Striking styling distinguishes the Chevrolet Malibu, complete with sumptuous curves that evoke the luxurious Audi A7. Beyond the style there is true substance, with a comfortable ride, an almost absurdly quiet cabin, and undaunting controls. And, compared to the previous model, the rear seat now has more room. But there are several form and functional setbacks that result from this swoopy look, most notably visibility.
Sleeker-looking than many competitors, the Malibu compromises outward visibility compared to the more upright Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, or Subaru Legacy. Getting in and out of this slick cruiser requires more body contortions than we're used to. And the base cloth seats are not very supportive; this is a case where we'd spring for the optional, more comfortable leather seats.
Despite its wee 1.5-liter size, the turbocharged four-cylinder engine pulled the Malibu with confidence, and it managed to return a commendable 29 mpg overall when we tested it with the 6-speed automatic. For 2019 it got a continuously variable automatic transmission that's likely to improve fuel economy. Too bad the engine sounds a bit raspy when it's being worked. A 2.0-liter turbo is standard on the high-end version, making the car more powerful, effortless and quieter. The Hybrid gets a fantastic 41 mpg overall but slightly sacrifices trunk space.
Equipped with the optional 19-inch wheels and tires, the Malibu's handling feels planted and stable. Factor in an exceptionally comfortable ride, and the Malibu is a great choice for ticking away highway miles. With a light-on-its feet responsiveness, piloting the Malibu proves more satisfying than several of its mundane competitors, but it doesn't match the Ford Fusion at combining sharp handling with a composed, sophisticated ride.
Interior details include seat fabric swatches on the minimalistic-looking dashboard. These add an appealing touch on the mid-grade LT and help break up an otherwise depressing sea of gray. Notably absent was automatic climate control, which on a $27,000 car made us raise an eyebrow.
Controls are simple, with large knobs and buttons for the climate system. GM's MyLink touch-screen infotainment system is straightforward to use, supplemented with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Further distinguishing the well-designed infotainment system, a full-feature color display readout between the gauges facilitates performing audio and phone tasks via the steering wheel controls.
Advanced safety gear, including blind-spot monitoring and forward-collision warning with automatic braking, is available, although they require buying expensive option packages.
Overall, the Malibu is an attractive looking as well as a good performing sedan, but a few cost cutting measures in equipment choices are noticeable.