The 2017 Chevrolet Malibu takes cues from the handsome Impala with better proportions, a long new body, and better interior layout that results in a sedan that's far from its malaise roots.
The new Malibu dives in with some subtle waves stamped into its flanks, and a gentle intersection of sculpting that conjured up some of the "flame surfacing" that BMW has used to cut visual heft from its cars.
It's an imprint that we like, inside and out, although it's still marketed for mass-consumption. It receives a 7 out of 10 on our scale for styling thanks to good ideas—inside and out. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
From prior generations, the car's been stretched quite a bit and the nose has dropped, even though overall weight is down. There's more length in the doors—designers even had to place a "Malibu" script on the front pair of doors to break up acres of sheet metal. The strategy earns more of a greenhouse around the front two-thirds of the car—accented even more by thinner front pillars—yet the lift of the rear flanks and tail manifest in a narrow rear window.
At the front, the Malibu feels bolder, reinterpreting its twin grilles into narrower bands—among editors opinions range from "droopy" to "sleek." It’s a bit hard to know where to focus the eyes at first, and we’re split on whether the face is a great introduction for the rest of the “at ease” design; it’s almost as if Chevrolet designers tried too hard to make this model’s snout some midpoint between Chevy’s small cars and its trucks. Narrower taillights on the Malibut are all the rage for mid-sizers, including Mazda and Kia, yet despite it all, the thing worth pointing out is how balanced the new Malibu feels, front-to-rear.
Inside, the Malibu is charming, if not a little understated. The conventional shape of the dash is a departure from last-generation, thankfully. The center stack makes space for a 7.0-inch touchscreen (an 8.0-inch version is available, and standard in Premier cars) but makes some interesting trim choices: fabric-wrapped panels on less expensive trim levels, metallic-look on others, a leather-looking synthetic wrap on dash and console trim on top models
There’s a place for buttons in this interior—both a design and functionality decision that many buyers will appreciate. Thankfully, Chevy hasn’t renewed its contract for plastichrome trim, as there’s very little of that brightwork here.
More handsome this time around, the Malibu gets better with more options.
The 2017 Chevrolet Malibu continues forward with a powertrain lineup without a V-6, only two turbocharged inline-4 engines and one hybrid powertrain. The big addition for this year is the availability of a new 9-speed automatic in its top trim.
Most of the Malibu lineup is powered by a turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-4 that adequately subs in for the former 4-cylinder, paired to a 6-speed automatic. It's good for daily commutes and long slogs, only getting caught breathless up mountain grades or highway passes. Even wooded to the floor, the base turbo-4 is still relatively quiet.
It's a powertrain combination that we like, although we wouldn't call it best in class. We'll give the Malibu a point above base for good handling, largely thanks to its weight savings of 300 pounds, for a 6 out of 10 for performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
By the numbers, the base 1.5-liter turbo-4 makes 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Chevy intentionally kept upshifts for the transmission to just 5,200 rpm, most likely because any higher in the rev range makes more noise—not more speed.
The top Premier model gets a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 250 hp and 258 lb-ft mated to a 9-speed automatic that's new for this year. We haven't yet driven the car with this new transmission, but we found that last year's edition churned plenty of twist at low revs, and it happily erased our need for a V-6 in the Malibu. Compared with the 2.0-liter turbo-4 in the Ford Fusion, we might actually prefer the Malibu's version a little more thanks to its refined character. We'll wait until we drive it with its new partner to crown a champion, so stay tuned.
The Malibu does without multiple adjustments for the throttle, like Eco, Normal and Sport modes found in other cars. Chevy nailed the calibration for the accelerator, transmission, and steering boost. Thanks for getting it right the first time, folks.
The new Malibu weighs 300 pounds less than the last generation, and it tips the scales at just under 3,100 pounds in base configuration, making it one of the lightest sedans in the segment. Factor in the Malibu’s firm and composed yet comfortable suspension tune—essentially the same through all engines and trim levels, but with slight changes for tires and wheels—and the Malibu feels downright nimble, and way more tossable than most of its rivals. It favors comfort over any serious edge, but it almost drives with the verve of a compact car.
