Mountain Wheels: Longer, lighter Chevy Malibu amps up the efficiency |

Mountain Wheels: Longer, lighter Chevy Malibu amps up the efficiency

The Chevrolet Malibu is an enduring classic that helped launch the midsize sedan segment more than 50 years ago.
Special to the Daily |

2016 Chevy Malibu LT

MSRP: $25,020; As tested, $27,985

Powertrain: 160-HP turbocharged 1.5 four-cylinder engine; six-speed automatic transmission

EPA figures: 31 combined (27 city, 37 highway)

The automotive world seems to be going in a lot of different directions at the same time — bigger cars, sporting smaller engines — but if the tradeoff is increased driver and passenger comfort and considerably improved fuel economy, revel in the joy that you won’t be forced by the government to drive a Smart Car, quite yet.

Rather, take a gander at the all-new, ninth-generation Chevrolet Malibu. If it seems like there’s been a lot of different new-generation Malibus in not that long of a stretch, you’re correct: The 2013-era eighth-generation model did not receive a fantastic reception and got a fast mid-life update just a year and a half later.

The 2016 edition seems to correct a lot of those missteps and also ushers in what I would call the first mass-market dose of the hyper-efficiency you might find in the new Volt or one of the company’s compact offerings.

The standard engine is, perhaps a little astonishingly, a 1.5-liter turbo four cylinder, a displacement you might mentally equate with an old Mazda3 or another smallish compact.

Thanks to a lightweight body made of high-strength steel, the new Malibu is 300 pounds lighter than it was before and, as a result, a 160-horsepower engine with 184 lb.-ft. of torque does a remarkably competent job of getting the not-so-small car rolling and cruising comfortably.

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Without much effort, you’ll be able to get 35 highway mpg, pretty close to the 37 highway mpg indicated on the window sticker. The automatic stop-start function that was formerly a defeatable feature in recent-gen GM vehicles is now a standard part of the Malibu’s running gear; it’s distracting at first but eventually becomes old hat and does indeed contribute to the overall fuel savings.

Those seeking more boost can also opt for a 250-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo, still good for 33 highway mpg. That model also gets a new eight-speed automatic transmission, while the 1.5-liter comes with a six-speed that seemed perfectly suited for the car’s brighter bursts of power. There is also an all-new hybrid version that we hope to discuss in more detail in the future.

You’ll find the overall ride smooth and the Malibu imbued with a pretty sprightly handling character for its size; even with the smaller engine, highway cruising is no problem, and the extra turbo torque will be helpful for your runs up the hill.

Overall style is indeed much influenced by the 2014 Impala, which means there’s maybe just a touch of Cadillac XTS in there as well; you’ll notice the very futuristic grille, with deeply-angled headlamps and curved LED running lights, plus a lower roofline.

Despite the downsizing of the engine, overall vehicle length has been increased by 2.3 inches and the wheelbase stretched by nearly four inches. That helps create a cabin that’s very comfortable by modern mid-size sedan standards, especially in the pleasantly ample rear seating area — no crushed knees or sideways feet action required, just a wide expanse with good legroom.

Chevy has also done good work with the austere but classy treatments inside and a full pile of modern electronics, even at a $25,000 starting price. The textured fabric featured in the middles of my LT-level model’s seats gets slightly busy double duty as it’s also featured on the door panel inserts and, curiously, as dash and even air-vent décor, stretching underneath the center stack — great if you need to shampoo your dash, for any reason, I guess. It’s all featured on a dash that elegantly curves around the front of the cabin.

The rest gets a thoroughly modern mix of chrome-edged flair — around the vents and the deep instrument panel with a large, full-color trip computer and data center. A slightly stuck-to-the-dash styled MyLink information and (potentially) navigation touchscreen sits on top of a set of large and more European-styled air and heat controls — and fan/temperature knobs which you will mistake for the audio volume knobs on your first several hundred attempts.

Chevrolet is also pushing some new technology that comes as affordable options, including Apple Carplay capability, wireless charging for certain smartphones and the new Teen Driver system, which allows parents to monitor their kids’ driving habits as well as systematically silencing the audio if front occupants aren’t wearing seatbelts — and sounding alerts if the car exceeds pre-programmed speed limits.

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