It is the end of the line, almost. And of something else, too.
The 2023 Chevy Malibu is almost the last car Chevy still sells – not counting the Camaro and Corvette, which are high-performance coupes. The Malibu is the last sedan Chevy still sells – and Chevy once sold more sedans than GM sells vehicles, today.
In their place, crossovers and SUVs – which everyone else is selling, too. It makes you wonder whether it make more sense for Chevy to sell more of what everyone else isn’t, anymore – in order to sell more vehicles, again.
What It Is
The Malibu is the last mid-sized family sedan made by Chevrolet. It competes with import-brand family sedans such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata.
It’s an older design than its rivals – and (for what is probably its last year in production) comes with just one engine, irrespective of trim – with no option to buy a more powerful engine.
Prices start at $24,400 for the 1LS trim; there are also RS ($25,400) and 1LT trims ($27,800) trims, topping out at $31,200 for the 2LT trim.
Every trim comes standard with the same 1.5 liter engine, paired up with a continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission.
What’s New for 2023
The previously available Prestige trim has been dropped – along with the previously available 2.0 liter turbocharged engine that came with it. A new 2LT trim replaces the Premier trim – in terms of most of the non-mechanical upgrades that came with that package last year – including standard 19 inch wheels, LED headlights, a dual-pane sunroof, heated steering wheel and leather seats.
But not all of them. Notably, the rear seat heaters that previously came with the Prestige trim.
These are not included with the new 2LT trim.
Costs a few thousand less to start than Camry and Accord.
Has several inches more backseat legroom than Sonata.
More conservative styling than its primary rivals.
What’s Not So Good
Underpowered standard – and only available – engine.
Rivals’ much stronger standard engines get better gas mileage.
Eight-year-old design that’s probably the last of the line.
Every Malibu trim comes standard with the same 1.5 liter four cylinder engine – which is an awfully small engine for a car this size. Engines this small used to be restricted to micro-cars, not mid-sized family cars.
The reason they are being installed in Malibu-sized cars is the bum’s rush being administered to engines, generally – in the name of the “climate crisis” that isn’t but which is being used as the excuse to justify “zero emissions” regulations that have the effect of downsizing engines from sixes to fours, then very small fours – and ultimately, no engines at all.
GM being one of these.
The lack of power under the Malibu’s hood – or the option to buy more – is GM’s way of saying GM doesn’t care much whether anyone buys this car – which will probably be the last family car GM sells under the Chevy brand label.
Though it has the now-usual turbo to make up for its lack of size, the 1.5 liter engine only manages 160 horsepower and a paltry 184 ft.-lbs. of torque (at a comparatively high 2,500 RPM) which isn’t equal to the task of adequately propelling the mid-sized Malibu’s roughly 3,200 lb. curb weight. The car takes more than 8 seconds to attain 60, which is more than a second slower than the standard-engined Toyota Camry and Honda Accord – both of which come standard with much more power (203 horsepower for the Camry, 192 for the Accord).
Equipped with its take-it-or-leave it 1.5 liter engine and standard continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission, the Malibu carries an EPA rating of 29 city, 36 highway. This is great mileage, historically, for a mid-sized family car. But the Camry gets even better mileage – 28 city, 39 highway. So does the Accord, which rates 30 city, 38 highway. Ditto the other major player in the segment, Hyundai’s Sonata – which rates 28 city/38 highway and also comes standard with a much larger, much stronger 2.5 liter engine that offers 191 horsepower.
This Chevy was available with a 250 horsepower turbocharged 2.0 liter engine that gave Malibu buyers the option to keep up with the others in this class – but it’s been taken out of circulation. This leaves the Malibu hanging in the wind, so to speak – and not looking good.
Especially relative to rivals like the $24,150 to start Sonata – which is very price- competitive with the Malibu.
On The Road
One way to make electric cars look good is to make non-electric cars look bad. That seems to be GM’s intent with regard to the Malibu. It is not a bad car, as such. But – per the engine elaboration above – sending it out into the world with nothing more than 1.5 liters and 160 horses is to handicap the car relative to all three of its rivals. Why would GM do do that, if GM wanted the Malibu to compete with those rivals?
