By on August 24, 2017

2017 Chevrolet Malibu Premier vs. Malibu L - Images: Chevrolet.comSometimes the little things make a big difference. Body color door handles, for example, can take a simple compact car from appearing fit for penalty box duty to appearing worthy of driveway placement. Swap those black side mouldings and matte black mirror housings for body color paint and you’re home free.

In other instances, the absence of foglights in foglight housings turns a decent front fascia into a disappointment. A bigger front air dam has the potential to suggest the addition of horsepower. Chrome window surrounds, upgraded lighting, metallic paint, and red-trimmed grilles can add a premium aura to otherwise pitiful products.

Oh, and don’t forget the wheels. Wheels can cover a multitude of design errors.

But does any car benefit more from big, stylish wheels; body colour mirrors; and LED daytime running lights than the 2017 Chevrolet Malibu? And does any car suffer more from small wheels with puffy tires, black mirrors, and stock lighting than the 2017 Chevrolet Malibu?

On the one hand, the ninth-generation Chevrolet Malibu that was introduced earlier than expected for the 2016 model year can be downright eye-catching? Long, low, and wide, the Chevrolet Malibu Premier appears worthy of the $31,850 price GM wishes to charge. Sure, it’s a bit droopy from some angles and there are a wide variety of conflicting shapes around the lower air intake and the foglight housings. But overall, the current Malibu represents a massive leap forward for GM’s remaining midsize sedan.

Or does it? Strip away the mirrors’ paint, swap the Malibu Premier’s optional 245/40R19 Continental ProContact TX tires for 205/65R16 Firestone FT140s, eliminate the $695 sport suspension kit’s 10-millimeter drop and the $495 chrome-edged grille, slap on wheel covers, remove the LED lights, and the Chevrolet Malibu L loses all of its luster. Dealers don’t want this poverty-spec midsize car any closer to their actual showroom than a pre-owned first-gen Spark.

Does any car do a better job of swapping stained sweatpants for a three-piece suit than the ninth-gen Chevrolet Malibu? Does any car do a worse job of trading tuxedos for tracksuits than the ninth-gen Chevrolet Malibu?

[Images: General Motors]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

81 Comments on “QOTD: Does Any Car Do a Better (or Worse) Job of Looking Good and Bad Than the Chevrolet Malibu?...”


  • avatar
    RedRocket

    Not an attractive car. The front end looks like the car is scowling/angry even on top trim lines. Unless you find one with a non-black interior it is dismal inside. Lower trim levels have the GM bad idea of fabric on the dash taken to new lows. I think it is too long for its class and the fastback design makes the trunk opening less useful than it should be for a car this size. GM just cannot seem to get this car right through multiple generations.

    • 0 avatar
      zip89123

      I disagree. The Malibu is a beautiful car, but GM puts all its advertising emphasis on their stupid truck commercials. The lower trim Malibu is no worse than anything else in class.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        The 2.0T Premier is obviously the top of the line and looks the part. Especially in white exterior with light window tint. It has the performance to back it up and 37 mpg highway is not bad, smokes the hell out of an Accord V6 at $24,000 on cars.com too.

      • 0 avatar
        thegamper

        I also think the Bu is a very attractive car but like the author suggests, the most attractive examples are top trims.

        Mazda does a nice job frumping up base trims of otherwise very attractive cars as well. Fog light delete, 16’s vs 19 inch rims, etc. The little things can break a beautiful design.

        I have always thought that automakers were stupid for selling poverty spec vehicles. I personally feel that as an automaker, every vehicle you sell represents your brand and you don’t want embarrassing examples of otherwise good looking vehicles clouding your image.

    • 0 avatar
      Carrera

      I find the Malibu to be rather ugly from the front due to the LEDs. From the side and from the rear…not good looking, but not offensive either. The Accord and Camry while no beauty queens, are much better looking… particularly the new Camry.
      I find the Impala to be rather attractive.

      • 0 avatar
        SlowMyke

        Count me in the “Malibu is ugly no matter what trim it is” group. The back end looks entirely low rent like a Cruze rear end. The front is just a total mess in my opinion. The fog light treatment looks like they actually tried to give it catfish whiskers. And they stick out like a kid trying to smile awkwardly to avoid cutting up their mouth with new metal braces. On top of that, the double grill that protrudes unevenly just derps the whole thing up more. This thing makes the cmax look downright beautiful.

