The corporate playbook has 3 rules for mid-sized, family sedans. They are as follows:
- Sell, but also try not to make a car that looks and feels like a boring piece of crap
The first car that should come to mind with this criteria is the Honda Accord. It has danced that delicate tango of family transporter and drivers car the best out of any of the cars in this category for the past 25 years. Yes the Toyota Camry sells more, but for pure driving experience coupled with looks that don’t make you want to boil your eyes after you’ve walked away and looked back at your car, the Accord is the daily driver on which you should spend your money. It still sells in spades, though. In fact, in 2015 the Accord sold 355,557 units. That’s more than all of the following companies in the US: Acura, Audi, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Chrysler, Infinity, Lexus, Mazda, and Volkswagen. Not combined of course, but the Accord routinely outsells entire corporations in total yearly sales. Thus, it’s safe to say the Accord is the benchmark for affordable, family sedan fun.
Companies attempt to get this concoction of enthusiast’s daily driver with reliable family hauler right. Most do not. The Sonata, for example, has come along quite well as an option for those looking in this segment and Hyundai has become a force to be reckoned with in the American market. The Ford Fusion took on a whole new look in 2013 and looks like a budget Aston Martin in the front. The Camry is always a top seller because of Toyota’s legendary reliability and cheap operating costs. Certain companies get aspects right, but the rest of the pack has been muddling in mediocrity behind these select few, not to mention the Accord.
There’s one in particular that’s just been kind of there sitting in the ether; selling, but never really garnering any attention. The Chevrolet Malibu sells because it’s a Chevy and the American consumer is scary loyal with certain American car companies. Chevy is one of them. For basic family transport, the Malibu has always been a decent option, but there’s never really been any excitement around it. There’s never been a point in my life when I’ve said, “I need to get me a Malibu,” or “I have to drive that.” That is until this commercial came out.
This horrible manifestation of a commercial, but a wholly accurate representation of the common consumer has been showing across small screens in this country for the better part of 4-6 months. At best it’s an interesting case study in how people perceive cars. At worst, it’s an annoying commercial. But it is attention grabbing and for those consumers that hadn’t seen the new Malibu before, it’s a chance to show them Chevy is “producing cars that are on par with a Lexus.” That’s not a quote from anywhere, just how I perceive the commercial to be coming across.
At the core of all this consumerism nonsense is Chevy’s desire to succeed. And why wouldn’t they? If you can survive in the midsize sedan class and not go belly up with a model while selling 200,000+ per year that’s a victory right? Not really. Not when the Accord and Camry are both nearly doubling or more than doubling the sales of your midsize. Not when your stigma of unreliable cars is trumped by Japanese efficiency and longevity. Not when you lose year after year after year after year. The Buffalo Bills had one of the best teams in NFL history back in the 90s, but they never got that Super Bowl. It haunts them. Not being #1 in any category stings, but in arguably the most important segment in the industry if you can’t hack it, it stings like 1000 Japanese giant hornets in your underpants.
So what does Chevy do then? They soldier on and redesign. And they do it over and over until they get it right. It’s my great pleasure to tell you that this time, they have gotten it right. And they have something that could be that game changer the commercial eluded to.
The 2016 Malibu is one of those cars that does take you by surprise. It’s history shows us nothing but bland and drab. This Malibu shows us sophistication and poise unlike anything Chevy has produced in recent memory. The body hasn’t been redesigned from the ground up, but now it makes sense. The front end is a bit of a carryover with it’s multi grille look, but the last generation’s back end was bulky and ugly with more of a doe-eyed stare than anything worth while. Now, it’s sculpted, elegant, and any matter of other totally cliche terms one can think of about the posterior of a car. Dat booty doe, in stance nation speak. Both the front and rear finally make sense together and they come together in perfect design harmony.
It gets better inside with leather and technology everywhere. 4G LTE wifi hot spot? Got it. Apple car play? Got it. Bose sound system? Got it. Back up camera, heated seats, forward collision alert, rear cross traffic alert, lane change alert, lane keep assist, back and front parking sensors, remote start, auto dimming mirror, pedestrian detection? All of the above. And everything I just labeled, including some I didn’t because the list is legitimately too long to type and I’m lazy, will only set you back $2000 in options. For all this on a BMW, you’d be signing over your first born and some sheep. The value for money is staggering here. The car we had was a shade under $30,000 ($29,380 to be exact) and it felt like much more. Damn it, I’m proving that insufferable commercial right. At least I knew what car it was. Psh, dummies.
And so it goes with the affordable mid sized segment. The bad news for Chevy in this instance is that pretty much any one of the cars listed above can be optioned out to between 30 and 35 grand and have comparable if not identical amenities. The Malibu’s ace in the hole is the completely insane ride quality and handling prowess. It is mind boggling that a car like this can handle this well. There is not much body roll for what the car is and it absolutely glides over pavement as if a skate on ice. The steering is heavy enough to give you the confidence to chuck it into a turn on a back road, and you can actually do it instead of body rolling into a ravine. It’s shockingly quiet at speed, but not so much that you think the engine has fallen out several miles back. It’s a completely and total mindfuck. I cannot stress it enough that this car will surprise the hell out of you in the best way possible. It’s better than the Accord in every emotional way and it feels better in the turns and on the road overall. This is coming from someone who has either owned or driven the last 4 generations of Accords.
The Malibu we drove had the 1.5L turbo engine that makes 160 HP and 184 lb-ft of torque. We all thought it was a 2.0 or larger. It’s smooth, doesn’t feel undersized for the car’s girth, and held its own when accelerating on the highway. It won’t win any drag races, but who would want that in a family cruiser that can handle well? You’re buying this car to get MPGs and groceries, not to track it. And on that note, we noticed it hitting 37 MPG on highway cruising, but a very solid 33 combined MPG in our week of testing was excellent.
This Malibu you’re actually going to want. There’s no downside here. This Malibu isn’t going to sit in lots as a rental warrior. This Malibu isn’t something that’s going to blend in on the road and you won’t give a second thought to. No. This Malibu wants to be driven. It wants you to put miles on it. It wants to transport you around in entry level, non-fake luxury. It wants you to be happy and if you’re an enthusiast that needs this type of car for your family, you need to own this car. Yesterday. And much to the pleasure of the Chevy mothership, this Malibu should have the heads at GM Scrooge McDucking in a pit of golden coins.