2016 Chevrolet Malibu LT review: Growing up

2016 Chevrolet Malibu LT

2016 Chevrolet Malibu LT

It’s common, if not universal, for an automobile model to grow over the years, to become longer overall with a longer wheelbase. But not usually like this. The new 2016 Chevrolet Malibu grew itself right into Chevrolet Impala territory. Check the numbers: The wheelbase of the new 2016 Malibu is 111.4 inches.  The wheelbase of the 2016 Chevrolet Impala is 111.7 inches. The Malibu is a mid-size sedan. The Impala is a full-size. What’s going on here?

A few more measurements. Ah, the Impala is significantly longer overall, at 201.3 inches versus 193.8 inches. And it shows up in rear seat legroom, the most telling number in our book for measuring interior size. The 2016 Impala has almost two inches more, at 39.8 compared to 38.1 inches, and that’s huge, or at least huger than it seems it would be. One more comparison: the Impala has 105 cubic feet interior capacity, the Malibu 102.9 cubic feet.

2016 Chevrolet Malibu LT dash

The dash of the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu LT is well laid out and easy to use, and has a handy bin for your “device.” (click to enlarge)

But the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu is significantly bigger than the 2015 model. The wheelbase is 3.5 inches longer, the overall length 2.3 inches more, and there’s 1.3 inches additional room for the rear passengers’ feet.

Stepping away from the numbers, the exterior of the Malibu is so close to that of the Impala that we had to keep walking around to look at the “MALIBU” on the door. The details, with the cars side by side, are definitely there, but the 2016 Malibu and Impala look closer than cousins. Which is not a bad thing. The Impala is handsome and, in our opinion, the Malibu sleeker and more subtle down the flanks while sharing a distinctive grille in a world full of oversize hexagons and pentagons.

But where the Malibu differs mostly from the Impala is under the hood. For a model—at least by name—that once offered great hulking rear-drive V-8 in what was in the ‘60s called a mid-size frame, the base engine is tiny, only 1.5 liters. That’s 90 cubic inches. Though thanks to turbocharging and direct injection, however, the Ecotec 1.5L turbo produces 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. It’s torque, we’re told, that produces acceleration, so the Malibu with the 1.5-liter turbo, with about the same amount of torque as the outgoing 2.5-liter non-turbo, is quicker, thanks to a 300 pound decrease in weight, more about which shortly. The 1.5T comes with a six-speed transmission.

There’s an optional engine, of course, and it’s also a turbo with direct injection. It’s a two-liter and makes an eye-opening 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. At least it would have opened our eyes if we had driven it. It will cost more to get it out the dealer’s door, of course.

And the 2.0T has a penalty in fuel consumption versus the 1.5T. While the smaller engine returns an EPA 27/37 mpg city/highway, the 2.0T is rated at only 22/33 mpg city/highway. Which still ain’t bad. Our 1.5-liter test Malibu gave us 26.7 mpg in mixed city/highway driving in a hilly fuel economy-sapping area.

2016 Chevrolet Malibu LT

The bask seat of the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu LT is roomy for two, cramped with three up. (click to enlarge)

Credit auto stop/start, however, for some savings. It’s a bit surprising the first time the engine stops at a traffic light, but it lights back up without much of a fuss when the brake is released.

The Malibu is also available with a hybrid drivetrain fo4 2016. It’s all-new, a direct-injection 1.8L four-cylinder engine mated to a two-motor drive unit, slightly modified from the 2016 Chevrolet Volt. With engine and electric motors the Malibu hybrid has a peak power rating of 182 horses. The engine also uses exhaust gas heat recovery (EGHR) technology, to warm the engine and cabin, for quicker engine warm-up, and it also helps with maintaining consistent fuel economy performance in cold weather.

Like most hybrids, the Malibu hybrid can operate under gas or electric power, under the latter up to 55 mph. The hybrid system uses regenerative braking to recover electrical energy. The battery is an 80-cell, 1.5 kWh lithium battery pack. Fuel economy for the hybrid is estimated at 48 mpg city, 45 mpg highway and 47 mpg combined. 21625

 2016 Chevrolet Malibu enginene

The base engine in the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu is a 1.5-liter four with turbocharging. (click to enlarge)

Our test 2016 Chevrolet Malibu was the mid-level LT model. At $25,020, the LT1 is a step up from the LS $23,120 (there’s a sub-base L priced at 21, 625, but you won’t find it and you don’t want it), and a step down from the LT2, which comes at a base price of $28,620. The LTZ trim no longer exists for the Malibu, but only because Chevrolet renamed it Premier. This almost all-inclusive model starts at $30,920. (Add $875 to all prices for delivery).

Our LT, however, was optioned up to a bottom line of $29,380 before delivery.

Standard equipment for the Malibu LT includes 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, passive (proximity key) entry with pushbutton start, monochrome driver information center between the speedometer and tachometer, power driver’s seat, folding rear seatback with pass-through, plus connectivity features including a seven-inch color touchscreen display with Bluetooth streaming, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, XM-radio, and 4G hotspot.