Alvin Thomas finds a family friendly saloon with enough pace to keep any parent in a hurry on schedule.
If you’re on the lookout for a decent set of wheels to get you and your family from A to B safely and with adequate room and comfort, chances are you’re cross-shopping between crossovers and large SUVs. There’s no denying that many have already adopted SUVs as the way to go.
And according to recent reports, some manufacturers claim that customers have been ditching mid-size saloons in favour of large family hauling SUVs.
As a petrol head, I find this extremely worrying. Does this mean saloons will become a thing of the past? As it turns out, the answer is no: at least according to Chevrolet. Yes, the Americans have taken a crack at redefining the mid-size segment, yet again, and have come up with the “all-new” Malibu – a nameplate that goes way back to the early 60s.
Now I have to confess, Chevrolet has been known to have produced some fantastic saloons in the past, with the likes of the Caprice and the Lumina. As a matter of fact, the latter was one of my all-time favourite saloons so my expectations of the Malibu are quite high.
Initial impressions are good. The design language is more in tone with the larger Impala but it manages to maintain a sporty guise, with its chiselled front bumper and multiple (almost five!) air intakes. Apart from that, the slim headlights, boomerang LED-daytime running lamps, splitter-like panel upfront and coupe-ish roofline manage to round off the Malibu’s sporty profile. Overall, I think the Malibu looks unlike any other family saloon in the market so three cheers to Chevrolet for that.
Despite this, however, the Malibu does what it does best: seating five in absolute comfort. My 2017 variant gains almost 9.3cm in wheelbase from its predecessor, while also slimming down by a hefty 130kg.
The interior of the Malibu is a nice place to be. I was treated with the LTZ variant, which receives stitched-leatherette inserts on the side sills of the doors, dashboard and also along the centre-console, graciously extending onto the areas where your knee might actually graze.
The added length also means that back seat passengers enjoy a very roomy cabin, with excellent leg and headroom in the back.
The cabin is very well rounded-off, and the fit and finish is top-notch. I received a bright and beautiful-looking 20cm MyLink system. Using it was a breeze, in comparison to the laggy touchscreens offered by other manufacturers in the segment. Despite that, it did take me a while to figure out how this system worked. Much to my annoyance, Android Auto did not connect to either of my Samsung devices. Apple CarPlay on the other hand, worked like a charm.
Coming to the powertrain, the Malibu is currently only offered with a 2.5-litre in-line four cylinder engine at the moment. However, a 2.0-litre turbocharged variant will be coming to the market soon. Still, the former engine is the most powerful in its segment, with 186hp and 249Nm of torque. I found the acceleration to be quite linear, meaning that you will not find yourself thrusting passengers into their seats upon hard acceleration. That’s partly because of the six-speed automatic transmission that eagerly shifts up to maintain a smooth and silent ride, and the soft suspension layout.
Of course, you can shift the gear selector into “L” and use the finicky “+” and “-” buttons mounted on top of the selector to engage manual mode. However, I’d stay away from the entire charade and simply let the gearbox do its thing. I even managed to receive acceleration figures from 0-100kph in 8.8 seconds!
The ride in the Malibu is in line with the segment, offering almost unbelievable levels of comfort despite the 45cm alloys that are on offer in my LTZ variant. The ride is extremely compliant, if a tad on the lower side. However, I could glide over speed bumps and rough roads with no hassles whatsoever. As a matter of fact, the faster you go over a bump, the less of a jerk you feel in the Malibu.
Notably, the steering is extremely light, making it a breeze to manoeuvre into tight parking spots. But, as expected, there’s no feedback from the steering and the brakes are very good. There’s also little body roll while taking corners.
It didn’t take me much time to realise that the Malibu is a passenger-focused saloon with tonnes of practicality and interior space.
I think that the Malibu is an absolute cracker of a car for your money, and you get exactly what you pay for.
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