The Chevy Malibu is a staple of American culture. Equivalent almost to apple pie or baseball in the way that it rolls off of the American consumers tongue. In 2016, Chevrolet reported that they’d sold their 10 millionth Malibu in the history of the name plate. Just in time for them to roll out their all-new model for 2016, The 9th generation Malibu. Chevrolet’s best Malibu yet!
Today, I’m going to give you my take after a 20,000 mile test of the 2017 Malibu, equipped with the 1.5l Turbocharged I4. Let’s start with the packaging and trim levels. Chevrolet has been shuffling their trim levels for a few years now, resulting in some confusion among consumers. My loaded LT tester is for all intents and purposes a “Premier.”
Besides the fact that the 1.5t engine wasn’t offered in a Premier Malibu (but was on the Premier Equinox).. It has all of the bells and whistles. Driver assistance tech, leather seats, panoramic glass moonroof, navigation, unique 18’’ black painted/polished wheel package.
All for a sticker of just over $31,000. The only thing keeping my tester from being a Premier are the availability of the 2.0l Turbocharged I4 and the LED tail lamps that come standard on the premier trim. I must note that the Malibu was slightly refreshed for the 2019 model year, with exterior changes front and rear, replacement of the 6 Speed automatic in the 1.5t with a Continuously Variable Unit and some additional features added to the lower trim models.
Let’s start with the exterior, The 9th Generation Malibu is easily the most expressive Malibu ever built. Some would say it’s gorgeous, I find it to be pretty good looking in the pre-refresh model and just a bit awkward looking post refresh. The side profile/rear three-quarter views are easily some of the most stunning angles on the Malibu. The sloping roof line is almost perfect in its execution, it really gives the first generation Audi A7 a run for it’s money. Regardless of what you think of the design, you have to appreciate the ground that Chevy has covered with the styling. The car feels pretty well built and the doors close with a solid “thud.”
The only real cost cutting I can identify on the body of the car, are the gooseneck trunk hinges and a questionably low amount of paint coverage in the door hinge areas and under the hood. I was also able to identify some orange peel on the doors which i’ve found to be an issue across all of the new Malibu’s. The paint has held up well though, Over my long term test i’ve accumulated far less paint damage than I had on the Cruze that preceded this Malibu.
The best part of the new Malibu compared to the cars that came before it, is the comfort and space that the interior offers. It feels like a size larger car compared to the generation it replaces.. Frankly, it almost makes the Impala obsolete. The trunk is large enough for all of the luggage/belongings a small family will need for a weekend getaway. Also, thankfully there is a space saver spare tire under the rear floor.. During my time with the Malibu, I had five flat tires.
Some would say bad luck. I’m going to chalk it up to the quality of the OEM Continental tires that come on the car. After my third flat, I started reading consumer feedback.. Let’s just say I wasn’t the only one who had major issues with these tires. If I were to buy a Malibu, I’d replace the tires almost immediately.
Anyway, back to the interior. During my time with the Malibu, I drove it from Syracuse, NY to Naples, FL and back, alone.. Lots of time in the saddle revealed the good and bad for me.. I’ve come to the conclusion that GM cannot design seats for large Americans. I’m an about average 6’0, 190-pounds. The Cruze I had was flawed in both it’s seat and seating position, so much so that my back would ache after just a few hours. The Malibu isn’t even close to that bad, the seat padding and foam are great! They remind me of a memory foam mattress, it’s just the size of the seat and how it sits in the vehicle that don’t work for me. I was mostly comfortable on my 1,300 mile trip, I just had to adjust the seat and reposition every few hours for optimal comfort.
My biggest complaint on the interior of the car is the way that the driver seat sits in relation to the gas pedal, it results in a twisted ankle/knee to rest your foot on the gas pedal comfortably. It’s caused me some tender pain in my knee on quite a few occasions, i’ve never had a similar occurrence in any other car. I did some research and found that as with the tires, I wasn’t the only one having this issue either. With all of this hate towards the seating position, karma finally came back to bite me. After just over a week spent in Florida, I went outside to the Malibu only to find a completely dead power driver seat. For some reason, the motors and cables within the seat had failed. I uncomfortably drove it to the nearest Chevrolet dealership and they ended up replacing the entire seat assembly under warranty. I had no issues with the power seat after that point.
The rest of the interior is nice when trimmed out in leather, you get sections of vinyl on the dash and doors which significantly add to the “premium feel” inside. Cloth seat examples of the Malibu come with unique cloth on the dash and doors which doesn’t seem to make as positive of an impression on consumers. The leather trim, panoramic roof and subtle ambient lighting proved to impress almost everyone who got in the car during my time with it. Contrary to online reviews, people were consistently impressed with this interior. Personally, I quite like the interior compared to any Chevy before it. The built in infotainment is great, I like the navigation and the ability to program it through the app on your smart phone, it just adds such an element of convenience when you can get in, start the car and your destination is already programmed and ready!
