I'm Driving a 2016 Chevrolet Malibu 1.5T and Feel Guilty for Liking It This Much

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
i m driving a 2016 chevrolet malibu 1 5t and feel guilty for liking it this much

We were in our Honda Odyssey last Saturday, transporting our dog to a special canine event 20 miles from our home, when the gorgeous 2016 Mazda6 was taken from our house and a Chevrolet Malibu was backed into the driveway.

Not the ninth-generation Malibu, a car which drew my ire in a TTAC review last spring. This is the all-new 2016 Chevrolet Malibu, a follow-up to the abbreviated ninth-gen car that chronically underperformed despite GM’s swift (and insufficient) response to early critiques.

Surely I’m no different from many of you. I’m predisposed to disliking Malibus, not because of inexplicable inner bias or a distaste for the Bowtie or a fondness for Honda Accords, but because the Malibu has spent much of the last two decades sucking. The eighth-generation car, which GM sold from 2008 to 2012, was an exception, but its two immediate predecessors were sad examples of the midsize breed. The 2013-2015 Malibu was a step backwards. As a result, the Malibu name conjures up memories of wooden dynamics, harsh interiors, strange noises, and pitiful styling.

Yet with each passing day of its stay at GCBC Towers, I’m steadily finding more and more things to like about the new 2016 Chevrolet Malibu.

What’s happening to me?

Perhaps the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu is less likely to reveal additional faults as the week progresses simply because so many of its blunders are abundantly evident from the moment you open the driver’s door, quickly examine the cabin that awaits, and settle your hind end into the decidedly unbolstered seat.

This is not a class-leading interior. This isn’t nice. In fact, I don’t get the impression that General Motors attempted to make the cabin nice. GM appears to have invested few resources into following the welcome trend of making mainstream interiors appear premium.

Say what you will about auto writers’ emphasis on squishy dashtop surfaces — personally, I’m not terribly concerned — but a 2016 Chevrolet Malibu LT’s driver’s door should be touchable without inflicting pain. It isn’t. Do not rest your left arm on this door. Do not wear shorts and allow your left knee to make contact with this door.

Not classy!

GM’s longing to bring rubbery surfaces to a steering wheel near you is evident here, too, only in this example, it gets worse. This isn’t the typical top-trim press car tester, but a heavily optioned LT. As a result, there are a couple of rubbery switch blanks resting near your left thumb for the duration of your Malibu ownership experience.


The shifter’s manual mode is engaged via the +/- switch atop the shifter itself, a GM afterthought that’s managed to prevail for too long. In an attempt to give weight to some controls, the volume knob seemingly does not want you to find its detents. A hilarious amount of finger torque is required.

Bad decision!

The new Malibu’s A-pillars are thick, very thick at the bottom, and raked in such a way as to further limit visibility.

We need to see what’s going on!

All of these missteps are front and centre; so obvious you can’t miss ’em. Acknowledging these facts, I began my first drive in the new Malibu with a measure of disappointment, struggling to understand how GM could recognize that the ninth-gen Malibu was a flop and a new Malibu was urgently needed, make the successor look rather good, but not put in a full effort.

And yet it’s in driving the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu 1.5T that you’ll gain a real appreciation for the car.

Sure, there are other things GM got right. Straightforward climate controls are a pleasant touch when some rivals demand that you crawl through an infotainment unit’s sub-menus in order to change fan speed. The touchscreen, CarPlay compatible, is high-mounted and swift to respond to inputs. The seats have a huge range of motion, though much too flat for my lanky frame and enthusiastic driving manners, and the steering wheel is willing to reach way out to meet me. Rear seat space is now class-competitive.

But who’d have thunk that, despite interior letdowns and all that the Malibu nameplate represented to a generation that never thought of this when they heard the model mentioned, the 2016 Malibu would be redeemed by on-road appeal?

