Things are getting harder for the humble family sedan. With gas prices staying cheap and a string of ever-more-enticing crossover SUVs hitting the market, you can understand why many families are choosing to go with something bigger and taller than the plain ‘ol four-door of the past.
Any sedan that wants to survive must be really good, and thankfully, the 2017 Malibu is exactly that. It has great looks, solid performance and an extra helping of family friendly special features that bring it straight to the head of the class — especially if this is a car you’ll be lending out to some student drivers.
Refinement on a reinvention
The Malibu debuted back in 2015, radically redesigned and — surprisingly — quite striking to behold. That car rolled on a wholly new chassis that was lighter and stiffer than before, enabling this big sedan to feel more lively than it really had any right to.
In the 2017 model year the looks and the feel are retained, bolstered to a new, nine-speed automatic transmission that is most notable in the way that you really won’t notice it. It shifts cleanly and smoothly, skipping gears as necessary to keep you in the appropriate rev range for performance or economy while doing so with minimal fuss.
For 2017 you have a choice between two engines that sound too tiny to move this big sedan with much vigor, and indeed the smaller of the two, the 1.5-liter with 163 horsepower, is on the lower end of what might be considered acceptable. Our test car had the bigger, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder putting out 250 horsepower. It felt perfectly suited to the car, offering more than adequate acceleration and, perhaps more crucially, excellent fuel consumption.
This engine is officially rated for 33 miles per gallon on the highway and 26 mpg combined. We actually did considerably better, averaging just over 30 mpg in our combined testing, netting 36 mpg on a long highway stretch. For a car this big, that’s impressive.
Focus on the family
In the auto industry, the concept of a family sedan may be about as trendy as T-tops and pop-up headlamps, but the Malibu shows there’s still life here. This starts with a roomy, comfortable interior that will easily fit four adult-sized people, even a fifth without too much squirming, plus all their associated baggage in the gargantuan trunk.
Materials are more than acceptable given the bargain pricing of the base model, though the color variation on our test car left a bit to be desired — unless you like all black everything.
It’s what’s lurking beneath that monochrome dashboard that has the most to offer, though. The 2017 Malibu offers Chevy’s latest MyLink system, which is snappy and feature-packed, offering the usual suspects on the entertainment front (SiriusXM, Bluetooth A2DP, Pandora, etc.) plus a more-than-passable navigation experience. But, perhaps more importantly, there’s support for both and here, meaning you can basically bring your own.