Something very interesting is going on at Chevrolet lately. After years of products that ranged from blandly competitive to unimpressive, the golden bowtie is now being applied to cars that are serious contenders for best-in-class honors. The new Malibu pushes this trend straight into the heart of the fiercely competitive midsize-sedan contest—and is instantly one of the most modern, all-around appealing cars in that crowded field.

Pricing and Equipment

The 2016 Malibu is a complete redesign based largely on the well-received Impala. Five trim levels and a hybrid model are available to cover a range of expectations and price points. (The less-impressive previous generation is still available as the Malibu Limited. We strongly encourage buyers to limit consideration of it.)

One of Chevrolet's priorities was cutting that prior model's bulk, which led to some unconventional decisions for the new car -- no V6, no all-wheel drive -- and a curb weight fully 300 pounds lighter than the outgoing model. The diet pays off in both driving feel (unusually good for a mainstream sedan) and fuel economy.

For those further focused on getting the most from their gasoline, the hybrid Malibu uses a version of the Volt's driveline to return excellent mileage numbers -- EPA estimates are 48 mpg city and 45 mpg highway -- while offering a driving experience notably superior to the competition.

  • The L, LS and 1LT are fitted with a 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-four and six-speed automatic transmission; the 2LT and Premier receive a 250-horsepower 2-liter turbo four-cylinder and eight-speed automatic.
  • Option availability depends heavily on choosing the right initial trim level and sometimes require the selection of a few rather pricey packages -- the $895 Convenience and Technology package is a prerequisite for many driver-assist and comfort extras.

The base L model starts with an MSRP of $22,500 but is clearly intended for fleet use. The lineup progresses through LS ($23,995), 1LT ($25,895), and 2LT ($29,495) versions before topping out at the Premier trim level for $31,795. The hybrid stickers at $28,645 including destination. Even though base prices are agreeably competitive, keep an eye on the tendency of the option packages to bulk up the bottom line.

Performance Pros

Chevrolet Malibu

The new Malibu isn't about being better than an outdated dull image or being dutifully comparable with Brand T or Brand H. It's about suddenly being one of the best choices in the midsize family-sedan battle. A top-to-bottom redesign, a major weight-loss program, and some surprisingly subtle tuning have produced a great everyday car.

  • You will not miss the V6. The turbo fours are wonderfully smooth and responsive while returning very good mileage and contributing to the car's light and lithe feel.
  • The Malibu's steering is is one of the best electric-assist systems we've experienced anywhere and is a great match to the well-balanced suspension setup.
  • The hybrid Malibu is one of the best blends of ultra-high efficiency and all-around goodness currently on offer.

Performance Cons

  • All-wheel drive is not available, so buyers looking for maximum traction will need to look elsewhere.
  • As good as the Malibu's basic setup is, it makes no real claims to being a sports sedan. It's a great mainstream family car -- and definitely handles better than average -- but its heart is definitely more into well-mannered travel than backroad delinquency.

Interior Pros

Chevrolet Malibu Interior

Chevrolet's interiors have been improving at a dramatic rate, and the Malibu is another prime example of a conscious effort to push past mere adequacy. It looks contemporary and stylish, it is wonderfully comfortable, and the materials promise to hold up under constant daily use and abuse.

  • We think the cabin feels much roomier. Most measurements are only slightly increased, but component and seat positioning make a much appreciated difference -- especially in back, which has opened up significantly compared to the previous model.
  • Those seats are unusually good. Adding to comfort, noise management is excellent.
  • Materials are a clear step up not only from the last Malibu but from the competition. Someone really wanted this car to have a nice interior, and it shows.
  • Chevrolet has gone all in on tech features: numerous driver safety systems, MyLink connectivity, navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a 4G LTE hotspot are all available.

Interior Cons

  • Those high-quality interior materials are only available in a few colors.
  • Headroom is improved, but that dashing roofline does take a cut here and there.

The Most Pleasant Surprise

The decision to go for a full redesign a mere three years after the release of a good-but-not-great model is unusual for any manufacturer and startling from a GM division. To have the Malibu turn out to be this much better is absolutely amazing. Bravo.

The Least Pleasant Surprise

We long for the days when a high-performance SS model was automatically part of the lineup. Adding one would be both straightforward and another winning way to shoulder aside a crowd of boring competitors.

The Bottom Line

Chevrolet deals another ace. The Malibu is a serious no-excuses top pick for midsize sedan buyers.