– Interesting overall styling
– Quiet ride and good handling
– Efficient and powerful engine
– Missing some key options
– Shallow luggage boot
– Vestigial paddle-shifters
The last Chevy Malibu version to be sold in the UAE, more than half a decade ago, was quite possibly the most boring car ever created, bought by people who couldn’t afford a Toyota Camry. It was so bad, that General Motors decided to cancel it in this region and import replacements like the Lumina from Australian and the Epica from Korea. It looks like a little brush with bankruptcy was all that was needed to steer the wayward American division straight, as GM now sees fit to relaunch the all-new Malibu here again, as an infinitely better car than it ever was before.
Beyond the Corvette, the General’s U.S. cars never looked as good as they do nowadays. Incorporating a big new corporate grille, the Chevy Malibu stands out as unique, in a segment that thrives on appearing common. In fact, the entire car has a slightly “off” profile that makes it appear premium, with a sharply-raking front windshield and a thick rear C-pillar, with bits of chrome trim all over, from the door-handles to the side-marker bumper lights. Aside from misaligned chrome trim around the side-windows, we didn’t find any other fit-and-finish issues on the outside.
Our Malibu LTZ came with a two-tone orange-and-black interior, which instantly makes it the coolest interior in the segment, additionally spruced up by leather-trimmed seats and modern dashboard design. The materials are pretty good, being soft-touch on the upper dash and door panels, although we would’ve preferred a bit more padding on the doors.
Space is very good both front and back. The stylishly-low roofline cuts it a bit close to the head, but anyone who is not freakishly tall will have no issues. Rear legroom is great, although not as good as the nearly-fullsize Honda Accord. The luggage boot is impressively long in length, and yet, unimpressively shallow in depth, but it does have non-intrusive struts instead of cheap goose-neck hinges like the Toyota Camry. There are many storage cubbies, door pockets and covered cup-holders, although the rear does have an awkward set of floor-mounted cup-holders.
The top-of-the-line Malibu LTZ comes with keyless entry with remote starter, fog lights, 18-inch wheels, dual exhaust tips, six airbags, sunroof, power windows, electric mirrors, power-adjustable front seats, cruise control, and a split-folding rear seat. However, the premium experience faded as we realised the Malibu lacked certain optional features which are offered in competitors. A hands-free push-button start, Bluetooth phone, dual-zone a/c function, rear a/c vents, parking sensors, power-folding mirrors and even a simple rear central pull-down armrest were all missing, and not available at all as options. But on a positive note, the CD/MP3 stereo is a strong performer, with a USB port and wheel-mounted buttons, while the a/c was expectedly unstrained during our December afternoon testing.
The front-wheel-drive Malibu LTZ is powered by a 3.6-litre V6, offering up 252 hp at 6300 rpm and 340 Nm of torque at a reasonable 3200 rpm. At first glance, the American seems outclassed by the V6-powered Japanese 3.5-litre midsizers, each one churning out around 270 hp. But then, the Chevy actually felt quicker in daily driving than any of its competitors. The combination of low-rev torque and a 6-speed automatic is seemingly enough to take on the others. Turning off stability control, we managed a tyre-screeching 0-100 kph time of 7.2 seconds. What’s more remarkable, our average fuel consumption was only 12.4 litres/100 km in mixed driving, easily making the Malibu among the most efficient V6 sedans we’ve ever driven.
In fact, daily driving is immensely satisfying. If the lack of certain gadgetry can be ignored, the premium feeling returned again once we experienced the serene ride quality, class-leadingly quiet and nicely-absorbent suspension all the way to its electronically-limited 200 kph top speed, without the floatiness of the Toyota Camry or the firmness of the Nissan Altima. More surprisingly, the Malibu even handled well for its class, keeping body roll at moderate levels even during sharp manoeuvres. Grip from the 225/50 tyres was respectable, with gradual and safe understeer at the limit. It would seem the General concentrated on the drive more than anything else when developing this car.
There are paddle-shifters mounted on the steering wheel, but their delayed responses make them more suitable for occasional gear-holding on hills rather than regular twisty-tackling on mountain roads. The ABS-assisted disc brakes are excellent, and the car always stops in a straight line from high speeds. The steering is mildly firm, although there isn’t much feedback. And all-round visibility wasn’t much of an issue, even without parking sensors, at least on our two-day outing.
The all-new Chevy Malibu is a bit of an oddity, better than most in some areas, and lacking in other areas. Anyone seriously interested in this car would have to get their priorities straight, and choose ride, drive and style over all else.
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