Most petrolheads will say that if you wanted to immerse yourself in American driving culture while you’re in the US, you should drive a ginormous pickup truck or equally huge sports utility vehicle (SUV).
However, decades before SUVs became popular, most Americans drove large and mid-size saloons. A pickup truck would’ve been cool, but since I wasn’t in LA to haul construction materials, an American saloon (sedan) was a better choice.
Prior to my trip, I resisted every impulse to check out the new Malibu on the Internet, for I didn’t want my impression of the car to be clouded by anything I saw or read online.
I was pleasantly surprised when I walked towards the latest Malibu for the first time. Compared to the last-gen model, the latest one is longer and sleeker. In particular, I like the bolder grille and slimmer headlamps.
Measuring 4922mm from end to end, the new Malibu is 57mm longer than before. Its wheelbase has also been stretched by 92mm to 2829mm.
Because of the car’s longer wheelbase, backseat space is no longer an issue. The rear bench easily accommodates three 1.8 metre-tall adults. It also helps that the rear floor now is nearly flat. The floor protrusion in the previous Malibu is rather high, so middle occupants must awkwardly sit with their legs apart.
I was also pleased with this sedan’s new cockpit design and layout. The lower dashboard improves forward visibility and the instrument cluster is more attractive than before.
The new infotainment system itself is also more intuitive this time around, and has faster-loading menus, too.
Also quicker this time around is the Malibu’s performance. My test car, which was equipped with a turbocharged 1.5-litre 4-pot that produces 163bhp and 250Nm, manages the century sprint in a respectable 8.5 seconds.
That’s 1.2 seconds faster than the older Malibu being sold in Singapore, which has a naturally aspirated 2.4-litre engine.
The new Malibu’s breezier drive is down to the 1.5-litre engine delivering 25Nm more torque, and the fact that the latest model is around 136kg lighter than the old one.
On the go, the Malibu impressed me with its improved ride comfort. LA’s surface streets aren’t as well paved as Singapore’s, but the Malibu soaked up these bumps and continued delivering a pliant ride.
Only on the roughest stretches of freeway did my back take a beating. California’s freeways aren’t known for their smoothness – a lot of them actually resemble a quilt, albeit one made with concrete and asphalt.
During my two-week stay in LA, the longest drive I took my better half on was a 180-mile (289km) round trip from Artesia to the Desert Hills Premium Outlets, which are near Palm Springs.
The hilly roads leading to Palm Springs were the curviest ones I put the Malibu through. Being comfort-biased, the car displayed understeer in tighter corners. In this respect, the previous Malibu would’ve done better.
The old Malibu would’ve also done slightly better in terms of cargo capacity. The new model has a 447-litre boot, but it’s 13 litres smaller than its predecessor’s.
Nevertheless, the missus had no complaints. Since it was just us, the boot easily swallowed all her shopping, and when it was full, we stashed the rest of our purchases on the backseat.
I was initially apprehensive about the Malibu’s 13-gallon (49-litre) fuel tank given our long journey. However, the car was relatively efficient – I managed 11.8km per litre on that journey, and still had half a tank of petrol when we returned to Artesia. That figure compared favourably with Chevy’s stated combined fuel consumption of 13.2km per litre.
In total, I drove nearly 1600km in the Malibu, visiting downtown LA and places such as Anaheim, Orange County and Newport Beach. Ironically, the one place we didn’t visit was the car’s namesake – the coastal city of Malibu.
But that didn’t matter. The important thing was that I still experienced US driving culture in a roomy and comfortable American mid-size sedan.
Chevrolet Malibu 1.5 (A)
Type Inline-4, 16-valves, turbocharged
Bore x stroke 74mm x 86.6mm
Compression Ratio 10:1
Max power 163bhp at 5600rpm
Max torque 250Nm at 2000-4000rpm
Power to weight 113.9bhp per tonne
Gearbox 6-speed automatic with manual select
Driven wheels Front
0-100km/h 8.5 seconds
Top speed 209km/h (governed)
Consumption 13.2km/L (combined)
CO2 emission 180g/km
Front MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Rear Multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Front / Rear Ventilated discs / Discs
Type Goodyear Assurance
Size 205/60 R16
Traction aids ABS, ESP
Kerb weight 1405kg
Turning circle 11.5m
Price incl. COE To be announced
Warranty To be announced
+ More spacious cabin, cushier ride, more efficient now
– Less nimble than before, tinny-sounding motor, no right-hand-drive version yet