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- Highs Nice balance of ride and handling, handsome styling, efficient standard four-cylinder.
- Lows Aging ungracefully, rough engine stop/start behavior, no standard driver-assistance features.
- Verdict In a new-car marketplace it's better to overachieve, but the Chevy Malibu only barely meets expectations.
While other automakers doing business in the family-sedan market have been busy improving and reimagining what a mid-size car can be, Chevrolet has left the 2021 Chevy Malibu to languish. Its styling is handsome but its interior is bland and unembellished. Two different turbocharged four-cylinder engines are offered—a 1.5-liter and a more potent 2.0-liter—paired up to either a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) or a nine-speed automatic; front-wheel drive is the only choice. When compared to class leaders such as the Honda Accord and the Mazda 6, the Malibu evokes an unfortunate rental-class feel—unless the buyer is opts for the most-expensive Premier trim. Touchscreen infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard but Chevy requires adding option packages to unlock the Malibu's available driver-assistance features—something many of its rivals offer as standard.
What's New for 2021?
The Malibu continues to fall behind its rivals for 2021 as it rolls into the new model year without any substantive updates. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto join the standard-features list this year and a Sport Edition appearance package is newly available on the LT trim. The Sport Edition package adds black Chevrolet logos on the grille and trunk lid, a black grille, and 19-inch black wheels. General Motors's new Buckle-to-Drive feature now comes on every Malibu model and requires that the driver's seatbelt is secured before the transmission will shift out of park.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
We continue to recommend buying the LT trim, as it comes with more standard features than the lowly L and LS. The LT comes standard with the Malibu's 160-hp turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine—the more powerful 2.0-liter engine is reserved for the top-level Premier—as well as 17-inch wheels, LED taillights, an acoustically laminated windshield, remote engine starting, heated front seats, and a power-adjustable driver's seat. If driver-assistance features such as blind-spot monitoring, automated emergency braking, and lane-keeping assist are on your list of must-haves, the Driver Confidence I and Driver Confidence II packages add those features and more.
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Engine, Transmission, and Performance
Like many mid-size family sedans, the Malibu offers several powertrains. Most Malibu models are propelled by a dutiful 163-hp turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that drives the front wheels through a CVT. When we tested the car with the new CVT, we recorded a wholly average 7.8-second zero-to-60-mph time. This combination is slower than similar rivals in our acceleration tests, but it delivered a smooth, even pull. A turbocharged 2.0-liter four—which is exclusive to the top-tier Premier trim—makes 250 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. The last Malibu 2.0T we tested—a 2016—ran well enough, but neither its real-world fuel economy nor its performance bested those of its competitors, many of which made do with V-6 engines rather than turbochargers.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
In terms of EPA fuel-mileage estimates, the Malibu's smallest engine underperforms the equivalent base powertrains in the Accord and the Toyota Camry. The Malibu's 2.0-liter turbo engine, however, has thoroughly competitive government ratings compared with the optional powerplants in the Honda and Toyota, but we haven't tested its real-world fuel economy. The 1.5-liter turbocharged engine managed a respectable 34 mpg over the course of our 200-mile highway fuel-economy test route.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
While the Malibu's interior is not the fanciest or the quietest, it is very comfortable and ergonomically friendly. The cabin has competitive passenger space and options, but most alternatives have better outward visibility. The Malibu's symmetrical dashboard and the large opening beneath the center stack make the cockpit feel spacious. The front seats have a wide base and supportive side bolsters, but their back cushions are too narrow for some occupants. The back seat has less legroom than the Honda Accord's back seat, but it still fit our adult frames. The Malibu boasts a big trunk with ample carry-on capacity; it also has plenty of interior storage space even though it doesn't lead the class.
Infotainment and Connectivity
Chevy fits every Malibu with its excellent infotainment system that includes many of today's most desirable options—Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. While the touchscreen interface is easy to interpret, the system is losing ground versus the competition, as it lacks a convenient rotary control knob as a secondary way to interact with the interface.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
Overall Safety Rating (NHTSA)
The Malibu earned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's highest crash-test score, but it failed to capture a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Although the Chevy sedan can be had with all the high-tech assists that help protect modern families, these options are unavailable on some models. Key safety features include:
- Available automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection
- Available lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist
- Available adaptive cruise control
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
The Malibu has competitive limited and powertrain warranties, but its corrosion protection and roadside assistance are longer than most rivals in this matchup. Likewise, the Chevy offers just one complimentary scheduled maintenance visit while the Camry is covered for two years or 25,000 miles.
- Limited warranty covers three years or 36,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers five years or 60,000 miles
- Complimentary maintenance is covered for the first visit
2019 Chevrolet Malibu 1.5T RS
front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
PRICE AS TESTED
$25,840 (base price: $25,095)
turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
91 cu in, 1490 cc
160 hp @ 5700 rpm
184 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
continuously variable automatic
Suspension (F/R): struts/multilink
Brakes (F/R): 11.8-in vented disc, 11.3-in disc
Tires: Continental ProContact TX, 245/45R-18 96H M+S TPC
Wheelbase: 111.4 in
Length: 193.8 in
Width: 73.0 in
Height: 57.6 in
Passenger volume: 108 cu ft
Trunk volume: 16 cu ft
Curb weight: 3184 lb
Zero to 60 mph: 7.8 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 22.3 sec
Zero to 120 mph: 41.6 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 9.1 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 4.3 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 5.8 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 16.1 sec @ 87 mph
Top speed (governor limited, mfr's claim): 130 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 167 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.88 g
Observed: 25 mpg
75-mph highway driving: 34 mpg
Highway range: 540 miles
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/city/highway: 32/29/36 mpg