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2016 Chevrolet Malibu: All-New Turbo Engine

By Frank A. Aukofer, December 12th, 2015

If cars had coming-out parties, the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu would star as the belle of the ball, especially the Malibu 1LT sedan. At the lower end of the price scale, the Malibu 1LT has an all-new turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 160 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque.

With a rigid chassis and modifications to the independent suspension system and shock absorbers, this midsize sedan is the sportiest of the lineup, while delivering exceptional city/highway/combined fuel economy of 27/37/31 mpg.

It does all this at a price, even well-equipped, that is far below the roughly $34,000 current average price of a new car in the U.S.

The 1LT Malibu has a basic sticker of $25,895, including the destination charge, and the version tested here tops out at $27,895. Not surprisingly, you can spend a lot more: If you select the top-of-the-line Malibu Premier with a few option packages, you will get leather upholstery, leather trim on the dash and doors, 19-inch aluminum wheels, premium audio system, heated front seats and steering wheel, and an 8-inch color touchscreen for a suite of connectivity and entertainment functions that includes wireless charging for smart phones.

You also will get a bevy of safety equipment, including adaptive cruise control, automatic pedestrian braking, parking assist, lane keeping warning and assist, forward collision alert, and blind spot warning. All of this will set you back $35,280, up from a base price of $31,795.

You can get a good chunk of that on the 1LT as well. But you'll sit on comfortable and durable cloth upholstery instead of leather, and look at the same instrument panel and doors, but with cloth inserts. Nevertheless, it looks fine -- nothing cheap. You'll also get 17-inch alloy wheels, which don't quite fill out the wheel openings but provide plenty of grip in spirited driving.

In addition to its many features, the new Malibu will offer a special "Teen Driver" option intended to reduce fatalities among young drivers, who are three times more likely to be in fatal crashes than 20-somethings. Among other things, the system won't allow the audio system to turn on until the driver fastens his seatbelt.

The big difference between the 160-horsepower 1LT and the 250-hp Premier lies in tactile sensations. With the extra 90 horses, the Premier obviously is faster. But with all the extra equipment, the feel is that of a powerful near-luxury car. It is comfortable and quiet, suited to long-distance cruising on freeways or tooling around town.

But the 1LT has a different personality. It is the entertaining young sport, eagerly attacking curving roads in the countryside. The suspension system is tight enough to keep the Malibu under control over humps, bumps, and small hills, but compliant enough to deliver a decent ride.

Though not as fast off the line as its more powerful sibling, the 1LT has a quick throttle tip-in, which is enthusiast lingo for instant engine response when you press the accelerator pedal. The six-speed automatic transmission hooks up immediately and there's no turbo lag. On the road, the transmission downshifts quickly for passing on rural two-lane highways.

The Malibu uses a new midsize architecture that makes extensive use of high-strength steel and some aluminum to stiffen the chassis and reduce weight. Its wheelbase -- the distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels -- is 4 inches longer than before to extend the passenger space, especially in the back seat. There's spacious knee room and generous headroom, except in the center seating position, which has a hard cushion, restricted headroom, and a large floor hump.

With an overall length of 16 feet 2 inches, passenger space of 103 cubic feet, and a trunk volume of nearly 16 cu.- ft., the Malibu is just 1 cubic-foot shy of being classified as a full-size car.

Later in the model year, Chevrolet also will introduce a Malibu Hybrid powered by an electric/gasoline system similar to that of the Volt, Chevrolet's extended-range electric car. It will deliver an estimated 48 mpg in the city.

Except for misguided collectors who salivate over unexceptional old American cars from the 1960s and 1970s, earlier Malibu models have been regarded more as mainstays of rental fleets. The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu transforms those impressions -- especially with the 1.5-liter 1LT

Specifications

Base price $25,895 (as tested: $27,985)
Curb weight 3,126 lbs.
Displacement 1.5-liter
Engine type 16-valve Ecotec 4-cyl. w/DI
Epa mileage rating 27 mpg city, 37 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 13.0 gal.
Horsepower (net) 160 at 5600 rpm
Overall length 193.8 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 184 at 2000 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Vehicle type 5-passenger FWD midsize sedan
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