        As far as a vehicle that pulls off looking good and bad depending on trim, the focus sedan hits all the talking points mentioned in the article. Black plastic handles, mirrors, grill and fog light place holders and hub caps on top of that on base trim. Up it to Platinum and all of that is painted, filled in with fog lights, or replaced with alloy of some sort. Though i must say the Platinum level wheels are a bit much for a compact car.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I feel like this category would be dominated by pickups.
    For the most part cars no longer have unpainted black bumpers but trucks certainly do.

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      But do those look bad?

      I don’t mind the black unpainted bumpers and find them VERY practical in the real world.

      Maybe I just have a different opinion on aesthetics.

      I think the Pacifica has the effect referenced in the article though. For some reason the same design looks outdated with reflector highlights and the base bumper and no accent pieces, but elegant and modern with the higher trimp bumper, projector headlights, etc.

      Just go look at an LX vs a Limited.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      The Civic comes to mind as it has matching watermelon sized black out panel on each corner of the car.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    In the side profile, ’18 Accord looks exactly like Malibu.

    Mustang with base 17″ wheels looks somewhat disturbing.

    I would say, Mostly SUVs have this issue. Once in a while you see some 4Runner massive body on those small skinny wheels. Renegade Sport is a good example. Upgrade to Altitude + Quick package 27L and it is different look.

  • avatar
    Eggshen2013

    Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder this is tuff.

  • avatar

    I think the outgoing Chrysler 200 has this problem. It can look really good, but in base trim looks bad.

    The Malibu just looks too busy to my eye regardless of trim level.

  • avatar
    75brick

    It also might help if the Malibu’s hood didn’t look like a toilet bowl lid.

    I feel like many cars look cheap if they don’t have body-colored side mirrors. I remember putting some on the W-body Impala my wife used to have and it made a surprising difference in aesthetic.

    • 0 avatar
      notwhoithink

      “I feel like many cars look cheap if they don’t have body-colored side mirrors. ”

      Certainly not all, though. Go spec a Corvette or Ferrari or something in a bright color and put black or CF side mirrors, roof, etc on it. Now the contrasting side mirrors look pretty bad-ass!

      • 0 avatar
        75brick

        I guess I should have been more specific. When it comes to the lower end cars that get the cheap Rubbermaid looking plastic instead of something like carbon fiber.

  • avatar
    s_a_p

    I always feel like the Malibu is silently judging me with its beady eyes and hipster beard. I could be conflating the Malibu with their real people not actors commercial guy though…

  • avatar
    Zackman

    My take on aesthetics on the Malibu is this:

    Bright window reveal covers a lot of sins, first and foremost.

    The “Malibu” name on the side of the car wins lots of points for me, after all, I added the “Impala” name AND Impala logo to the lower front doors to my 2012 Impala, which did not have any outside badges, just the name on the trunk lid. It gives my car a unique look that I have not seen repeated. ALL vehicles should have the model name on the sides, if you ask me – they all used to back in the day. I’m happy Chevy returned to that custom, even if temporarily.

    Chrome door handles used to be the standard when they were actually metal on all cars, but really stands out on cars now. It seems Nissan uses a lot of them.

    Blanked areas where ditch light would go annoy me. My old 2004 Impala just had open slots because for the LS trim models, Chevy used a different bumper cover, so no big deal, unlike our old 2002 CR-V, which did have blackout covers.

    Overall, I think the new Malibu is a splendid car, and I would look to have one as my next ride if and when my Impala dies. I have driven them and like them very much. Even if I had a lower-trim model, I would enhance it to suit my taste, regardless.

    Curb appeal has value.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      I saw the letter on the new Ttaverse too. Looks good. But the I saw Acafia Denali and the Denali was inscribed into the chrome side trim and difficult to see.

