2020 Chevrolet Malibu

By May 1, 2020

Largely overlooked and dwarfed by the barrage of crossovers and SUVs, the 2020 Chevrolet Malibu ranks around the middle of the shrinking midsize sedan segment. The Malibu, one of Chevy’s oldest nameplates, is stylish and comfortable, but lacks modern active safety features.

Changes are minimal for the 2020 model year following last year’s mid-cycle refresh. Two new exterior colors are available, while a new grille and restyled wheels have been installed on the RS trim. Following slow sales, the thrifty Malibu Hybrid has been dropped from the lineup.

Chevrolet offers two turbocharged engines for the Malibu. Most models get a 1.5-liter turbo 4-cylinder that makes 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, mated with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Chevy’s version features simulated “gears” that minimize the rubber-band sensation and droning that still affect many CVTs. Not only does the Malibu’s CVT feel more natural, its engine doesn’t have to rev high to deliver more power.

The range-topping Premier model gets a 2.0-liter turbo-4 that delivers 250 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Instead of a CVT, the Premier uses a smooth 9-speed automatic transmission. All Malibus have front-wheel drive.

Frugal with the 1.5-liter engine, in particular, the Malibu’s fuel-efficiency also benefits from “intelligent” transmissions. With the smaller turbo-4 and CVT, the Malibu is EPA-rated at 29 mpg city, 36 highway, 32 combined.

Estimates drop substantially with the more powerful 2.0-liter turbo-4 and conventional transmission to 22/32/26 mpg. Drivers who often hit the highway might consider the additional power worth the higher fuel cost, but it demands more stops at the gas station. The larger engine also requires premium-grade gasoline.

Chevrolet doesn’t make it easy to obtain a Malibu with active safety technology, none of which comes standard. Worse yet, none of these features become available until the second-from-the-top LT trim.

At this level, the Driver Confidence Package adds automatic emergency braking, forward-collision warnings, active lane control, lane-departure warnings, rear parking sensors, lane change alert, blind-spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic high-beam headlights. On the Premier trim, this bundle is more expensive because it also includes adaptive cruise control, an automated parking system, and a more advanced automatic emergency braking system.

At least crash test scores are decent. The Malibu carries a four-star overall safety rating from the NHTSA, and received the top score of “Good” on all of the IIHS’ tests besides the passenger-side small overlap front, where it earned a “Marginal” grade.

Model Lineup

The Chevy Malibu is available in five trim levels: L, LS, RS, LT, and Premier.

The base L starts at $22,970 and comes with cloth upholstery, keyless entry and start, a Bose six-speaker audio system, and 16-inch alloy wheels. The standard infotainment system includes an 8.0-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

Many buyers are likely to step up to the $24,095 LS trim, which adds several features, including acoustic glass, a wi-fi hot spot capability, and vanity mirrors.

For a sportier Malibu, the RS substitutes 18-inch wheels and includes a black grille, a rear spoiler, body-color power mirrors, and an eight-way power driver’s seat. It costs $25,095.

Picking the $27,495 LT provides access to the optional safety technologies. Newly standard features include dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, LED taillights, and remote start.

Topping the lineup, the Premier starts at $34,195 and switches to the more powerful turbo-4 engine. IT also comes with leather upholstery, a sunroof, a six-way power passenger seat, navigation, wireless charging, heated outboard rear seats, a Bose nine-speaker audio system, and 19-inch wheels.

Exterior

Unlike the typical midsize sedan, the Chevy Malibu looks as sharp and handsome as ever. An extra wide grille up front and a sloping roofline, augmented by a tapered tail, help to create a somewhat coupe-like appearance.

Especially in sporty RS trim, the Malibu is one good looking sedan. Blacked-out wheels and badges enhance the RS’ overall visual appeal, almost turning the Malibu into a sedan worth gazing at.

Interior

Unlike the Malibu’s body, its interior comes across as boring – deserving of no more than faint praise. Cloth upholstery is standard, but upper trim levels can be upholstered with leather. Choosing a higher-priced Malibu also replaces an odd cloth dashboard applique with seat-matching vinyl.

Despite a cabin that’s as comfortable and spacious as expected in a midsize sedan, the Malibu feels unremarkable measured against primary rivals. Front seats are pleasing, with a standard six-way manually-adjustable driver’s seat. Back seats are supportive and nicely sculpted with a welcome 38 inches of leg room and 53.4 inches of hip room. Three adults can fit quite well.

Compared to such rivals as the Honda Accord and Mazda 6, the dashboard design and materials look rather lackluster and inexpensive. Excellent standard infotainment includes a bright, clear 8.0-inch touchscreen that’s prominently displayed at the center. In lesser trim levels, textured cloth dashboard panels convey a rental-car feel.

Cargo space totals 15.7 cubic feet in the trunk, which compares with competitive sedans (though far less than what most compact crossovers provide).

Driving Impressions

Although Chevrolet’s Malibu makes good use of both turbo engines, the sedan invariably emphasizes comfort over sportiness. Midsize sedan buyers aren’t likely to feel dissatisfied by that preference.

The loss of the Hybrid model is a bit of a blow against thriftiness, but the remaining models drive better. Either turbo-4 engine delivers plenty of power for the tasks at hand, yielding a comfortable cruising experience. The 9-speed automatic provides more confident highway passing maneuvers and more potent motivation, but it’s only available with the 2.0-liter engine on the Premier model.

Any Malibu rides comfortably and quietly. Despite a relatively low weight (under 3,500 pounds), ample sound-deadening and a compliant suspension translate to a smooth highway ride. Long-distance treks are the Malibu’s stock in trade, though larger wheels on RS and Premier models do intensity pavement imperfections.

Handling is direct and competent. Steering feels direct and sharp. Even so, no Malibu possesses the sporty nature of such competitors as the agile Mazda 6.

Final Word

Except for distressing lack of standard active safety technology, the 2020 Chevy Malibu is reasonably equipped and handsome in appearance. Still, competitive sedans include considerably more features. Even though it raises the Malibu’s price, adding automatic emergency braking is a wise move. Because midsize sedans aren’t as popular as they once were, discounted prices might be tempting.

—by James M. Flammang, with driving impressions from The Car Connection

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