Well, the answer seems to be that GM does not want the Malibu to compete. It is letting the Malibu peter out – 2023 is probably the final year for this now eight-year-old design – and on the way out, the car is being both de-powered and de-contented (e.g., no more standard rear seat heaters for the 2LT). This can be interpreted as GM’s calculated attempt to make what it hopes to sell, going forward – that being electric cars – seem more appealing, as they do offer more power (and features) than the poor ol’ Malibu in its dotage.
Of course, the “electrified” stuff on deck will cost many thousands more than the Malibu – which is still a family car that family car buyers can afford. Compare it with the Chevy Bolt electric car – which is a compact-sized car and so not a family-sized car. It is also a car with a base price of $33,000 – which is “only” about $10k higher than the cost of the last-of-the-line Malibu.
It’s a shame, because the Malibu is a nice car, in addition to being an inexpensive car. It does not ride like a small car – which the Bolt is. Once it gets rolling, it is very comfortable for long trips on the highway – something the Bolt is not and cannot, insofar as its range is a pathetic 247 miles, best case. If you don’t drive it too fast. If it’s not too cold or hot out (and you don’t use the AC or heater much).
The Malibu’s range is 568 miles on the highway (458 in the city) on 15.8 gallons of gas that can be replaced in less than five minutes. Using the heater costs no range; use of the AC costs very little range.
At The Curb
The Malibu is a slightly larger (longer) car than its rivals – 194.2 inches bumper to bumper vs. 192.1 inches for the Accord, 192.1 inches for the Camry and 192.9 inches for the Sonata.
It’s also a more proportionate car than at least one of its rivals – the Sonata – in terms of its allocation of front-and-rear-seat legroom. It has 41.8 inches of legroom up front and 38.1 inches in back. The Sonata touts a class-best 46.1 inches of legroom up front – which is comparable to the legroom you’d find in full-size luxury cars – but in back, just 34.8 inches, which is about what’s available in most compact-sized cars.
Only the Accord has more legroom in back (40.4 inches). It also has the largest-sized trunk (16.7 cubic feet). But the Malibu’s is almost-the-same size (15.7 cubic feet) and its back seats are amply roomy for a family.
The base LS trim is probably the best choice for a family car, too. Air conditioning, cruise control, a six speaker stereo and in-car WiFi hot spot are all standard – for just over $24k on the sticker.
Of course, more – in the way of amenities – can be bought, including automatic climate control AC, larger (17 and 19 inch) wheels (16 inch wheels are standard) and a dual-pane sunroof. All of these are nice upgrades but not necessary ones.
If all you’re looking for is a comfortable – and affordable – family car.
Because it is getting long-in-the-tooth and because it’s all-but-official that the 2023 Malibu will be the last Malibu and because it’s clear GM has lost interest in selling the Malibu – it is likely you’ll be able to get a much better deal on one than you could probably wrangle on the much-more-popular Camry, Accord or Sonata.
There is one other thing about the Malibu you may really like – and that sets it apart from all the others in it class. This last-of-the-line Chevy’s family cars comes standard with no “advanced driver assistance technology.
No Lane Keep Assist. No Brake Assist. The steering doesn’t fight you. The brakes do not pre-empt you. There’s not even a back-up buzzer; you use your eyes instead. Chevy does offer “advanced driver assistance technology” – including Lane Keep Assist, Brake Assist, rear parking sensors and blind spot warning chimes. You can buy them as part of the optional Driver Confidence package.
Emphasis on optional.
All of the other cars come standard with these ugsome electronic driver pre-emption “technologies” – which they do because they are newer designs. When the current Malibu was designed back in 2016, “advanced driver assistance technology” was still – mostly – an affliction of higher-end cars, which touted them as a way to put distance between themselves and “less fancy” family cars like the Malibu. Now this “assistance” is all-but-ubiquitous.
If you’re one of those odd ducks who prefers to drive yourself – without constant correction – the Malibu is one of the few new cars that still lets you.
The Bottom Line
It’s not the pick of the manger anymore – but it’s worth a look if you’re looking for a sound family car that doesn’t treat you like an idiot child.
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