The 163-horsepower 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is no powerhouse, but it’s only tasked with motivating a 3,100-pound midsize sedan, a relative featherweight. Off the line, the 1.5T is unimpressive and slightly buzzy, but the mid-range punch — 184 lbs-ft of torque plateaus at 2,500 rpm — is entirely sufficient. More importantly, the 2016 Malibu sends power through a six-speed automatic — not a CVT, not the Chrysler 200’s anti-shift nine-speed automatic. The Malibu’s transmission is forgettable like a midsize sedan’s automatic transmission ought to be.

The lightweight structure pays greater dividends when twisty roads appear before your eyes. GM’s chassis gurus managed to create a 16-foot-long sedan that feels light on its toes and nimble when appropriate, but planted and composed when you need the Malibu to be mature and stable. This isn’t the highly communicative and always-athletic Mazda6, but the 2016 Malibu handles very nearly that well and provides far superior ride quality and far less road, wind, and tire noise. Brake feel is spot on. The steering is quick to respond to inputs with no recalcitrant spirit and none of that artificial heft too many modern cars possess in lieu of feel.

My desire to drive the Malibu feels strange in the same way my desire to eat McNuggets or fascination with watching Brexit debates is strange. I like healthy food, watching hockey, and CAD $31,980 midsize sedans (around $28,000 in the U.S. market) with wannabe-premium interiors.

Nevertheless, I like the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu more today than yesterday, and I’m rather certain I’ll like it more tomorrow than I did today. Also, more nuggets and more BBC.


Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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  • Paragon Paragon on Jun 28, 2016

    Folks, have been visiting this site and reading the articles and comments for close to 10 years. For those of you who haven't yet driven the new 'Bu, you've got to listen to Tim Cain. While I didn't have use of this latest Malibu for any kind of extended Road Test, like Tim, I was impressed from the start about this car. Seriously! I'm a confessed Mopar man, but I tell you this is a game changer for GM. What I'm saying is if you are predisposed to dislike GM products - perhaps for good reason, based on past experiences - you have got to check this car out. Now, admittedly I had a very brief drive in this Malibu. But, I tell you I was greatly impressed with it. I kid you not, I have not stopped thinking about it. I want to visit a Chevy store to better check it out. It is a new car I DEFINITELY would consider purchasing, based on my initial first impressions. What it was was somebody else's rental car that I got to briefly drive. I can't remember the last time a car impressed me this much. As Tim says, the car feels light and nimble. While I have no experience with any Mazdas, my impression was that this Malibu felt closer to a Mazda than about any other sedan. Tim seems to say something in that regard. This isn't a car for people who merely mash the gas pedal and go until they mash on the brakes at the last second. It feels more athletic. Like I say, my initial impression is that I would like driving this car on a daily basis. I didn't perceive any huge negatives that preclude me from considering this as a daily driver. I can't entirely say WHY I like it so much. And, I'm almost embarrassed to admit how much I like it. For those that have been talking about it's looks, please hold off any real judgement about this Malibu until such time as you drive one. There's just something so very right about this car, yet I can't exactly put my finger on it. I've followed the reviews of the Chevy Cruze since it first came out. There have been a lot of them on the road for some time now. I have a co-worker with one (which he bought new) which he let me drive not long after he got it. I'd say there has been fairly general agreement that the Cruze has been the first compact that Chevy (or GM) has gotten right. I'd apply the same "best ever" label for a GM mid-size to this new Malibu. I'm here to tell you that it is that good. It feels solid and well-made, and like an overall quality vehicle that some might think you need to buy a foreign brand (read as Japanese) to get a car this good. This is not like any Chevy you have driven in the past. For those who frequently get rentals, be sure and drive one when you get the chance.