Also, Chevrolet offers Apple Car Play standard and it works great through their sharp 8’’ touch screen. My tester was equipped with Chevy’s full suite of driver assistance tech. Front and rear parking sensors, pedestrian detection and lane keep assist. Auto emergency braking, everything but adaptive cruise control. The technology works well, the auto braking saved my butt a time or two in slow rolling rush hour traffic! I find the suite of tech to work well for a lower priced car, I did wish for adaptive cruise control, however.
The well equipped Malibu I tested included the “Sun & Sound Package” Which brings the Panoramic glass roof and the Bose sound system. I’ve spent a-lot of time with BOSE systems in both Audi and GM products. This one sounds like the speakers are made of paper.. It’s not horrible, but by far the weakest BOSE system i’ve heard. The bass is deep and full, but turn it too high and it seems like it’s going to rattle the door panels off.. The system definitely needs some further tweaking, but it does provide totally adequate, full sound when compared to a no name/base system.
Let’s talk about the most important part. The drive! Over my 20,000 mile test, I averaged almost 26-mpg with the Malibu. I was far from easy on it in my testing, GM spent much time and effort to lightweight the car and use as efficient of a powertrain as possible. I had the choice of the 2.0t and the 1.5t when choosing my tester, I chose a fully equipped 1.5t, because I wanted to see how GM’s small turbo engines had evolved since the Cruze 1.4t I had. 20,000 miles later.. I’m happy I chose the 1.5t.
It’s so efficient and so quiet in the work it does, you don’t hear it when it’s working below 3,500rpm. I actually was stopped by a state trooper in my first week with the test car because i’d ran up to 50-mph+ in a 40mph zone without even noticing, because the motor is so silent and smooth. I explained to the trooper that the car was “silent but deadly” and also new to me.
We both had a good laugh and luckily he let me off with a warning. If that’s not a testament to the quietness and smoothness of the 1.5t, I don’t know what is!
The 1.5t doesn’t make the Malibu a rocket ship in a straight line, but it has the torque in abundance where competing NA motors don’t. The best part of the powertrain is how the motor just fades into the background when you don’t want to push it. Honestly, I’ve had a lot of fun in this car even with the 1.5t. I’ve easily crossed the 100mph mark a few times, the tiny motor seems to only pull harder up at those speeds. The biggest handicap for the performance of this powertrain are the 6 speed automatic, thankfully replaced by a CVT for 2019 and GM’s super conservative ECM tuning. The gas pedal has a mind of its own.
You can press it to the floor and the car gives you the power requested not immediately, but when the computers see fit. That’s my biggest issue with the entire package and I can’t help but wonder what an aftermarket tune might bring to this vehicle.
Let’s face it though, performance is so far from the mission of this vehicle!
It’s all about comfort and fuel economy. On my multiple road-trips, usually on cruise control between 73-80mph, sometimes with up to 3 passengers in the car, I could average over 33-mpg consistently. Those numbers aren’t that great compared to NA family sedans, but I also didn’t hesitate to smash into the gas pedal if I need to get around someone during my test. The steering and handling of the car are also a huge step forward, The steering has some numbness on center, but the way it firms up on turn in is almost the ideal heft for a car like this.
The handling is like no Malibu or front wheel drive GM I’ve ever driven, I can surely tell that this chassis is a descendant from Europe. I was able to coax the Malibu into a high speed four wheel drift on a private strip of tarmac during my testing. The car felt neutral, controlled and overall fantastic for what it is, I was giggling like a kid on a roller coaster. I am very impressed with the dynamics of the car, Very safe, predictable and very controlled.
To sum it up, this new Malibu is a fantastic overall car to live with. It’s not an Accord or a Camry in the sterility and consistency of build quality or the almost guaranteed long life. I can’t tell you about long term reliability of the 1.5t powertrain because it’s fairly new, but aside from some initial teething issues, they seem to be pretty solid once the kinks were ironed out.
My tester worked well over 20,000 miles, I didn’t experience any real hiccups with the powertrain. This is a safe, comfortable and efficient car. Likely even more so with the CVT, which i’m anxious to try out. As long as GM keeps building them in Kansas City, USA, I can very proudly and honestly recommend this vehicle.
It’s easily one of the best American mid-size sedans ever built and it might just be the last. Thank you for reading, Happy motoring!