Which Malibu does AMG CARS INC recommend?
We think the LT with the Driver Confidence package covers the bases for a modern midsize sedan. And it gets you some valuable basic active safety features, although you’ll have to add the Driver Confidence II package to get forward collision mitigation features. However, we don’t love the driving experience of the 1.5-liter engine and actually prefer the Hybrid. The Hybrid is basically equipped the same as the LT. And for a small premium, you get a vehicle that’s more fuel-efficient and a little nicer to drive.
The Chevrolet Malibu looks sharp and has a roomy and comfortable front seat that makes it a pleasant enough way to get from point A to point B. But this latest-generation Malibu has been simply left behind in a class that’s become even more spacious and refined and more dynamic overall.
In an effort to keep up with competitors’ improving fuel economy, Chevy has given the 2019 Malibu a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) on cars equipped with the base 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The CVT automatic results in a bump of 2 mpg combined in EPA ratings compared to last year but has also somewhat dulled the Malibu’s responsiveness. While the Malibu’s handling is surprisingly sharp, the rest of the driving experience feels flat.
The Malibu also gets Chevy’s latest Infotainment System 3, which is easy to use and has the latest features. Alas, it’s a bright spot in an otherwise unassuming and somewhat drab cabin. Rear leg- and headroom lag behind much of the class, too. Another drawback is that the base Malibu does not include active safety features that are standard on many competitors, and a full suite of driver aids is only available as an option on the Chevy’s highest trim.
There are traits that recommend the Malibu, but overall it’s a midpack contender, falling short of the bar set by class leaders. The current Mazda 6 delivers an engaging driving experience at any trim level, and in higher trims competes with entry-level luxury cars costing thousands more. The new Honda Accord is one of the most impressive mainstream midsize sedans in years: capable, practical, comfortable, and chock-full of available features.
Chevrolet Malibu models
For 2019, the Malibu has five trim levels. The base L trim is sparsely equipped, so unless you’re looking for the least expensive sedan possible, it’s better to step up to the LS or the LT. Both add a considerable amount of content. Although, like the L, they rely on a smaller, slightly underpowered engine. The RS trim slots between the LS and the LT and adds unique appearance accents for a sportier look. The Premier trim comes almost fully loaded and adds a more powerful motor. The Malibu is also available in Hybrid trim with similar features to the LT.
The L, LS, RS, and LT are all powered by a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine (160 hp and 184 pound-feet of torque) mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
The base L trim comes with a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine (160 hp and 184 pound-feet of torque), a CVT automatic, 16-inch steel wheels, keyless entry and ignition, cruise control, a backup camera, air conditioning, and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. Infotainment has been upgraded for 2019 to include an 8-inch touchscreen system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You also get OnStar and a six-speaker audio system.
The minor price jump to the LS trim adds some extra equipment and more available optional features. The LS includes 16-inch alloy wheels, Chevy’s Teen Driver system, a compass and exterior temperature display, and sun visors with vanity mirrors. You also get a 4G LTE connection with Wi-Fi and laminated side windows to reduce noise.
The sport-look RS trim offers dual exhaust tips, black 18-inch alloy wheels, a spoiler, blacked-out exterior trim pieces, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar.
For both the LS and RS trim levels, several options can be added. These include a remote starter and a seat-belt assurance system that only allows the vehicle to shift out of Park when the driver’s seat belt is buckled. The eight-way power-adjustable seat is available as an option on the LS as well.
Upgrading to the LT trim gets you all of the LS features, as well as 17-inch wheels, LED daytime running lights and taillamps, remote start, heated mirrors, seatback map pockets, illuminated vanity mirrors, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, rear-seat air vents, rear-seat reading lamps, and satellite radio.
The Malibu Hybrid uses a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine paired with an electric motor, producing a combined 182 hp and a noteworthy 277 lb-ft of torque. It’s similar to the Hybrid LT, but with a few changes: It uses an electronic parking brake and has heated seats, plus LED taillamps are optional rather than standard. Also, the infotainment system has unique information displays, the trip computer is replaced with an 8-inch color display, and the spare tire is replaced with a tire repair and inflation kit.
The Hybrid’s Convenience and Technology package adds back the remote starter, heated front seats and LED taillamps.
Several packages are available for both the LT and Hybrid: A Leather package is available, which includes leather upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The Driver Confidence package adds blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking sensors. The Driver Confidence II package includes automatic high beams, lane keeping assist and forward collision alert.
Finally, the Premier trim offers all of the LT’s features, as well as everything that’s available in the Convenience and Technology package and the Leather package. The engine is upgraded to a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (250 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque) and paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Also included are 18-inch wheels, ventilated front seats, a power-adjustable passenger seat, driver-seat memory settings, navigation, a nine-speaker Bose stereo system, interior ambient lighting, a wireless charging pad, a 120-volt power outlet for the rear seat, heated outboard rear seats, and unique exterior styling cues.
The Premier can be upgraded with the Driver Confidence package, Driver Confidence package II and the Confidence III package, which includes an electronic parking brake, adaptive cruise control, active parking assist, and an automatic forward collision avoidance system. The Premier Sun and Wheel package adds a dual-pane power sunroof, 19-inch wheels and upgraded floor mats. The sunroof is also available as a stand-alone option for the LT, Hybrid and Premier.
The 2019 Chevrolet Malibu offers long-distance comfort over performance, but its sharp handling and available advanced hybrid powertrain are standout elements.
