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2015 Chevrolet Malibu Review and Quick Spin

Christian Wardlaw
by Christian Wardlaw
September 22, 2014
6 min. Reading Time
2015 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ Butte Red Front Quarter Right

2015 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ Butte Red Front Quarter Right

From the entry-level Sonic to the speedy SS, Chevrolet sells five different 4-door sedans. The 2015 Chevy Malibu is the mainstream midsize model, the one aimed right at the average American family with around $30,000 to spend on a new car. And though it is just two years old, the Malibu struggles in the most important and competitive car segment.

Having just driven one hundreds of miles around New England with my teenaged daughters in tow in order to visit colleges and ride roller coasters at Six Flags, I will tell you that the Malibu deserves more consideration than it is apparently getting.

At the same time, Chevrolet basically takes 2015 off in terms of improving this model, aside from adding 4G LTE Wi-Fi connectivity to all models, and improving the car’s available MyLink touchscreen infotainment system with Siri Eyes Free and text messaging alert technologies. While younger car buyers increasingly value this type of advanced connectivity, they’re also not the people spending thirty grand on a set of family-style wheels.

What Chevy really needs to do is sweat the details if it wants more Malibus to roll into American driveways rather than airport rental car lots.

About Our Test Car

My test car was the top-of-the-line Malibu LTZ, but without a single option, which kept the price to a very reasonable $29,145 including the $825 destination charge. What that meant, though, was that aside from a nice set of 18-inch aluminum wheels and leather seats, there were few upgrades installed on this example of the Malibu LTZ.

Among those features that were missing in action, a more powerful turbocharged engine, larger 19-inch aluminum wheels, HID headlights, a premium audio system, a power sunroof, passive keyless entry with push-button engine starting, or any of the Malibu’s available safety features aside from OnStar services. Load the Malibu LTZ up with all the extras, and the price eclipses $36,000.

By design, that loaded version, seen in the accompanying exterior photos, is the most appealing. The HID headlights look meaner, and the fat 5-spoke wheels balance a car that can appear oddly misshapen from some angles. Though Chevrolet visually dropped the Malibu’s hood height with styling changes for 2014, the sedan still looks a little wonky in profile.

Inside, that sense that things are not quite right continues. A selection of quality, well-assembled and nicely matched materials is mixed with cheap-looking details and what appear to be afterthought solutions to problems. The end result looks and feels as though two different designers had responsibility for executing the cabin.

For example, the car’s headliner, windshield pillars, soft upper door and dashboard materials, steering wheel, and gauges are impressively rendered. That’s why the inelegant door handle pull surrounds, obvious silver plastic surrounding the infotainment and climate systems, and significant contrasts in tone and texture between the dashboard and door panel trim stand out in such stark relief.


Comfort and Cargo

If the Malibu’s cabin represents a bit of a mish-mash of design and materials, it’s tough to argue with the LTZ model’s front seats, which are quite comfortable if not wrapped in the highest caliber of leather. In addition to 8-way power adjustment, the front seats supply 4-way power lumbar support along with plenty of seat track travel. I’ve got fairly long legs, and I didn’t require all of the seat travel, which bodes well for people over six feet tall.

Where the Malibu stumbles in comparison to some competitors is with regard to rear seat room. This area is roomy…enough. There’s not much space to spare, and my test car didn’t have any rear air vents, either. Four adults of average size will have no problems, but within a quartet of tall people, half are likely to be unhappy.

At 16.3 cu.-ft., the Malibu’s trunk is roomy, and is equipped with enclosed lid hinges and a closing assist handle. The liner, however, is plainly inexpensive, representing another glaring juxtaposition between thoughtful and capable design and cheap detailing. The trunk also lacks an exterior touchpad lid release, or a cabin release, leaving the owner to use the key fob or, evidently, nothing.


Features and Controls

One nice thing about the Malibu is that it’s easy to figure out how everything works, and the switchgear offers remarkably solid feel. I’m also a really big fan of the gauges in this vehicle. They’re low, close, and remind me of a Camaro, definitely lending the Malibu a sportier flair. At night, the LTZ’s soothing blue ambient lighting is a nice touch, too.

Additionally, the Malibu is remarkably advanced in terms of technology, and the car adds even more new tech features for 2015. The standard OnStar subscription services system now includes a 4G LTE Wi-Fi connection, which turns the Malibu into a mobile hotspot for the first three months of ownership, or until you hit the 3GB free data ceiling.

Chevrolet MyLink is a decent touchscreen infotainment system, standard for all but the Malibu LS, and featuring new Siri Eyes Free capability and text messaging alerts for 2015. Now, whenever I use this version of MyLink, I always seem to have trouble with the small virtual radio station pre-set buttons along the bottom of the screen, but otherwise MyLink is simple enough. There’s a hidden storage area behind the screen, too, though it doesn’t offer the USB charge port that it really needs. That’s in the center console.


