Chevrolet Malibu Middle East Launch (with Video)
We’re just back from the first drive of the all-new Malibu
By Shahzad Sheikh
We’ve had our first taste of this year’s most important new car for General Motors – the all-new Chevrolet Malibu. It’s a medium to large spacious saloon that is going to be aggressively targeted at a market traditionally dominated by solid staples such as the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord and the fast-selling Hyundai Sonata. That’s a ferociously competitive and tough segment; is the new Malibu up to it?
Malibu, which is the longest-running midsize passenger car nameplate, spanning 35 years, is Chevrolet’s first global midsize saloon and will be sold in nearly 100 countries.
We first saw the new eighth-generation car at the Dubai Motor Show at the end of last year, and now it goes on sale in the region from May and will come with two engine offerings:
2.4-Litre Four-cylinder – 170bhp at 5800rpm, 170lb ft at 4600rpm, 0-100kph in 10.2 seconds
3.0-Litre V6 – 260bhp at 6900rpm, 214lb ft at 5600rpm, 0-100kph in 8.1 seconds
Both are mated to six-speed automatic transmissions, with a sequential shift button should you feel inclined to change gears yourself. It’s a front-wheel drive car sharing its platform with the European Opel Insignia.
For the UAE the new Malibu comes in LS, LT and LTZ trim levels, which are priced from AED 73,000 ($19,850) for the 2.4 LS to AED 99,464 ($27,000) for the V6 LTZ.
And Chevy is claiming very keen pricing indeed, squaring up directly against the Korean brands, and undercutting the Japanese, with good spec, and even analysing rivals’ parts pricing and servicing costs in order to be competitive.
Chevrolet designers are making a huge deal of how the styling was inspired by the best-selling Camaro, and you can certainly see the similarities in the rear three-quarters with the taillights, boot lid and the convergence of the C-pillar and waistline.
To be honest, in the metal it doesn’t really remind me of the muscly Camaro that much, but overall it is a handsome and good-looking saloon car, with decent road-presence, and a more aggressive front end that should get a few people to jump out of your way.
What we can take as fact is that this car is wider, has excellent aerodynamics after 400 hours in the wind tunnel, allowing it to save fuel and cut-down on wind noise (which means you can cruise at over 140kph in remarkable silence, with noise only becoming apparent at 20kph higher). Plus it comes with nine exterior and five interior colour combinations with three alloys of 16, 17 and 18-inches.
Big comfy chairs greet you in the front, and things remain hospitable in the back despite two tall blokes sitting in tandem. The ‘dual cockpit’ design of the dashboard is appealing and whilst the strakes along the fascia are an interesting and unusual feature that feel a bit retro and follow the theme right across the front of the cabin, through the vents and into the doors, I couldn’t look at them and not be fearful of how they would be kept clean in our dusty climate.
The centre stack is appealing, it’s all very intuitive and easy to understand and use, with some nice graphics in the seven-inch touch screen. There’s a few flat-panel touch buttons flanking it, but I always find those a bit odd, because it’s not immediately obvious that they are buttons and they don’t have haptic feel.
It’s quite easy to synch your Bluetooth phone, but it doesn’t do Bluetooth Audio Streaming, although there is a connector for your phone or music player in the centre console so you can hook up to the 250Watt nine-speaker Pioneer sound system.
Getting comfortable is easy, and it’s generally a nice place to be and indeed spend hours in cruising great distances. We particularly like the back-lit glow that traces the arcs of the cockpit at night. Apart from the absence of Bluetooth audio streaming the cars are well stocked with kit and gadgets.
The body structure is 20% stiffer than before and one of the most rigid in the market, and the Malibu can be had with StabiliTrak electronic stability and traction control, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist system and corner brake control. There’s also big brakes on the car to improve stopping distances.
There’s six air bags including roof rail air bags and rear view camera, and the car got a five-star Euro-NCAP crash safety rating, which is reassuring.
On the go
As mentioned, it’s a spacious and comfortable environment to be in, and as well as sound insulation, today was certainly a good test for seals with a lot of very heavy sandy wind blowing around along much of the route, but none of it getting in – at least not through the seals.
The ride is set-up for comfort, which is precisely what you’d expect, but that doesn’t mean that it floats or wallows excessively, as body control is good within reason.
Likewise whilst the steering is faithful rather than sporty, and I personally would appreciate speed-variable assistance for a meatier feel on the highway, it is fully adjustable, nicely shaped and good to hold.
Hurl the Malibu into a corner and understeer typically appears but the front is soon brought back in line by the traction and stability control systems. Essentially this is a car that can be hustled along quickly, even on bumpy, poorly surfaced and twisty roads in very blowy conditions, as we found today, with little effort and plenty of competence. However it prefers a smooth swift style rather than hard-charging aggression.
Performance is more than adequate from the 2.4-litre unit which we mostly drove today, with decent mid-range urge when you need it for overtaking. The tip-shift buttons on top of the gearknob are neither ideally placed, nor intuitive to use, besides you’ll try them once and then leave the transmission to its own devices keeping it out of manual mode. The transmission does its job well.
Switching briefly to the V6 version, and it’s the power delivery, more than the increased oomph that you notice. It just feels a little more creamy and effortless, and fits in with the smooth nature of the ride and controls of the car in general.
Based on today’s experience, despite any pretence to being a Camaro understudy, this is not a sporty car, but then the vast majority of buyers (key demographics: up to 45-years old and married) are not looking for that.
They’re after a dependable, easy-to-live with car that’s scores big on space and comfort with decent mile-chomping ability and most of all, a knockout value-for-money argument. Combine that with the iconic Chevrolet badge, the history of which alone has an edge over Korean brands, and the fact that you’ll walk into a showroom where this car sits alongside a Camaro and Corvette, and you’re onto a winner.
Time will tell if it’s strong enough to take on the old pros from Toyota and Nissan, but things are certainly off to a good start, and this is definitely one to stick on the shortlist.
Chevrolet Malibu 2.4/3.0
Price: AED 73,000 ($19,850) to AED 99,464 ($27,000)
2.4-Litre Four-cylinder – 170bhp at 5800rpm, 170lb ft at 4600rpm
3.0-Litre V6 – 260bhp at 6900rpm, 214lb ft at 5600rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 10.2 for the 2.4 and 8.1 for the V6
Transmission: six-speed auto, front-wheel drive
Shahzad’s verdict: Spacious, comfy, good-looking, well equipped and keenly priced