The standard 1.5-liter engine feels just adequate. Those who prefer more punch can get the Premier model’s 2.0-liter engine. The Hybrid’s smooth acceleration makes it feel more like an electric vehicle than other hybrids. Its gas engine is mostly noticeable when accelerating hard or climbing a hill.
The pedal action is smooth and predictable around town, if a bit on the firm side. Our non-hybrid test car stopped from 60 mph in 113 feet — excellent for a car in this class. Confident hybrid brakes offer consistent and even pedal feel.
The steering is low on feedback, and its initial turn-in is a bit rubbery, but the turning effort is consistent. It’s responsive enough to instill confidence and can keep up with those who drive exuberantly.
Despite its size and non-sporty positioning, the Malibu corners with more athleticism than some other family sedans. The all-season tires loudly howl when pushed, but the car remains composed and predictable. It’s confident in evasive maneuvers and even provides some fun for the driver.
The base CVT automatic isn’t as refined as those in some competitors. And it exhibits a bit of rubber-band feeling and noticeable delays when the accelerator is pushed to the floor. The auto engine stop-start feature can also be annoying. We prefer the generally seamless powertrain of the hybrid version, especially at city speeds.
The Malibu’s ride is smooth and composed, and it deals well with rough roads and undulations. Some might also describe it as firm, but that doesn’t make it uncomfortable. Strong air conditioning along with a quiet interior add to the overall comfort level.
The firm, supportive front seats have sufficient side bolstering. We could happily have driven longer than our three-hour evaluation route. The rear outboard seats are comfortable for average-size adults, but the center seat is better suited to smaller passengers.
The car possesses impressive control over choppy, undulating pavement and remains poised where some others might bound about or transmit sharp impacts. The driver is isolated from unpleasantness, but not from the driving experience. However, some may find the ride too firm.
Noise & vibration
Engine and wind noise is nicely muted. And even when the Hybrid’s engine comes on, it doesn’t drone excessively or call attention to itself. But road noise can be intrusive on coarse asphalt. In total, the cabin is a little quieter than average.
The air conditioning keeps the car cool on a very hot day, even in the Hybrid, whose engine shuts down when the car stops at signals. And we never felt the need to fiddle with the system. Ventilated seats are optional.
The Malibu benefits from an uncluttered dashboard layout and simple, straightforward controls, though the plastics and design feel a bit dated. Front passenger room is on par with space in most other cars in the segment. The back seat lags behind more recently redesigned competitors.
Ease of use
The excellent climate controls are placed within easy reach with good-size buttons and knobs. The MyLink screen’s high placement makes it easy to use. But the manual-shift button on top of the shifter needs a rethink.
Getting in/getting out
Front passengers are able to get in and out with ease thanks to a large opening and relatively tall ride height. Backseat passengers of average height or taller will have to stoop a bit to clear the sloping rear roofline.
There’s ample adjustability when equipped with the eight-way power seat. The seat adjusts far enough down and back for tall drivers. The steering wheel has good telescoping range, and the pedals are naturally placed.
The front seats are quite spacious even for larger occupants. The rear seat provides enough leg- and headroom for adults, although it’s smaller than some competitors’ offerings. The sloping roofline makes that space feel more confining.
The thick roof pillars and high rear decklid obstruct outward visibility. The available beige dash top also causes distracting reflections — we’d get black. A rearview camera is now standard on all trims.
The quality is acceptable but far from class-leading. The hard plastics up front are at least textured. Those in back look cheap and can feel a bit scratchy in places. Other surfaces are covered in lightly padded cloth or faux leather, which feels sturdy and well put-together.
If you have stuff to transport — big or small — the Malibu is far from the best family sedan. The trunk is simply average, and the various interior bins are not ideal for all the odds and ends most passengers carry around.
For a midsize sedan, the Malibu’s small-item storage is poor, offering a tiny glovebox, merely average-size center armrest bin, smallish door bins, one-size cupholders without grippers, and a smallish media bin. Rivals are better and more clever.
The Malibu’s 15.8-cubic-foot trunk is average for the segment — good enough for golf bags and luggage. The much smaller Hybrid trunk is too narrow for golf bags, and the batteries fill up its aft portion. The 60/40-split pass-through helps for longer items.
Child safety seat accommodation
Four LATCH anchor points and three upper tether mounts are arranged to serve all three rear-seating positions. Anchor points are easy to find under a flexible flap in the crook of the seat.
The Malibu has good standard infotainment features, but it lacks standard driver aids and active safety features that are now common in the class. (These features are optional on higher trim levels.) The standard 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and the range of OnStar services are excellent, and Wi-Fi is standard on all but the base trim.
Audio & navigation
The Chevrolet Infotainment 3 touchscreen system is much quicker than earlier iterations, and we appreciate its large virtual buttons and general system layout. Most users will find it easy to operate.
Up to four USB ports are available, along with an auxiliary jack and Bluetooth phone and audio (though the base L is phone-only). Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard and work as expected. Standard Wi-Fi (except on the L trim) is also easy to set up.
Blind-spot monitoring and lane departure warning systems are unobtrusive. Optional adaptive cruise control can bring the car to a full stop, but at lower speeds in slow-and-go freeway traffic, it makes awkwardly abrupt throttle and brake adjustments. Unfortunately, safety features and driver aids are all optional, and adaptive cruise and automatic emergency braking are only available on the top-tier Premier trim.
Voice controls have improved with this new infotainment system, but they can still occasionally require specific phrasing. If you are using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, you can push and hold the same button to get to Siri or Google Voice, both of which are much better at responding to natural-language requests.