We review Chevy’s underrated 2015 Malibu family sedan
Family sedans are a perfectly respectable means of transportation, but not the kind of vehicle one normally associates with the endless summer weather enjoyed by the inhabitants of the southern California locale that shares this car’s name. Unfortunately, Malibu (the car) has developed some less-than-positive associations, thanks to certain predecessors of the 2015 model reviewed here, and that’s too bad, because it’s one of the best cars in Chevy’s current model range.
Review & Pics by Chris Chase
Hot name, forgettable styling
Few mid-size sedans are designed to stand out, but the Malibu’s looks are particularly bland. Perhaps that’s why I was surprised to learn it was still available for 2015; I see so few of them on the road, I figured it had been discontinued.
It’s actually a handsome car, but less bold in its presentation than the Honda Accord, or even the new redesigned 2015 Toyota Camry. Our LTZ tester displayed a bit more personality inside, with a classy two-tone interior that included stitched faux leather on the dash, to match inserts in the seat upholstery.
Surprisingly enough, this car makes its best impression once you’re sitting behind the wheel and in motion. The specs don’t sound like much: my tester’s 2.5-litre four-cylinder is the base engine, with 196 hp and 191 lb-ft of torque on tap, and the sole transmission is a six-speed automatic. The engine is a good fit, and never feels overburdened in normal driving; my only complaint, keeping in mind the car’s pedestrian purpose, is that the motor gets a bit thrashy at high revs, in hard acceleration. If you’re exploring the upper reaches of this car’s rev counter regularly, then you’ve brought home the wrong vehicle. The transmission’s only flaw is a reluctance to downshift when you want to gain speed in highway driving; call that a nod to boosting fuel economy.
For the record, the optional engine is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder making 259 hp and 295 lb-ft – a much better motor for those in a hurry.
If the powertrain performed as I expected it to, the car’s chassis exceeded my admittedly low expectations. A comfortable ride is backed up by a surprisingly nimble suspension that provides balanced handling, and sharp steering that doesn’t feel “darty” and nervous at highway speeds. This is a more entertaining car to drive than its appearance and reputation suggest.
A driver-selectable “eco” mode changes how the engine and transmission react to the gas pedal; curiously, it’s toggled with the air conditioning button. Yellow means eco-off, green means on. I discovered this feature halfway through the week, and it seemed to make a difference in my tester’s average fuel consumption, which ended up at 10.7 L/100 km, a solid result for a week of city driving in cold weather; Natural Resources Canada’s official estimates for this car are 9.3/6.4 L/100 km (city/highway).
Also working toward improving economy is an auto start/stop function to shut the engine off at stoplights. It doesn’t work until the engine is close to normal operating temperature, which took as much as 15 minutes of driving in cold weather. It only worked about half the time I had the car, but it does its thing so well that passengers didn’t notice when it did – which is more than I can say for the last BMW I drove with this feature.
Aside from the stealth eco-mode button, Malibu puts most controls where they belong. As always, I could do without the touchscreen that runs GM’s IntelliLink communications/entertainment system, but it’s among the better examples of its kind. More useful is the storage cubby hidden behind the screen which flips up and open at the touch of an actual button.
Interior space is good for front-seat occupants, in comfortable and supportive seats. The rear bench is tighter than in big mid-sizers like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry; the Mazda6 is a closer match for the feel of the Malibu’s coach-class accommodations. Trunk space is more impressive, at a generous 462 litres behind rear seats that fold to expand capacity.
Less-great things include the small and oddly-shaped side mirrors and the placement of the parking brake (an old-school yank-the-lever type) on the right side of the console, which made its use awkward when I had a passenger in the front seat.
My test car was a top-trim LTZ model, in which navigation was the only option selected, adding $795 to the car’s $33,100 MSRP. That price includes safety kit like forward collision alert, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert and side blind zone alert. Also included were Xenon headlights, a backup camera, intelligent keyless entry, auto-dimming rear view mirror, power-adjustable front passenger seat, and a nine-speaker stereo, all items that are either optional or unavailable in LS and LT trims.
As it was finished, my tester looked and felt like a $33,000 car, but lacked a few upscale features found in other models at a similar trim level. A Hyundai Sonata Limited, for example, gets heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, a wiper blade de-icer, and rear window sunshades for nearly the same MSRP.
Three or four people, when I told them what I was driving, asked if it was cool to drive “a cop car” for a week. I had to remind each of them that the larger Impala is the Chevrolet model favoured by police forces, but it proves my point that the Malibu simply isn’t a car that makes it onto many car buyers’ shopping lists. That’s a shame, because this car deserves more attention than it gets.