The outlier here is the Malibu Hybrid, which is the efficiency champ. It's a 1.8-liter inline-4 with a 1.5-kwh battery back and twin electric motors that effectively operate as a dual-mode transmission. Unlike the prior Malibu with eAssist, the new Hybrid can run short distances on battery power alone—up to 50 or 55 mph. Though it shares much of its technology with the Volt, the Malibu Hybrid skips an "EV" button and aims to be a “normal” car, aiming less for the electric-centric driving character of the Volt and simply going for fuel-efficiency (it aims to earn an EPA-rated 48 mpg combined).
That said, the Malibu Hybrid is quick enough for most tastes; it takes just 7.8 seconds for 0-60 mph and total output is 182 hp. The Hybrid still weighs less than 3,500 pounds and with steering that feels just as vivid, feels like no compromise. You will, however, hear the gasoline engine in the Hybrid a bit more than in those non-hybrid models.
Light and nimble, the new Malibu is a joy to drive for a mid-sizer.
The 2017 Chevrolet Malibu rides atop a reworked platform for General Motors, and its body structure—including the roofline—was completely new last year.
It's 3.6 inches longer between the wheels than the last generation (and 2.3 inches longer overall), but still in the smaller end of its class.
It's good for front-seat passengers, back-seat passengers, and their cargo. It earns an 8 out of 10 in our books. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Malibu is a good study in good cabin packaging, according to us.
The front seat area is better with a lower driving position, and the dash has been lowered and pushed out toward the corners that helps open up the cockpit. Thoughtful touches like console padding at knee height, and a little more bolstering and length in the seats, make this an interior that now feels bigger than those of many other mid-size sedans. In front, most adults will find that the Malibu's seats are supportive for all-day drives, or for especially long commutes.
We think that rear-seat passengers get the benefit of better packaging. Rear-seat passengers get 38.1 inches of leg room, according to Chevrolet, which rivals the bigger Impala for space. There's good leg support and a flat floor, and the Malibu doesn't eat into head room like some of the curvier, swoopier roof lines in other sedans. We're still not sure that 6-footers will want to move in for the winter, but the back seat isn't an afterthought in the Malibu.
Non-hybrid models of the Malibu get 15.8 cubic feet of cargo space, while Hybrid versions only have 11.6 cubes thanks to batteries. The trunk of the Hybrid models doesn't seem to be all that much smaller, although you forgo the mostly continuous flat space for a hump in the middle—that's where the batteries live.
For the most part, the Malibu is a smooth operator. Very little engine drone comes through in the gasoline versions, Hybrid models are a little noisier as the engine revs up to match the driver's right foot. Wind and road noise are kept out of the cabin, for the most part, although some rough road vibrations can make their way through the doors. Active noise cancellation in gasoline models helps cut out nasty noises from things like a torque converter locking up at low speeds.
The Malibu's budget roots show through in its interior trim and materials. There are plenty of soft-touch surfaces up where it matters; yet the number of color and surface combinations are very limited.
Roomy and quiet, what more do you need?
The 2017 Chevrolet Malibu is one of the safest sedans on the road today, with the official data to back up that claim.
The IIHS gave the Malibu a Top Safety Pick award this year and federal testers gave the car a five-star overall rating.
It earns a 7 out of 10 on our safety scale for that kind of report card, but we have a gripe: rearview cameras aren't standard on every model. It loses a point in our books for that. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Federal officials gave the Malibu all five (out of five) stars for safety, except in the calculated rollover score, where it earned four stars.
The Malibu comes with a standard complement of airbags—10 in all—as well as the requisite stability and traction control systems.
If you’re willing to pay a little more, there’s a lot of available active-safety items in the 2017 Malibu. The list includes a new "Front Pedestrian Alert" that incorporates a forward camera system and through processing, looks to identify pedestrians ahead—and brake automatically to either avoid an impact or reduce the harm. Separately, there’s an adaptive cruise control system with front automatic braking. There are also blind-spot monitors with lane change alert, and a rear cross-traffic alert system to help you when backing up. Active lane keep with lane-departure warning is also available, and we like how subtle yet firm the interventions are. And to help with parking, there are front and rear park assist systems and automatic parking assist—a system that helps you with the proper trajectory to quickly get into a spot.
