The automotive universe is fraught with reports of the demise of anything that isn’t a crossover or truck, and in particular the traditional sedan. At Chevrolet, there have been whispers that the Sonic is on borrowed time and that the Impala also could be axed. One sedan that has not been subject to these rumors, however, is the Chevrolet Malibu. That’s for good reason, as it remains one of the bow-tie brand’s best selling vehicles. Going beyond sales figures, it’s one of the better cars in its segment.
Still, as the mid-sizer ticks up in age, Chevy is looking for new ways to keep things interesting. A prime example is the version we tested for this review, a 2018 Malibu with the $1195 Redline package. The Redline package—which, by the way, is also offered on most other Chevrolet products—is limited to the Malibu’s LT trim.
The package consists of black bow-tie emblems, black Malibu badges with a red outline, a blacked-out grille, and black side mirrors. Jet Black is the only option for the interior, with cloth as standard and leather available as part of a $2140 package, while the Malibu LT’s 18-inch wheels are swapped out for 19-inchers painted in black with two red hash marks. Not only do the aftermarket-like changes serve to undermine the elegance of the regular car, making it come across as hokey and more than a little desperate, they don’t offer any performance upgrades to legitimize the visuals.
Slow and Easy
That’s because, while many moons ago Chevys wearing Malibu badges could be ordered as muscled up as you like, today’s ’Bu is a docile creature that slots between the Cruze and the Impala in Chevy’s sedan lineup. Its standard turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-four makes 163 horsepower at 5700 rpm and 184 lb-ft of torque at 2500 and is linked to a six-speed automatic transmission. A 250-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four is available on upper trims, while a 1.8-liter four-cylinder hybrid rounds out the lineup.
The 1.5 and the six-speed pair well together. The Malibu is not quick, with a zero-to-60-mph time of 8.2 seconds in our testing, but the engine delivers its output smoothly, exhibiting little noise or harshness. The transmission shifts cleanly and unobtrusively; while it doesn’t cry out for replacement, Chevrolet nevertheless is introducing a continuously variable transmission in the 2019 model.
Where the Malibu makes its case as a segment contender is beyond straight-line performance. The steering is quick and direct with an acceptably light effort for a family machine. It strikes a nice balance between the lethargic sedans at the bottom of the class and the more sporting four-doors such as the Mazda 6. The steering complements the reasonably crisp handling, and body motions are well controlled and never unpredictable. Although the Redline package’s 19-inch wheels introduce some harshness to the ride, the Malibu feels light and tight.
The interior of the Malibu is cleanly designed and ergonomically sound, although our test example was a festival of black in the form of matte plastic, patches of padded leather, and layers of textured rubber, with only a little brightwork to break things up. The dashboard isn’t as highly styled as those seen in competitors such as the Mazda 6 and the Honda Accord, but it is commendably simple. The HVAC controls are easy to reach and well marked, and below the infotainment screen is a small row of buttons flanking a central volume knob. The Malibu is a good example of how to make physical controls and touchscreen technology coexist.
For 2018, the LT trim includes the $995 Convenience package, which means 18-inch wheels now come standard, along with an 8.0-inch touchscreen, wireless device charging, two USB ports for rear-seat passengers, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, remote start, and a 4.2-inch info screen in the gauges.
With the Malibu’s redesign for 2016, Chevrolet added 3.6 inches to the wheelbase, which translated to an additional three cubic feet of interior volume, for a total of 103. The cabin is not the roomiest in the segment, but it matches or betters our favorite family sedans, the Accord and the Mazda 6. The cabin is airy, and legroom should not be an issue for adults in the rear. A small annoyance is how high the rear seats sit when folded down; this creates an uneven load floor and shortens the usable height of the pass-through between the trunk and the cabin.
The Malibu has class-competitive ride quality, steering feel, refinement, and cabin space, and its attractive exterior styling still comes across as upscale even three years after its debut. Keep it honest without gimmicks like the ride-degrading Redline gear, and this mainstream mid-size mostly satisfies.