2017 CHEVROLET MALIBU 2.0T PREMIER FIRST TEST: WIN-WIN

Although the midsize Chevrolet Malibu was completely reinvented for the 2016 model year, the automaker didn’t rest on its laurels, instead adding a significant update for the second year of the model’s ninth generation. The new GM/Ford jointly developed 9T50E nine-speed automatic transmission replaces the previous year’s Aisin Warner F8F35 eight-speed automatic behind the available 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4. (Other 2017 changes are limited to exterior color choices, a new Sport package, and revised trim features.)

We tested a top-spec 2017 Chevrolet Malibu Premier with the 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 and new nine-speed auto to see how it compared to its 2016 counterpart with the eight-speed auto. Horsepower remains at 250, but torque increases by 2 to 260 lb-ft. Not only does the 2017 Malibu feels much quicker than the 2016 model on the street, but our track testing also proves that the new transmission makes a significant difference.

At the track, the 2017 Chevrolet Malibu with the 2.0-liter turbo hit 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds and finished the quarter mile in 14.3 seconds at 99.4 mph. That’s a full 0.5 second quicker to 60 mph and 0.4 quicker and 3.4 mph faster in the quarter mile than a comparable 2016 model. The 2017 model stopped from 60 mph in 117 feet, or 1 foot longer than before.
2017 Chevrolet Malibu 20T Premier front three quarters

The 2017 Malibu lapped the figure eight in 26.3 seconds at 0.70 g lateral average and pulled 0.88 g around the skidpad. Although the 2016 model was slightly quicker around the figure eight at 26.1 seconds, it pulled a lower average lateral g of 0.68 g and only 0.87 g around the skidpad.

Even though the new nine-speed automatic significantly cuts the Malibu sedan’s acceleration times, fuel economy is only up slightly to 22/33/26 mpg city/highway/combined, representing only an increase of 1 mpg for the highway rating.

Out on the road, the Malibu feels quick in a straight line even with four passengers on board. It’s also surprisingly nimble in the canyons. During my time in the 2017 Malibu, I made two trips through Angeles Crest/Angeles Forest highways where the turbocharged midsize family sedan performed well on the winding road.

Despite its surprisingly good handling, the large midsize Malibu doesn’t have the same confidence behind the wheel as the small midsize 2016 Honda Civic Touring sedan that I normally drive. The Civic combines a smooth ride with button-downed handling, but the Malibu is a bit softer sprung and floats more with a few more vertical movements than desired. That’s still impressive for its size. After all, the Civic and Malibu are not direct competitors.

Inside, the Malibu is roomy enough for a family of four—there’s even enough space for older teenagers without having to invade each other’s space. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, an OnStar 4G LTE with wi-fi hot spot, wireless phone charging, dual rear-seat USB ports, and a 120-volt power outlet keep the kids entertained. Front seat passengers also enjoy heated and ventilated seats. The large 15.8-cubic-foot trunk can swallow enough luggage for a family road trip.

Pricing for our 2017 Chevrolet Malibu Premier sedan tester started at $31,850 and was finished in Arctic Blue Metallic paint (one of the new colors for 2017) over a Jet Black leather interior. The sole option was the $1,195 Driver Confidence package, which adds IntelliBeam auto high-beam control, forward collision alert with a following distance sensor indicator, front pedestrian detection, lane change alert with a side blind-spot alert, lane keep assist, and rear cross-traffic alert. The total price of our car came to $33,045.

Standard safety features include Teen Driver, which allows parents to track the activity of their kids behind the wheel, a rearview camera, a tire pressure monitoring system, StabiliTrak stability control with traction control, and a tire inflator with sealant (in place of a spare tire). The infotainment system includes Chevrolet MyLink with navigation and an 8.0-inch touchscreen, a nine-speaker Bose audio system with steering wheel controls, Bluetooth phone and audio, XM radio, and the aforementioned connectivity features.

Families would also be impressed to know the 2017 Chevrolet Malibu has a five-star overall safety rating (out of a possible five stars) from the NHTSA and received a Top Safety Pick from the IIHS, thanks in part to a Superior rating for its available front crash-prevention system. Poor performance from its halogen headlights prevent it from earning a Top Safety Pick+ award. HID or LED headlights are not on the Malibu sedan’s option list. Headlight performance was our biggest complaint while flogging the Malibu through the canyon roads in the dark, necessitating the use of high-beams as much as possible.
2017 Chevrolet Malibu 20T Premier front end in motion

Other standard features include Chevrolet Complete Care (two free maintenance visits), remote vehicle entry with alarm, keyless start, a leather-wrapped shift knob and heated steering wheel, an eight-way power driver’s seat with adjustable lumbar support and a memory function, dual-zone automatic climate control, halogen headlights with LED daytime running lights and automatic headlight control, heated power side mirrors, dual exhaust with polished tips, and 18-inch alloy wheels.

In 2016, Chevrolet made the Malibu more competitive by increasing its overall size and adding more available technology. Although the 2.0-liter turbo and eight-speed combo featured competitive fuel economy, the new nine-speed automatic makes it one of the fastest and more fuel efficient top-spec front-wheel drivetrains in the segment.

Complaints were few. Besides the poor headlight performance, the biggest notable flaw is GM’s obsession with chrome interior trim, which can blind the driver during daylight hours. Those gripes aside, the 2017 Chevrolet Malibu with the 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 and nine-speed automatic combo should be on every midsize family sedan’s to-drive list.

2017 Chevrolet Malibu 2.0T Premier
BASE PRICE $31,850
PRICE AS TESTED $33,045
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE 2.0L/250-hp/260-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,280 lb (62/38%)
WHEELBASE 111.4 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 193.8 x 73.0 x 57.6 in
0-60 MPH 5.7 sec
QUARTER MILE 14.3 sec @ 99.4 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 117 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.88 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 26.3 sec @ 0.70 g (avg)
REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB 23.1/37.2/27.8 mpg
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 22/33/26 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 153/102 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.75 lb/mile