  • avatar
    deanst

    Chevy design has lost the plot. Everything is perfectly mediocre, as if they took the average of what everyone wants. A little for everyone, but no major appeal to anyone.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Combine a boring-as-a-saltine-cracker exterior with an awful interior (with interior plastics and gauges and switchgear that harken back to General Motors circa 2004) and a bowl-of-mashed-potatoes driving experience, and this is Mary Barra’s New GM (post-Bankruptcy).

      I will never accept one of these as a rental again unless they’re willing to physically throw down with me and bring their Jason Bourne mad skills with them and win decisively.

      Piece of utter garbage that is even more depressing to drive than to look at.

      • 0 avatar
        tonycd

        Golly, DW. In C/D, the recently retired GM styling chief singles out the Malibu as one of the two designs he’s proudest of. He says it takes research on what consumers want and “really nails it.”

        Do you doubt him?

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        I had one as a rental too. I usually think their are no truly bad cars, but I hated the Malibu. I would take the Elantra I had had previously, 10 times out of 10 over the Malibu. It was actually kind of fun to drive, and the interior was leagues better than the Malibu with its terrible cloth dash.
        Having winter tires in June didn’t help with the road noise either on that Chevy.

      • 0 avatar
        RedRocket

        You should actually try driving one before mouthing off. The thing actually drives quite well despite its looks.

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          I had a nearly brand new one as a rental (reading comp is fundamental).

          It was awful. It had a horrifically cheap interior and drove and felt like a wet sponge at speed.

          • 0 avatar
            RedRocket

            I understood what you wrote. I just don’t believe it. The Malibu DRIVES just fine. It is the aesthetics that are a problem. If you’re going to continue to bash certain makes, at least try to get your hyperbole in line with reality.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            Perhaps it was a rebuilt total?

          • 0 avatar
            RHD

            Rental cars often have the tires grossly under inflated. Their “maintenance” leaves much to be desired.
            A few PSI make a huge difference.

      • 0 avatar
        Tennessee_Speed

        This is my main question about the Malibu. I haven’t driven the new one, but it’s competition – the ’18 Camry and the upcoming Accord handle VERY well for FWD autos. Does the new Malibu measure up to those in the handling category? Even with the handling package for the Malibu? If anyone has an answer please report in.

  • avatar
    another_VW_fanboy

    I’d say the MK6 Jetta in poverty spec is pretty awful looking compared to say an SEL or GLI which look almost near luxury. I agree that wheels and tires make huge difference, but fat tires and smaller wheels hold up much better to road conditions, and are far more practical then the nicer low profile ones.

    • 0 avatar
      mcbacon

      You can definitely tell that my Mk6 is the base model. Even decent wheel covers aren’t fooling anyone. If I were to upgrade to some nice Laguna Seca wheels, though, the car would be totally transformed.

  • avatar
    KingShango

    Chevy’s entire line-up is like that. Anything less than Premier trim looks prison basic. I’d agree the Malibu is the worst mostly because it’s front end is just a mess.

  • avatar
    make_light

    I remember someone on a different forum commenting that the new Malibu front end looks like the previous model went through a panini press. So now that’s all I see.
    At any rate, I quite like it. I think it’s one of the better looking designs in its class.

  • avatar
    kefkafloyd

    The Malibu will always look bad when you have the far statelier Impala nearby.

  • avatar
    ash78

    Any car that has to fit a very wide range of budgets usually suffers from this (as a guideline, if the top trip is double the price of the bottom trim, you’re in the ballpark!)

    In this day an age, the answer could be ANYTHING that still has hubcaps in base trim. So many cars have alloys at every level, it’s harder to find. Same with black side mirrors — I can’t remember the last time I saw those on a modern car.

    Most midsize sedans suffer from this, since some manufacturers will send half of them to the rental fleet. Hyundai Sonata is an example, Nissan Altima is another.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I think I’d rather have a W-body.

  • avatar
    MrGreenMan

    My neighbor has the Premier in black. It’s a beautiful car, but only when it’s pulled up to his garage door and I cannot see its nose.

  • avatar
    MrGreenMan

    Why can’t they just shove the Silverado nose on it?

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Impala still looks better trim for trim. I’d buy an Impala de-badge everything but the bow-ties on the front and rear, leave the leaping deer on the C pillar. Heavy tints and the car would look intimidating.

