The new 2017 Chevrolet Malibu has had a major relook at its platform, with new construction techniques resulting in a lighter, significantly tighter handling sedan. What exactly does the mid-almost-large segment stalwart bring to the showroom?
The car buyer is being chased by the industry. That is a truism that holds good like at no other time in the collective history of the four-wheeler. As global audiences evolve and their idea of what to expect in a car changes, the automotive industry is managing to almost keep pace, bringing technology and new drivetrains at a blistering pace.
Take a look at what’s happening with the Chevrolet Malibu. It is a rather storied marque, bringing with it an image of upmarket Americana and a hint of the salty spray off the Pacific Ocean. Over the years, the badge has gone from a variant of the rear-wheel drive Chevelle, to a standalone badge and has even weathered a phase out and return. Now, it is a regular feature of the American road and targets customers that may not be able to opt for the larger Impala. In this generation, which debuted as a 2016 MY car in 2015, the Malibu looks ever so much like a slightly different Impala.
This new car is built on a completely new platform (the E2XX), using the modularity of the new platform to offer a wheelbase that is stretched out by 4-inches over the previous car. What this does is instantly make the cabin significantly roomier with generous rear legroom and headroom dimensions, despite the almost coupé-like sweep of the roof towards the rear deck.
The car is also wider than before, with a lower roofline, so the end result is far more dynamic even before you factor in the new styling changes around the front grille that lend a visual feel of a squatter bonnet and wrap-around fascia. The styling includes generous use of chrome garnish strips to highlight the black maws of the grille, perhaps with a touch too much of enthusiasm, as the combination of the Chevy logo on the horizontal bar, chrome surrounds and bright new LED lighting is almost at bling levels. But, that’s what customers want nowadays, so who are we to argue? And it does keep continuity from the previous model generation.
The rear of the car is thankfully slightly less overt in its detailing, as is the profile itself, which uses the chrome treatment to highlight the greenhouse area. The profile looks quite dynamic and sporty, marred only by the rather prominent ratios of the front-wheel drive car with a front-axle set off to the rear of the engine centre-line.
But that’s really not the area where the sales pitch will happen. The new interiors have been really worked on. The dashboard is an amalgam of multi-layered surfaces, with the lower grades getting a textured fabric inlay among all the soft-feel plastics, while the higher grades get the benefit of pseudo-leather inserts. The look and feel of the fabric is so reminiscent of a Skechers outer surface that you automatically opt for the better looking LTZ interiors.
The actual design of the instrument panel and centre console is quite improved with the LT and LTZ variants getting the larger 8-inch display, while the base 7-inch is used on the LS. The major new features here are the provision of Apple CarPlay as part of the car’s infotainment kit, with almost seamless integration and operation. All you need to do is plug in the cable and authorise it from your phone. Additionally the car gets forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic warning, parking assist, lane keep assist and even pedestrian collision alert with braking.
The cars being sent to our region lack the US spec ability for tracking teenage car users as well as the choice of turbocharged engines that it comes with on the continent. Instead, the car gets the drivetrain off the last Malibu, a 2.5-litre ECOTEC engine with 186hp output mated with the 6-speed automatic transmission.
The gearshift lever is also a carryover from the past generation with its plus and minus so-called manual override offered as a button on top of the lever. As we had commented on in the previous generation, it isn’t usable as a regular tiptronic, needing you to rest your right hand continuously on the lever in order to operate the toggle. In any case you can’t use the toggle unless the gearshift selector is in L, effectively making the manual override some sort of fine control only for hill climb or trailer towing operations. And no, there is no paddle shift control available on the steering wheel. So the drive controls make this a sedan that is targeted at the fleet and commuter.
Straight off the bat, the car is a significant improvement over the previous generation. Yes, the cabin is the biggest draw, that and the fact that the car is seriously engineered for a muted NVH experience. If all you are looking for is a comfortable drive with almost no interference from the road, this is the car for you. The lighter body does not sacrifice anything in terms of comfort – the torsional stiffness is definitely better.
The grunt from the 186hp engine is more than adequate for a car of this size. While it isn’t likely to leave many rubber strips on the tarmac, the feel you get is of a competent powerpack that has thankfully steered clear of going with a CVT like some of the competition. Steering effort is minimal, while the sense of feedback is rather muted although surprisingly accurate.
Once you realise that the car is meant to be a commuter’s delight you stop trying to fiddle with the +/- on the gearshift and settle into predictable rhythms.
A capable, competent, well-thought out package is our initial assessment of the car. While some of the selling is done on the basis of perceptible quality, the real gainer for the brand will be if their promise of a lower ownership cost stands the test of time. They are promising a lower cost than on the Camry and Altima and even factor in the Sonata as a runner up.
But then, that’s really the car’s strength – trying to offer a value for money package on a well-crafted platform. Seriously, all we would ask for extra is the option to select a more modern choice of engine and gearbox for some spirited driving.