  • Paragon Paragon on Jul 01, 2016

    Truth is, as I said above, I haven't stopped thinking about the newest Malibu. One thing I failed to mention is that I do like the looks of it. I do find it fairly attractive. Based on the new style, it at first appears as a slightly smaller Impala, which also looks fairly attractive. I have in fact visited my nearest Chevy dealer to see some more Malibus up close. Of course, I did it after the dealer was closed but when there was still daylight. Have also gone online to read other reviews and road tests. Now even though I am a very visual person and looks do matter to me, looks are not the most important thing as my main requirement is a competent, versatile, dependable, easy-to-live-with vehicle. Have had plenty of high-horsepower vehicles in years past; now, merely a reasonable amount of power in a car that feels balanced, handles and stops well in most all circumstances, has adequate interior and trunk space, as much all-round visibility as is possible these days, and returns decent fuel economy. Has a decent turning radius. And, the seat has to be comfortable; that is a top priority. Without a full adequate road test, my first impression was that it could meet all of my requirements, though not yet 100% sure of that. The fact that I liked it far more than I would have expected as a first impression was surprising to me. Then there was the fact I found out Tim Cain also likes it, someone who frequently has access to lots of vehicles told me that I am not alone; that I did seem to pick up on something about this latest iteration of Chevy's generally lackluster mid-size sedan. Having had time to give it more thought, I'll explain it like this. In the past 30 or so years, Honda and Toyota have made steady and gradual improvements and in the process have attracted many customers disenchanted with products from the old "Big 3." GM, the biggest of the 3, and their best-selling division Chevy, have seemingly been very slow to fully adapt to compete nose-to-nose with their Japanese branded rivals. Despite losing market share every year to these rivals, the changes and improvements they made have seemingly failed to keep up with these aggressive competitors. There have been 3 or 4 generations of Malibu that were supposed to be improved enough to go head-to-head with these rivals, but they always fell short. Something between the design and the finished product continually fell more than a little short of their competitors. It's like they didn't really care enough to give it their best effort. I'm tempted to say they operated from something like the expression: close enough for government work. The last 2 generations of Malibu were finally showing some solid improvement that was finally pretty close but not quite there to best their great-selling rivals. Have had the chance to drive a 2014 Accord a bit in the past 20 months so I think I'm in a position to say I think this latest Malibu can truly go head-to-head with any comparably priced domestic or foreign brand mid-size sedan. Because like I say, while I like the looks of it, what really impressed me was my experience of a brief drive in a rental car with not many miles on it. While it's quite different from my daily driver, it was easy to adapt to and I really like how it felt and handled. And, note that there were no perceived negatives about this all-new Malibu. As Tim says, I almost feel guilty for liking it this much. And, I can admit I've been driving over 40 years now. So, I've owned and driven a lot of cars. The revelation that EVERYTHING seems to be just right on this car (for me) is both a bit shocking and gratifying. And, since I can't stop thinking about it, I will visit my Chevy dealer for a real test drive when time allows. Sadly, though, I'm not quite yet (financially) in the market for a new car. But, I assure you it will be one of the cars I consider when it's time for a new one. I've gone one to say so much because I was genuinely impressed. I don't know what others demand, expect or are looking for in a car. But this does seem like a very good one to me so I'm motivated to talk about it and to encourage others to check it out.

  • Dusterdude The suppliers can ask for concessions, but I wouldn’t hold my breath . With the UAW they are ultimately bound to negotiate with them. However, with suppliers , they could always find another supplier ( which in some cases would be difficult, but not impossible)
  • AMcA Phoenix. Awful. The roads are huge and wide, with dedicated lanes for turning, always. Requires no attention to what you're doing. The roads are idiot proofed, so all the idiots drive - they have no choice, because everything is so spread out.
  • Leonard Ostrander Pet peeve: Drivers who swerve to the left to make a right turn and vice versa. They take up as much space as possible for as long as possible as though they're driving trailer trucks or school busses. It's a Kia people, not a Kenworth! Oh, and use your turn signals if you ever figure out where you're going.
  • Master Baiter This is horrible. Delaying this ban will raise the Earth's temperature by 0.00000001°C in the year 2100.
  • Alan Buy a Skoda Superb.