Safety Matters

The Malibu’s OnStar services package, which is free for the first six months of ownership and thereafter requires a subscription, includes Automatic Crash Response. This system leaps into action following deployment of any of the car’s 10 standard airbags, automatically summoning rescue assistance even if occupants are knocked unconscious.

Believe it or not, a reversing camera is an option for all Malibu LT and LTZ models, rather than included as standard equipment. That’s just weird in a world in which a basic Honda Fit provides one as a part of the base price, and especially because it’s not necessarily easy to see out of a Malibu. An Advanced Safety Package is also available for those trim levels, adding Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Alert, Side Blind Zone Alert, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert systems.

If the Malibu is involved in a collision, rest assured that it does an excellent job of protecting its occupants. The NHTSA gives this midsize family sedan a 5-star overall crash-test rating, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the car its “Top Safety Pick” rating.


What's Under the Hood

Open the 2015 Malibu’s hood, which is thoughtfully supported with a gas strut instead of the usual prop rod, and you’ll find that most Malibus are equipped with a 196-horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine featuring fuel-saving automatic stop/start technology.

In combination with the standard 6-speed automatic transmission, the Malibu feels more vivacious than you might expect. Drive with enthusiasm, and you might even be encouraged to activate the car’s manual gear selection mode, and then you’ll be discouraged using the wholly unsatisfying +/- button atop the shifter.

Drive normally, and based on the Malibu’s official EPA rating, you should expect to get 29 mpg in combined driving. I put hundreds of miles on my Malibu, most of which were covered on free-flowing highways, and I got just 26.3 mpg. If you buy a Malibu with the expectation that you’re going to get the numbers listed on the window sticker, prepare for disappointment.


Driving Impressions

During this test of Chevy’s midsize Malibu, I spent the majority of my time driving on city streets, country highways, and freeways, just like most Americans, and in each of these environments the Malibu LTZ proved remarkably satisfying to drive.

Let’s start with the car’s 2.5-liter, 196-horsepower, 4-cylinder engine. This direct-injected motor provides decent acceleration just about anywhere within its rev range, and goes about its business without generating intrusive noise. Even the automatic stop/start technology, which shuts the engine off when the Malibu comes to a stop in traffic or at an intersection in order to conserve fuel, operates in quiet, unobtrusive, refined fashion.

A 6-speed automatic transmission delivers the power to the front wheels, doing so in smooth and decisive fashion. The driver can even change gears manually, though the rocker switch atop the shifter is quite dispiriting to use. That’s why I employed it only for engine braking in heavy Interstate traffic across hilly topography.

Not that the Malibu’s brakes were dissatisfying, as they worked well and didn’t draw undue attention to themselves in the process. Similarly, I found the electric steering to feel completely natural at all times, and the thick-rimmed, leather-wrapped steering wheel is quite satisfying to hold. All it needs is a set of shift paddles to be perfect.

My favorite thing about the Malibu’s driving dynamics, though, relate to the car’s ride and handling. With my LTZ test car and its standard 18-inch wheel-and-tire combination, Chevrolet successfully marries a smooth and comfortable ride with communicative and capable handling. Granted, I didn’t toss this particular Malibu down any of the twisty roads I usually travel, but during this particular multi-day road trip, the car handled on-ramps, off-ramps, intersection corners, and both patched and pot-holed sections of pavement like a pro.

 Photo by General Motors

Photo by General Motors

Final Thoughts

An amalgamation of thoughtful design and impressive dynamics blended with numerous oversights in terms of materials or packaging, the Chevy Malibu is a good car. Better yet, getting a great deal on a Malibu is easy, and this is a stylish, safe, and comfortable sedan that is genuinely satisfying to drive. Load one up with all the extras, and it also qualifies as technologically advanced.

This is the second time I’ve reviewed the Malibu in the past two years, and I liked this 2015 LTZ model better than the 2014 2LT I previously drove. First, this test car did not have the overzealous forward collision warning system that last year’s Malibu test car did, which doesn’t take long to become an irritation. Second, I did not drive this 2015 model on the scenic and serpentine 2-lane roads above Malibu, California that I usually use during evaluations, sticking instead to the highways and byways of New England.

Despite my more favorable impression of the Malibu this time around, the trouble is that this Chevy is a merely good car competing against great cars. With closer attention to the details, and a continued program of refinement, it will get better, because the foundation for a terrific family sedan is already in place.

But the competition isn’t standing still, either.

The author rented the 2015 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ for this review

2015 Chevrolet Malibu photos courtesy of General Motors, with seating by Christian Wardlaw

 Photo by General Motors

Photo by General Motors


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