Most of the top active-safety features—like front automatic emergency braking—are the exclusive domain of LT and Premier models, however.
Good crash scores and available safety features on top-end models means the Malibu is a relatively safe pick.
|Overall Frontal Barrier Crash Rating:||(5/5)|
|Overall Side Crash Rating:||(5/5)|
|Overall Side Barrier Rating:||Not Rated|
|NHTSA Roll-over Resistance Rating:||(4/5)|
|Side Impact Test||Good|
|Roof Strength Test||Good|
|Rear Crash Protection/Head Restraint||Good|
|IIHS Small Overlap Front Test Results||Good|
|IIHS Moderate Overlap Front Test Results||Good|
The cutthroat world of mid-size sedans is where we think car buyers can still find good value for money. Want proof? The 2017 Chevrolet Malibu.
In base guise, the Chevy Malibu starts at $22,555—a $55 increase over last year's model—but it's hardly opulent. If you consider a radio, cruise control, power windows, and 16-inch wheels to be extravagances of the sophisticates, we'd like to marry you. If you don't, you may not be all that impressed with base Malibu L models. This year's big addition to L models? Floor mats.
That's not enough to qualify as good base equipment by our standards, in fact it's pretty poor. The Malibu loses a point there, but gains a few on good customization and optional content. We're giving it a 6 out of 10 on our features scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Stepping up from the L models, the LS, LT, Hybrid, and Premier models are better equipped for daily life. A standard 7.0-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity is standard on LS models and higher, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
LS models also get a Teen Driver feature that tattles on misbehaving young drivers, OnStar with built-in wi-fi capabilities (additional subscription required), rearview camera, 16-inch aluminum wheels, and an acoustic windshield for a quieter ride.
LT models have an available 8.0-inch touchscreen, leather seating, a multi-function instrument display, remote starter, premium stereo, power adjustable heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, 18-inch wheels with sport tires, and wireless phone charging mat. Standard features include 17-inch wheels, LED headlights, and satellite radio. Last year's 2LT package, which made available the larger 2.0-liter turbocharged engine in an LT model, is kaput.
Hybrid models are nearly identical to LT models except for standard dual-zone automatic air conditioning and electronic parking brake—and the hybrid-electric propulsion thing too.
Go the distance for Premier models, and Chevrolet rewards buyers handsomely with standard 8.0-inch touchscreen with premium audio, rear seat USB charging, power adjustable heated and ventilated seats, leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, LED taillights, 18-inch wheels, the more potent 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, and a trunk mat if you weren't swayed by any of the other features.
We have our nitpicks with Chevrolet's pacakaging system, notably that we can't have any automatic climate controls unless we're springing for Hybrid or Premier editions of the Malibu. And that, strangely, we can't order an upgraded infotainment without opting for leather seats too?
Base Malibus aren't much to write home about, at least there's good value everywhere else.
The 2017 Chevrolet Malibu is very fuel efficient for a mid-size sedan—only more expensive hybrid models do significantly better.
Models equipped with the turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-4 manage 27 mpg city, 36 highway, 30 combined, according to the EPA.
We base our rating of 8 out of 10 on these models; we're guessing there'll be more of these on the road. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Uprated Malibus with the 2.0-liter turbo-4 and a 9-speed automatic are no slouches either. The EPA rates those models 22/33/26 mpg, according to the EPA.
Those numbers make it one of the more efficient mid-size sedans without electrification, only the Honda Accord reaches 30 mpg combined too.
The Malibu Hybrid should be at the top of any consumer's list who's looking for a fuel-efficient family car. The EPA rates the Malibu Hybrid at 49/43/46 mpg.
We haven't driven the hybrid version long enough to make any solid pronouncements about its fuel economy in the real world, but we can report that on a 25-mile long test loop, a Malibu Hybrid delivered a bang-on 49 mpg for us.
In real-world testing of the other models, we'd couch the EPA figures with our observations. That's to say, we've seen the same mileage between 1.5-liter turbo models as from 2.0-liter turbo models. In rapid city and highway driving, we've seen mileage in the low-20s from both models, although we think that if your commute involves more stop-and-go traffic, the 1.5-liter should do better.
The Malibu earns impressive numbers by the EPA, although we haven't seen much difference between non-turbo models.