he last generation of the Chevrolet Malibu midsize sedan, sold from the 2013 through 2015 model years, offered an odd mix of strengths and weaknesses. T
On the one hand, the old Malibu offered impressive driving dynamics – a particularly solid feel that lent composure to its ride and handling, leaving a Toyota Camry or Hyundai Sonata feeling flimsy in comparison. But this luxurious ambiance was undercut by humdrum styling inside and out, and the old Malibu also suffered from skimpy rear-seat room.
Chevrolet fully redesigned the Malibu last year to address these issues, and transformed the car into a more thoroughly impressive car. Priced from $22,555, it brings a more thoroughly premium feel to the mainstream class, while also improving on important family-car values. The current Malibu regains the mojo of the 2008 to 2012 Malibu, yet it sacrifices less outward visibility and rear headroom to make a styling statement. And although sticker prices can be high, pricing site Truecar.com projects ample room for haggling that can turn this Chevrolet into a relative bargain despite its premium feel.
The Malibu’s silhouette will be familiar to owners of the currentgeneration Ford Fusion or Chrysler 200. Chevrolet applies its own corporate face to this sleek shape, to appealing effect. Meanwhile, the interior is cleanly styled without looking plain or outdated – the old Malibu was both – and the ergonomics are user-friendly. A Honda Accord or Toyota Camry do still offer an airier cabin feel, with superior visibility and roomier rear seating, but the Malibu still holds its own for functionality.
The tested Malibu included the most powerful available engine: a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 250 horsepower. It’s smooth and powerful, and still rated for a respectable 26 mpg in mixed driving. The trip computer recorded an outstanding 36.5 mpg in mixed conditions (mostly highway) during a weeklong test. Note that Chevrolet recommends premium fuel, however, eating up some fuel savings.
The base Malibu has a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with a still-adequate 163 horsepower and an excellent EPA rating of 30 mpg in mixed driving; a gas-electric hybrid model is also available. Ride and handling are respectable for a midsize sedan, with light low-speed steering firming up nicely as you increase speed. It’s not quite a sports sedan, but it’s on par with a Ford Fusion.
Not all is perfect in the Malibu. Some cheap interior plastics count against it, especially in the tested $34,435 model. Emergency automatic braking, a valuable safety feature, is available only on high-end Malibus. And some buyers will prefer a competitor’s maximum practicality over the Chevrolet’s extra luxury. But overall, it’s a compelling midsize sedan.
Do note, though, that tough competition is on the horizon. The Camry and Accord are both due for 2018-model redesigns, and the value-priced Hyundai Sonata is receiving an extra dose of luxury in a 2018 update that’s hitting dealerships this month. If you’re not in a rush to buy a midsize sedan today, you may want to see those models before making your final decision.
Are you looking for a roomy luxury car that’s both powerful and fuel-efficient? If so, are you willing to pay a substantial price premium for it? If you said yes to both questions, you might be one of the few takers for Lexus’s pleasant but expensive GS 450h hybrid. The test car that Lexus provided for this review is one of the rarest vehicles in the U.S. – barely two dozen have been sold so far this year. As of this writing, online inventory searches find just six GS 450h vehicles in stock across the country. The only one in Maryland is a $74,890 example at Lexus of Towson, north of Baltimore; the nextclosest vehicle is in Massachusetts.
The GS 450h has a base price of $64,630, nearly $20,000 more than the base version of Lexus’ midsize luxury sedan. But the price premium is perhaps justified by the car’s rare marriage of sports-car-like horsepower (338) with economy-car gas mileage (an EPA rating of 31 miles per gallon in mixed driving).
In the most popular gas-electric hybrids, such as the best-selling Toyota Prius, hybrids use a combination of a gasoline engine and an electric motor purely to save gas. But in the GS 450h, Lexus uses the electric motor to make the gasoline V6 engine faster when you accelerate hard – and lets it turn off when you’re accelerating gently or cruising at a steady speed in traffic. In a weeklong test, the car beat the EPA estimate to return 32 mpg.
The GS 450h also shares the advantages of the non-hybrid GS models: a smooth ride and composed handling, a respectably roomy interior and comfortable seating. The GS isn’t as edgy and modern as some luxury competitors – such as the Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz EClass – and like other modern Lexuses, the infotainment system is awkward to use. But the GS 450h goes about its business supremely comfortably and quietly – especially during the times you’re able to cruise along in all-electric mode.
If this combination sounds appealing, consider jumping on the GS 450h fast. Given the slow pace of sales, Lexus is surely weighing whether to discontinue it.