    Malibu Premier does look good (except that cheesy Premier badge and its god awful mismatched font) but I see maybe 1 premier for every 10 LS/LT Malibus I see

    • 0 avatar
      Tennessee_Speed

      My only issue with the Impala is the front seat. I sat in one at the rental agency as I was trying to decide which car to rent. As soon as I sat in the driver’s seat I bolted out as fast as I could. You just sink in that ultra soft pile of mush. At least my wife’s Avalon Touring has a firmer seat; almost Audi like. That’s what a modern car should have.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        For me it will always come down to the lumbar (I’ve got issues with the lowest vertebra). I’ve become pretty good at figuring out what trim levels/option packages come with adjustable lumbar.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          Dan, lumbar support is a big deal for me as well. Of all the things I obtained for my car from an old parts car I had a few years ago, the power lumbar support-equipped driver’s seat trumps them all.

          It makes a big difference for me.

  • avatar
    gkhize

    The front of the Malibu is terrible, it’s a squished down and too flat. Others that look cheap in stripper form are the Focus and Fiesta. The plastic wheel covers look like something from the clearance rack at O’Reillys.

  • avatar
    gasser

    For me the problem lies in the proportions of the vehicle, especially in the rear three-quarter view. I like the look of the Impala a lot. But the proportions of the Malibu, for me, just fail. A similar side view on the Cruze seems to work out. I don’t think the 2018 Honda Accord is doing itself any favors in having its silhouette mimic the side view of the Malibu.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Higher shoulder lines are killing car design. My last 93 Accord looked really good lowered on 16s. I remember how extreme 18s looked on the E38/E39. Perfection. Now a mainstreamer needs 20s to stand out. Ridiculous.

    The Malibu is a good looking car in top trim though, especially in a metallic color. There’s a red one at my job that regularly catches my eye.

  • avatar
    tsoden

    The Malibu would look stunning if:

    1. A nip/tuck was performed on the nose from the bow-tie down
    2. Stylized the existing tail lamps to make proper use of the existing real estate…. LED brake lamps with light pipes in the red section, PROPER amber turn signals in the outer white space and backup lights in the inner white space. Currently from what I have seen, the tail lamp modules are a combo brake and turn lamp (red) with a blank outer white space and a backup inner white space – very low rent and obvious cost cutting measure.

  • avatar
    guardian452

    I saw the rear end of one of these right next to a fusion. The contrast between the CHMSLs on these two cars I found striking.

    Both cars have them above the rear window, but Ford’s is nicely integrated while Chevy’s looks like a doublestick-taped on aftermarket jobbie from pep boys, by comparison.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      I was going to mention that between this and a Fusion in any trim, the Fusion is far more cohesive visually. Toss the Accord in the race (2017 or 2018) and the Accord walks away with the win. More expensive of course….

      You know how to stand out in this field? Modernized retro. Take a Volvo 242 body, round the corners, make the front and rear caps your company’s motif and there you go.

      • 0 avatar
        RHD

        Volvo had a very good idea – one simple, functional, elegant grille, with the company logo across it, for every model for many decades. Even their semi trucks have them. No need to reinvent the grille every year for every model. And no one is any the poorer for it.

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        The Fusion is also way better on the inside. Pathetic how far Chevy lags behind its cross-town rival that’s years older.

  • avatar
    scott25

    It looks, as someone said once on here and I completely agree with, like a plecostomus, and the proportions don’t work no matter what the trim level.

    Also agree with pretty much all Volkswagens, they can go from looking cheap to almost-Audis from the bottom trim to the top trim, other than the Atlas which always looks cheap.

  • avatar
    jjster6

    A poverty spec Malibu today has more technology, better build quality, and handles better than an S Class of 25 years ago. We should all be happy that the poverty spec versions of cars are as good as they are today.

