Chevrolet has been on a roll lately with products as diverse as the Corvette and Impala. But its also lobbed a few duds, including the midsize Malibu sedan it launched three years ago. Demand has lagged well behind expectations despite an “emergency refresh” made barely a year after its introduction.
But the maker looks to be on a much better track with the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu making its debut at the New York International Auto Show this week. More stylish, better equipped and more fuel-efficient – with the hybrid version coming later this year that will exceed 45 mpg, said Chevy execs at the New York Auto Show earlier today – the new sedan will nonetheless face a challenging task in a segment crowded with 17 other competitors.
“It’s been difficult to win in this segment,” acknowledged Steve Majoros, Chevy’s passenger car marketing director, during a preview of the 2016 Malibu. But the maker really has no choice in one of the largest segments of the U.S. market which means, “We have to get people to fundamentally think differently about this brand.”
To get there, design chief John Cafaro suggested “We’re changing the personality of Chevy design.”
(New Malibu faces new Kia Optima and plenty of other new entries debuting at 2015 NY Auto Show. Click Here for more.)
That’s readily apparent with the new look of the 2016 Malibu. It adopts a much more coupe-like design that is clearly influenced by the bigger Impala sedan. The nose also picks up some cues from the latest version of the Chevrolet Camaro, with the large, lower grille and more slit-like headlamps. It also gets dual-element LED taillamps.
The new 2016 model is taller, with a new 6-window greenhouse and a steeper rake to the grille.
The goal, according to Cafaro, was to give the new model a “younger, more youthful spirit.”
Though it’s only been a few years since the last major remake of the Malibu, Chevrolet decided to not settle for a midlife update, opting for a complete makeover to address the numerous complaints about the Malibu.
The new model starts off with the Epsilon II architecture, itself an update of the platform used for the larger – and well-reviewed – Chevy Impala. The 4-inch longer wheelbase immediately addresses one key concern: adding extra room to the previously cramped back seat, stressed Chief Engineer Jesse Ortega.
The new platform also has helped Chevy shave about 300 pounds off the Malibu’s mass, despite the added length.
“Get the proportions right and the rest will follow, suggested Ortega.
For 2016, the new Malibu will offer buyers a choice of three different engines. The base powertrain is a 1.5-liter turbo package making 160-horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. With its six-speed automatic and standard Stop-Start technology, it will deliver an estimated 27 mpg City, 37 Highway and 31 Combined. There’s also a more powerful 2.0-liter turbo turning out 250-hp and 258 lb-ft. With the first front-wheel-drive application of General Motors’ new 8-speed automatic, it comes in at 22 City, 32 Highway and 26 Combined.
The other option is the new hybrid. The basics of the system, according to Ortega, were “borrowed from the (Chevrolet) Volt,” though the Malibu is a standard hybrid, not a plug-in. It pairs a 1,8-liter gas engine with an electric motor drawing power from a 1.5 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery. The combined driveline makes a peak 182-hp and delivers 48 mpg, said the chief engineer.
(Click Here for more on the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid package.)
The 2016 Malibu will add nine new safety features, including front pedestrian collision alert, Lane-Keeping Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.
It also includes an assortment of teen driving features, including the ability for parents to limit the top speed and even have the radio shut off if the driver doesn’t buckle up.
Meanwhile, the 2016 Malibu will add a number of new connectivity features, such as a 4g LTE WiFi hotspot and wireless smartphone charging.
(Toyota hopes to boost demand for anti-collision system with new, low-priced package. Click Here for the story.)
Admitting Chevy has to get the market to re-think the Malibu, marketing chief Majoros confided that there was “a lot of debate about whether we should call this a Malibu.” In the end, the marketing team felt there was “a lot of equity” left in the name.
They also felt more upbeat because of the recent “quality tailwinds” the sedan has been picking up. Among other things, it was named most dependable midsize sedan in one J.D. Power survey and was the highest-ranked midsize model in the closely followed Power Initial Quality Survey.
Nonetheless, there will be “hand-to-hand combat” in the crowded midsize market, cautioned Majoros. But this time, Chevy feels it is going into battle with a better weapon.