolet could do a better job of quelling road noise. Around city corners, down freeway ramps, and on twisty roads, the Malibu’s handling genuinely impresses in spite of the test car’s somewhat modest 245/45 all-season 18-inch tires. And at speed on the freeway, the Malibu feels solidly planted, inspiring confidence.
Taken together, the Malibu Premier’s drivetrain and mechanical hardware make this family sedan enjoyable to drive. I just wish Chevy offered an RS Package with 19-inch wheels for the LT, Hybrid, and Premier trim levels.
Form and Function
Get into a Chevy Malibu and you face a low-cut dashboard that promotes improved visibility, but at the same time makes it harder to hide the forward-collision warning projectors, speaker grilles, and windshield defrosters from view. As a result, there is a bit of an unfinished look to the top of the dashboard.
Equipped with power adjustable front seats, the Malibu is a comfortable car. The armrests are densely padded. The steering wheel is pleasing to grip. And the seats are wide, flat, and supply proper support over longer distances.
Chevy also fixed the previous Malibu’s main problem, which was a lack of rear seat space. The current model still isn’t as roomy as some competitors in this regard, but it’s no longer cramped like it used to be. Also, my test car had rear air vents, dual USB ports, and a 110-volt power outlet, important features to, say, tech-obsessed children.
Interior storage space is adequate, with a decently sized glove box, center console, and door-panel bins. A wireless charging slot grips a smartphone but is awkwardly located, putting it out of sight and making it easy to forget your phone. Strangely, the rounded tray located in front of the shifter and cup holders is not shaped to hold a modern smartphone, which strikes me as a significant oversight considering that this is also where the front USB ports are located.
Around back, the Malibu’s trunk holds 15.8 cubic feet of cargo. That’s competitive with other midsize sedans and measures just half a cube less than the largest trunk in the segment. I do, however, find it strange that General Motors, a company headquartered in Detroit, where cars are coated in road salt half the year, does not include a way to close the Malibu’s trunk lid without getting your fingers dirty.
As I’ve stated in many reviews of recent General Motors products, the automaker’s infotainment systems (Chevrolet MyLink and Buick/GMC IntelliLink) are impressive pieces of work.
Simple to understand, simple to use, and incorporating minimalistic design combined with profligate functionality, this is how logical and useful infotainment systems are done. For 2017, the Malibu’s MyLink setup gains Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection capability while continuing to offer access to OnStar subscription services and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot connection.
Teen Driver technology also continues. A new system that debuted last year, it allows parents to set a PIN code and to program specific vehicle functions and limits to encourage responsible driving by their offspring. Best of all, when the child returns home, the car will spit out a report detailing how it was driven while in your son’s or daughter’s care.
Thanks to a new feature called Rear Seat Reminder, the 2017 Malibu can also help to protect your kids when they’re still little. Designed to prevent owners from accidentally leaving children or pets in the car, the Rear Seat Reminder activates if you open the rear door before departure on an errand, commute, or trip. When you arrive at your destination the car will sound a loud chime that you cannot possibly ignore.
Chevrolet also provides a full slate of driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems for the Malibu. For the Premier trim level, they are bundled into Driver Confidence and Driver Confidence II option packages, and my test car had both of them.
The Driver Confidence Package ($1,195) added forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, low-speed automatic emergency braking, a blind-spot warning system with lane-change alert and rear cross-traffic alert functions, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist systems, front and rear parking sensors, and automatic high-beam headlights. Upgrade to the Driver Confidence II Package ($995) for adaptive cruise control, full-speed-range automatic emergency braking, and a parking assist system that will steer the car into a space for the driver.
Drivers can adjust the sensitivity levels for several of these features, and for testing I always select the middle setting. So calibrated, those features and systems that I sampled worked with remarkable accuracy and refinement.
In crash testing, the Malibu proves that it will do an excellent job protecting its occupants. Apparently, all it needs is a better set of headlights to earn a coveted Top Safety Pick Plus rating (the headlights are rated Poor by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). Meanwhile, the federal government gives the car 5-star ratings across the board, except for 4-star ratings for the front passenger in a frontal impact and for rollover resistance.
Unfortunately for Chevrolet, the company appears to have perfected its midsize family car recipe at the same time that people have decided that something like a Chevy Equinox is a preferable mode of transportation.
That’s a shame, because the latest Chevy Malibu finally deserves the respect it has long sought. It looks great, and it is enjoyable to drive, comfortable, safe, fuel efficient, and technologically advanced. This car is legit competitive, but in a segment that is seeing a significant downturn in car buyer interest.
On the bright side, if you’re in the market for a car like this, changing consumer tastes mean that big rebates can save you thousands off the sticker price.
Just don’t judge the Malibu based on what you may have rented at the airport. That car, compared to the loaded Premier I tested, is a completely different machine.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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