Victoria, British Columbia – Prior to getting behind the wheel of the redesigned 2016 Malibu, I was preparing myself for a relaxing but unexciting drive. Not to be too indelicate, but over the past 10 years, the comfy but unremarkable Malibu has become a favourite of rental fleets and retirees.
So it was with a modicum of shock and a measure of surprise that I experienced a very different Malibu on a recent 300 km drive around the southern half of Vancouver Island: agile, quick, quiet, roomy, comfortable and laden with the latest tech toys – not to mention more affordable than previous Malibus – the new Malibu reminds me a lot of Buick’s European-designed Buick Regal, surely one of the most under-appreciated luxury sedans on the market.
Built on an all-new front-wheel drive platform that makes extensive use of lightweight steel, the 2016 Malibu has gone from being one of the heaviest vehicles in its class to one of the lightest. It’s about 136 kg lighter than the previous Malibu sedan even though its overall length has increased by 58 mm. The base 2016 Malibu L weighs in at just 1,400 kg – over 150 kg lighter than a Ford Fusion 1.5 Ecoboost and about 96 kg lighter than a Honda Accord 2.4 sedan.
The lighter body allowed GM to add a smaller standard engine without degrading performance. 2016 Malibu L, LS and LT trims now come standard with a new turbocharged 163 hp 1.5L 4 cylinder DOHC engine with direct fuel injection which replaces the previous 196 hp 2.5L normally-aspirated four-cylinder engine. Though the new turbo engine has less horsepower, it makes the same amount of torque at lower rpms (184 lb-ft at 2,000-4,000 rpm) which makes it feel more responsive when accelerating at low to mid-range speeds (where you spend most of your time). And in a 0 to 100 km/h sprint, the 2016 Malibu 1.5 turbo is just 0.3 seconds slower than the 2015 Malibu 2.4: 8.5 seconds vs 8.2 seconds.
Despite having less horsepower than its main rivals, the 2016 Malibu with the 1.5 turbo is quicker than most of them from 0 to 100 km/h. The Malibu’s time of 8.5 seconds compares to the 170 hp Ford Fusion 1.5 Ecoboost/6-spd auto with 9.0 seconds, the 185 hp Honda Accord 2.4 CVT with 8.8 seconds and the Mazda6 2.5/six-auto with 7.8 seconds.
As a fuel-saving measure, the Malibu’s 1.5L turbo engine comes standard with an automatic stop/start system that turns off the engine while at traffic lights and automatically restarts when the brake pedal is released. Though I could tell when the engine stopped and started, it wasn’t jerky or noisy enough to prompt me to deactivate it (I can’t say the same for some other cars I’ve driven). The engine drives the front wheels through a standard six-speed automatic transmission which proved to be a smooth-changing partner over the course of my test drive. A manual shift button on top of the gear lever is there for those (rare) times when you want to hold the transmission in a lower gear for acceleration or hill-climbing.
Behind the Tech: 2016 Chevrolet Malibu and High-Strength Steel
Crucially, the 1.5L turbo engine’s fuel economy (L/100 km) is better than last year’s base 2.4L engine: 8.7 city/6.3 hwy/7.6 combined vs 9.3 city/6.4 hwy/8.0 combined (NRCan figures). That makes the Malibu one of the most fuel-efficient mid-size sedans available, just behind the Nissan Altima 2.5/CVT (7.5 L/100 km combined) and equal to the Honda Accord 2.4/CVT. Surprisingly though, the 2016 Malibu’s fuel tank is only 49.2 litres in size, much smaller than average. That gives it a driving range of about 647 km in mixed city/highway driving. One good thing: the 1.5L turbo engine uses regular grade gasoline.