The cars we loved.
It’s great to see Chevrolet’s stable of sedans make gradual improvements in an attempt to make family cars important again. Although I’ve been frustrated with the lack of progress
in making the Cruze more competitive, Chevrolet’s bread and butter car for the mid-sized segment continues to evolve nicely.
I’ve always viewed the Malibu as redneck family transportation. At least that’s the unfortunate legacy of the 3rd generation from the ’80s. It was the last time you could buy the Malibu as a coupe. Then the Malibu disappeared, only to come back as an inoffensive larger four door clone resembling a Corolla. Despite improvements, subsequent generations would have the reputation as the kind of cheap rental option that would eventually find its way to the buy here pay here lots on the seedy side of town. Reliable but bland. All the bling was being directed toward building ever bigger trucks and SUVs.
That began to change by the 2008 model year. The previous generation, but on the Epsilon platform was a good start, but it lacked what it took to compete directly with Honda and Toyota on everything but price. The seventh generation car from 2008 was a step in the right direction. Still on the Epsilon platform, the longer roomier car was on its way to changing minds about Chevy’s middle sedan with smart looks and a wild two-tone interior. 2012 saw an improvement in the car’s overall appearance while improving power-train options. The post 2012 Malibu had one of the better interiors in its class and continued on a path of refinement to its modern classic theme.
Despite all the improvements, the mid-sized sedan market got tougher as competitors released a string of excellent cars with distinctive designs. Even for formally boring Toyota Camry had become interesting to look at. With new cars rolling out in close secession from Hyundai, Ford and Honda, the Malibu suddenly found itself fighting for scraps near the bottom in a field of excellent choices. The only thing missing from the Malibu equation was a striking design. That was until now.
“Wow is that really a Chevrolet?” must have been the reaction as a stunning new Malibu made the rounds at auto shows across North America. It was about time some of the Corvette’s design mojo had filtered down to where Chevy was making the most of its money. Slated for the 2016 model year, the new car will be built on the Epsilon II platform which allows for an extended and wheelbase by 3.6 inches. Its longer and appears lower at about the same width. Although the car will have more room inside especially for rear passengers, it is 300 pounds lighter. Things like lighter steel and an aluminum hood have reduced weight and should increase agility. Details like that have help the Malibu achieve the 37 mpg figure while using returned but less powerful engines that carry over from the previous car. For ultimate efficiency, Chevy will offer a 48 mpg hybrid.
Chevrolet has dispensed with the ideal of a V6 or V8 in the Malibu. Any slack is picked up by turbocharging, direct injection and did I mention lighter weight? The old 2.5 is now a 1.5 liter four cylinder. It features all the advanced engine technologies like direct injection and stop start technology. With 160 hp, it’s more than 30 hp less than the 2015 model, but the weight savings alone should maintain the performance level of the 2015 model. The most powerful version will use an ECOTEC 2.0 with turbocharging. Its impressive 250 hp will be managed by an all new 8 speed automatic transmission.
Today’s cars are sold as much on connectivity and entertainment options as performance. The Malibu will be competitive in that regard with wi-fi and 4G connectivity since the 2015 model year. There’s even a teen driver mode that allows for adults to set parameters for speed and stereo volume. Speed might be a temptation as Chevy claims to have designed the new car’s suspension for better handling in everyday conditions. A fun Malibu was last attempted in earnest with the SS from 2006-2007. That car was disappointing for die-hard enthusiasts. If the new Impala is any indication, performance fans should be ok until a SS comes out (if ever). The Turbocharged ECOTEC 2.0 has 10 more horsepower than the last SS.
It’s the Malibu’s design that will turn heads the most. It’s silhouette similar to recent Chrysler 200, especially when looking from the back (its best view). It also has some of the design language of the Toyota Avalon with its almost busy front end framed by squinty headlights and Sonata-like tail lamps. Chevy would rather you think of the Malibu as a smaller alternative to the newly redesigned Impala. The Malibu is actually more attractive looking and does not suffer from the awkward proportions of its big brother. It also appears more sophisticated, something seldom used to describe a Chevy. This might be key to attracting the traditional import buyer from the coasts.
I get the feeling that you are gonna see a lot of the new Malibu. It’s easy to envision import car buyers considering it, especially those from Hyundai and Kia. So many cars are following a similar design theme these days, but the Malibu seems to be using the best of current design practices of Asian sedans. Remove the bowtie from the back and it could easily be mistaken for a Hyundai or Infinity. So I guess the 9th time just might be the charm for Chevrolet. Designwise they may have out done themselves (or the Impala) for pure wow effect. It’s also encouraging to see that after more than a few generations of Malibu failures and near misses that Chevy is finally taking cars seriously. After all not everyone needs or wants big pickups or SUVs
If Chevrolet has finally gotten the basics of the Malibu right,increased sales may make them euphoric enough to build an SS version. An SS model might redeem the memory of the last Malibu with that storied badge on it. That car nearly squandered the performance brand’s mystique. In a market where performance takes a back seat to looks however, the new Malibu should perform best where it counts most at your local Chevy dealer’s bottom line.