The Chevrolet Malibu was once an automotive icon, but its modern reputation is one for underachievement. A new 2016 model seeks to restore the storied nameplate with improved styling, more interior room and a new hybrid version. It debuts Wednesday at the New York Auto Show. Put simply, “the goal was to put Chevrolet back in the midsize car segment,” said John Cafaro, the brand’s executive director of car design.
In a crowded arena with 2.2 million sales up for grabs annually, Chevy has not been a player. Last year, the brand sold 188,519 Malibus, a six-percent decline from 2013, and fewer than half the number of Toyota Camrys and Honda Accords sold. Despite awards from J.D. Power and Associates and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Chevy knew the Malibu needed a big change.
New Skin, Lighter Bones
The redesign has been in the works for at least three years. Although the Malibu is still based on GM’s Epsilon 2 platform, the underpinnings are more derivative of the Impala than the outgoing model. The body structure makes greater use of high-strength steel, which helps reduce weight by 300 pounds.
Size is more Impala-like as well, with 2.3 inches more overall length and a 3.6-inch wheelbase stretch contributing to greater interior space.
A new skin covers the Malibu’s lighter bones, and design language from the Impala gives its sibling sedan a fresher, more upscale appearance. To execute this premium appearance, Chevy turned to 25-year-old designer Jaymer Starbody, a four-year General Motors veteran and graduate from Detroit’s College for Creative Studies. He described the new Malibu as having a “wheel-oriented” design, and the car looks poised to pounce from certain angles. Though the 2016 Malibu is the same width as before, designers stretched the creases and angles in the sheetmetal to create a flatter, sleeker appearance. The hood and cowl are lower, and the Malibu’s face sparkles with LED running lamps on the top trim levels.
Inside, the roomier cabin has a new center stack, satin chrome accents on the interior panel and a console storage area designed for mobile devices. Chevy MyLink with a seven-inch color touchscreen is standard on lower trims, and the top model upgrades to an eight-inch screen. Perforated leather seats and ambient lighting are also available options. The cabin was designed to look high-tech, but still remain easy to use, according to Chevy interior design director Crystal Windham. “We wanted to make sure all the functional elements stayed within reach,” she said.
Hybrid Leads Revised Engine Line
Propelling the Malibu’s new style forward is an updated powertrain lineup, led by a new 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. It can achieve up to 27 miles per gallon in city driving and up to 37 mpg on the highway, Chevy estimates. The 1.5-liter has stop/start technology and is slightly more fuel efficient compared with the outgoing model’s naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four cylinder (196 hp, 186 lb-ft), which was rated at 25/36 mpg. The 1.5-liter is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The 2016 model also marks the reintroduction of the Malibu hybrid, using a modified two-motor drive unit borrowed from the 2016 Volt. The motors team with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and an 80-cell, 1.5-kilowatt hour lithium-ion battery pack. Electric-only propulsion is possible at speeds up to 55 miles per hour, and the Malibu hybrid is expected to earn at least 45 mpg in the combined EPA rating. With a total system output of 182 hp the hybrid is quicker than the 1.5-liter turbo variant, and can sprint to 60 miles mph in 7.8 seconds. Though the Malibu hybrid and Volt share some genetics, the electric systems are calibrated differently: the Volt is an efficiency play, while the Malibu’s electric enhance power and performance. “We want to take advantage of the points of your drive cycle it is most efficient to run the engine,” said engineer Daryl Wilson.
The 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo continues, but is now paired with an eight-speed automatic in place of a six-speed. It’s less powerful and slightly more fuel-efficient that before. Chevrolet estimates this model will make 250 hp and 258 lb-ft, with fuel-economy ratings of 22 mpg city, 32 mpg highway. The current Malibut turbo is rated at 259 hp and 295 lb-ft, and gets 21/30 mpg ratings.