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.
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.
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.
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