I always believed the Malibu to be highly underrated. For starters, it’s an American model so it doesn’t struggle to upsize, which makes it easy to love if you like big sedans. Engine-wise, it has tempered capacity through the years in favor of efficiency, which you’ll like if you want to keep money in the bank.
Launched early last year at the Manila International Auto Show, the latest model more than just improves on several aspects. On the surface, Chevrolet managed to squeeze more power out of a downsized engine, plus, one glance of the cabin told me everything I needed to know about the interior. I take the Malibu out for a week to get a deeper look at all that the ninth-generation has to offer the compact executive sedan market.
Slender and sleeker without sacrificing size, the Malibu is actually bigger by four inches (wheelbase) while dropping weight (some 300 pounds lighter) than its predecessor.
The grille comes in two parts, separated by the brand’s popular bowtie logo; slimmer up top than at the bottom, it actually looks like a tamer version of the one found on the Camaro. It is flanked by thin, wraparound HID projector headlamps enhanced with Tunnel Detection, Auto Levelling, Intellibeam Auto On/Off High Beam with a Follow-Me-Home feature. Its front fenders give off a nice muscular shape leading up to the A-pillar which seems to give this unassuming sedan more muscle than it should have as an executive sedan.
The rear is more plain compared to the front but I do like how the trunk curves at the top, not just for inches more space, but to give the tail a sexier image.
Improvements in the cabin cannot be overstated. Chevrolet has done a masterful job in mixing in elements of sportiness and sophistication using premium materials to create an atmosphere of luxury and comfort without taking everything too seriously and losing the fun vibe of the Malibu.
Dark brown plastics in the cabin could use softer-touch materials but that’s easily forgivable as it blends perfectly with the soft tanned leather on the dashboard, door panels and on all the seats. The steering wheel leather mimics the colors of the plastics instead of the tan and my guess is to be less prone to dirt marks from filthy hands.
All buttons — even the ones on the steering wheel — feel very light to touch; kind of like how the butterfly keyboards on the new MacBook Pros feel like.
I like how Chevrolet fitted audio controls behind the steering wheel (where paddle shifters are supposed to be in other models) since the front has cruise controls on the left and Driver Information Center buttons on the right. It may sound odd on paper but it felt very intuitive to use.
The instrument cluster has a more upright orientation compared to others, which is actually good. This way, people who like to raise their seats, sometimes too much, would be less inclined to because it would make you feel like you’re looking down at the speedometer.
There’s an iPad-looking eight-inch touchscreen that handles the infotainment system and offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well, while also serving as the reverse monitor. Audio comes out of nine Bose speakers in the cabin. Nice!
A slightly detuned version of its 2.0L turbocharged gasoline engine is under the hood. It sends 250-PS and 353-Nm of torque to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual mode.
The engine is ultra-quiet. Got me thinking the cabin insulation from NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) was too good, well, that too. Even road noise and cracks and crevices on EDSA went nearly unnoticed.
What was a little over the top was the beeping from the radar detection system for pedestrians, frontal collision and even park assist. I damn near panicked the first time it went off. It should have a setting to lower the volume, but I didn’t find it during the test drive.
Handling is magnificent; so much better than the previous generation. Steering is precise and feels so light, betraying its curb weight of 1.5 tons.
Because of its low overall height, it takes corners very well and feels planted very firmly to the road.
Acceleration is brisker than I expected for a 2.0L engine, which speaks volumes about how good this engine is. It can do majority of the overtaking while providing the ‘fun’ and ‘exciting’ aspect of driving without having to breach 2,000 RPM.
For protection, there’s SRS airbags in front, side, rear and roof curtain. It also comes with traction control, hill start assist, forward braking, lane keep assist and lane departure warning, side blind zone alert and even tire pressure monitoring.
Chevrolet really managed to put together a good package here. It has speed, great driving dynamics, a posh cabin and a very handsome exterior, all of which makes for a reasonable P2,131,888 price tag.
While the previous model was bland and easily overlooked, don’t make the same mistake here. The 2018 Chevrolet Malibu 2.0L LTZ AT is more than meets the eye.
Text and photos by Eric Tipan