    Tim, you’re whinging.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    It’s Chevy’s nature to err on the side of conservative design. When they step outside a bit it usually goes bad. The 90s-2000s Malibus were blandly horrific, this one is pretty attractive. Park this next to an Altima, Camry and Accord and it looks refined. Sadly, Chevy has no impetus to make this the aspirational, customizeable car it was in the 60s. Imagine if you could order this with AWD, a turbo V6, a wagon, a manual.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    A couple of weeks ago I was on vacation and rented a Malibu from Hertz. I had reserved a mid-sized for carrying a couple of people other than myself and some cargo. For some reason it was the previous generation Eplison II based car in Eco and LTZ trim, which I thought was odd with the 2.4 Ecotec 6 speed auto with dual exhaust outlets. It was fully equipped with most options including heated seats and the larger wheel package, a cut above your usual rental spec.

    I found it to be quite competent on the road, almost Saab like considering its Eplison II based. As a comparison better than a Altima. Plus the trunk was almost W-Body sized and swallowed a good amount of gear. The only drawback was the rear seating area which some folks might be a bit cramped in. Overall a decent mid-sized car.
    As far as the current one is concerned they ought to offer a sport version. Turbo or V6 and AWD. A sport wagon would be neat. Not everyone is a CUV fan.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      I actually prefer the older Malibu. Chevy spent most of their development dollars trying to fool rubes into thinking the Malibu has some kind of Germanic design. But everyone else it’s a step down – interior wise, and powertrain.

  • avatar
    Lichtronamo

    Ironic but it is lowering the car and the low profile, large diameter wheels that make the Malibu (or any car) look great, given the market trend towards lifted faux off-road vehicles with puffy tires.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      I thought the B&B decided all cars need balloon 70 series tires on 15″ wheels, max?

      Now we discover larger wheels and lower profile tires look… better?! How can this be?

      Next thing you know, they’ll be someone arguing that a transmission having more forward gears than 4 or 5 is a good thing.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I can’t answer this question about the Malibu. I can’t get past that face to make a judgement on the rest of the car. The rear 3/4 looks fine, if a bit derivative.

    The poverty-v.s.-loaded thing? Lots of cars look especially cheesy in lower trims, the Altima certainly comes to mind. But, that’s nothing new. They need cheap versions to make you (retail customer) want the nice version. Unless you’re shopping on price alone, you’d be turned off by the downmarket trim, so you opt for a nice one.

    I see people griping about wheel covers, lol when have they ever not looked cheap and cheesy compared to alloys, or even a styled steel wheel? The OEMs always look at least 50% better than anything you can find aftermarket, but admittedly, that’s like saying having one terminal illness is 50% better than having a different terminal illness. Still pretty terrible.

    So, my solution is to dress up the wheel with chrome rings, center cap and lug nuts, or swap ’em for alloys. Find a wrecked, later model, higher end Impala (in this case) in the junkyard, the wheels fit, why not? Chances are only you will notice, but that’s always been enough for me. It makes me happy when I see my car, that’s what matters most, since it is my car.

    Back to that face… How can the Impala look so good, but the Cruze and Malibu so bad, with the same design language?

    • 0 avatar
      RedRocket

      Just don’t get these hideous things from the 2016 model. Fortunately it seems most people rightly hated them and Chevy dropped them after the first year, replaced with leftover Buick Regal wheels with bowtie centers.

      http://blog.consumerguide.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2015/12/Screen-shot-2015-12-09-at-2.41.43-PM-1024×481.png

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      JohnTaurus thinks he’s credible when it comes to opining about vehicles, in terms of design and build quality and performance, yet LOOK AT HIS OWNERSHIP LINEAGE FFS!

      Dude’s delusional but it’s f’ing hilarious!!!

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    When I look at this car, I don’t think long, low and wide. I think long, tall, and narrow. The “bustle butt” is mostly responsible for this, I think. And the super-high beltline.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    Does it come in a brown electric self-driving wagon with stick? Then no.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • EBFlex: That’s the problem. Most people are already tired of these Jeep clones and they haven’t even been released...
  • EBFlex: “Built Wild”. With all the delays that’s the best tag line they could come up with? It’s laughably bad....
  • CoastieLenn: Gotcha. That would make sense… kinda
  • CoastieLenn: I didn’t realize there was a 2 door Sport. I assumed it was 4 door only. Is the full sized one...
  • Lie2me: “I just question the reliability.” Just don’t buy the first year, never buy the first year...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Matthew Guy
  • Timothy Cain
  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Chris Tonn
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber