2021 Chevrolet Malibu

2021 Chevrolet Malibu Review: Struggling For Relevance

by Gerhard Horn

The Chevrolet Malibu is about as unpretentious as cars get. It doesn't try to be anything other than a humble sedan with a comfortable ride, seating for five and a trunk. The most interesting thing about the Malibu is that it perfectly represents the sedan's rise and fall. From the big, dazzling V8-powered car launched in 1964, all the way through nine variations to the current vehicle powered by an efficient 1.5-liter turbocharged four-pot. Not all the fun has been lost yet. The top-spec Malibu is powered by a turbo-four with 250 horsepower and 260 lb-ft but it never stirs the soul even in this guise. The Malibu's main problem is the existence of cars like the Mazda 6 and Honda Accord in the USA. Does the 2021 model offer anything new to make it stand out above its competitors?

2021 Chevrolet Malibu 2021: 🚙What’s the difference vs 2020 Chevrolet Malibu Sedan?

The changes to the 2021 model year aren't extensive. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard across the whole range. The LT model can now be ordered with a new Sport Edition package that adds several sporty exterior features. A new color called Cherry Red Tintcoat is available on high-spec models, while Buckle to Drive is now standard across the range. The latter will not allow the shifter to move out of park unless the driver's seatbelt is buckled. In previous Chevrolet Malibu reviews, the sedan fell victim to superior class leaders. Have all the new updates been enough to change this?

Pros and Cons

  • Ride and handling are refined
  • The exterior is understated, in a good way
  • Ample space for front passengers
  • Infotainment is easy to use
  • Frugal
  • Dull cabin
  • Cramped rear legroom
  • The base trim is not well equipped
  • Not the best safety ratings

Best Deals on Malibu

2021 Chevrolet Malibu Trims

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
L
1.5L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Front-Wheel Drive
$22,270
LS
1.5L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Front-Wheel Drive
$23,400
RS
1.5L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Front-Wheel Drive
$24,400
LT
1.5L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Front-Wheel Drive
$26,800
Premier
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
9-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$33,500

Chevrolet Malibu Exterior

The onslaught of crossovers and SUVs in the $20,000 to $35,000 price range has left manufacturers with two choices: either drop whatever sedan you have competing in that segment or up the game to make it more exciting and appealing to the buying public. Ford chose the easy way out while Chevrolet decided to make the Malibu sexier.

It's not particularly interesting, but it is sleek and elegant. All models have a large grille with the RS featuring a blacked-out grille and a black Chevy bowtie emblem. The rear is less successful, but you do get alloys as standard across the range. The base L and LS come with 16-inch wheels and the LT has 17-inch items. The sportier RS has 18-inch wheels and the range-topping Premier gets 19-inch alloys that do the best job of filling out those arches.

2021 Chevrolet Malibu Front Angle View Chevrolet
2021 Chevrolet Malibu Rear View Driving Chevrolet
2021 Chevrolet Malibu Side View Chevrolet
See All 2021 Chevrolet Malibu Exterior Photos

Dimensions

The Chevy Malibu is 194.2 inches long, housing a wheelbase of 111.4 inches. The width without the side mirrors is 73 inches, and the Malibu stands 57.9 inches tall. The track width at the front is 62.6 inches wide, while the rear is 0.1 inches smaller. The lightest Malibu is 3,126 pounds, while the heaviest is 3,223 lbs. The Malibu's weight slots in between two of its main competitors, with the lightest Honda Accord weighing 3,131 lbs, and the most delicate Mazda 6 weighing 3,437 lbs. Oddly enough, all three of these cars have the same wheelbase of 111.4 inches, yet packaging differences mean that not all offer the same amount of interior space.

  • Length 194.2 in
  • Wheelbase 111.4 in
  • Height 57.9 in
  • Max Width 73.0 in
  • Front Width 62.6 in
  • Rear Width 62.5 in
  • Curb Weight 3,126.0 lbs

Exterior Colors

There are seven colors in the Malibu's palette, but specific colors are only unlocked in the more expensive trim levels. The base L is only available in Silver Ice Metallic and Summit White. Upgrading to LS adds Mosaic Black Metallic. The new Cherry Red Tintcoat is available from RS trim upwards and retails for $495. The LT and Premier trim levels come with two exclusive metallic options called Northsky Blue and Silver Ice Metallic.

Chevrolet Malibu Performance

All models bar the top Premier trim in the Malibu lineup are powered by the same 1.5-liter turbocharged four-pot, delivering the power to the front wheels via a CVT transmission. The engine produces 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Acceleration is adequate rather than brisk, with independent tests showing the Chevy returning a 0-60 mph sprint time of 7.8 seconds. That's on par with the segment but getting to the top legal speed requires some level of patience. The Malibu shines when you order it with the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, though. Sadly, this engine is only available in Premier guise, but it would have been lovely to see it in RS trim as well. It packs a 250 hp/260 lb-ft punch, also sent to the front wheels. The big difference is the power being transferred via a traditional torque converter automatic with nine speeds-none of that droning nonsense. The nine-speed Malibu auto is smooth shifting as it feeds the power to the wheels effortlessly. The results speak for themselves. No other drivetrain configurations are on offer which is a pity since rivals like the Toyota Camry can be ordered with AWD.

2021 Chevrolet Malibu Front Angle View 1 Chevrolet
2021 Chevrolet Malibu Rear Angle View Chevrolet
2021 Chevrolet Malibu Wheel Chevrolet

Engine and Transmission

We don't want to be mean to the 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, as it serves a specific purpose. That purpose is to offer sufficient forward momentum without making too much of a fuss while using as little gas as possible. There's a noticeable amount of lag, and the CVT's calibration doesn't help it. Still, it feels perfectly happy around town, and it gets up to highway speed without being annoying and the power delivery is gradual rather than immediate. This engine delivers 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with 250 hp and 260 lb-ft is much better, and it's such a pity it's only available in the top-end model. The nine-speed automatic does a much better job of exploiting the available power as well. With so many gear ratios to choose from, some gearboxes can feel slightly dimwitted. However, the Malibu's nine-speed always seems to be in the right gear, whether accelerating away from a dead stop or passing slower traffic.

  • Engines
    1.5L Turbo Inline-4 Gas, 2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
  • Transmissions
    9-Speed Automatic, Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
  • Drivetrain
    FWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

With vehicles in this segment, it's crucial to get the ride/handling balance right. You want the ride to be as smooth as possible, but you don't want it to lean too much or feel disconnected. You want the steering to feel direct and precise, but not so fast that it's unnerving. The Malibu is a nicely balanced vehicle which soon becomes apparent on a quick test drive.

The ride quality isn't firm, but it feels planted enough for cornering with some verve. The steering doesn't provide much feedback, but it is light and the Malibu is a car that turns in eagerly. It would not be intimidating to the average driver, but there is some fun to be had if you're the kind of person who likes driving. It's fun but far from sporty. The Mazda 6 and Honda Accord both provide a more rewarding driving experience, while the Malibu tends to err on the side of comfort.

The brakes deserve a special mention. The brake pedal is firm, providing just the right amount of resistance.

Malibu Gas Mileage

The 1.5-liter turbocharged four-pot and CVT transmission work together to deliver some seriously impressive gas mileage figures. The smaller engine has an EPA rating of 29/36/32 mpg city/highway/combined. The Honda Accord manages to be more frugal, with an EPA rating of 30/38/33 mpg for the equivalent 1.5-liter turbocharged engine mated to a CVT.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine in the Malibu isn't half bad either, given the performance potential. It has EPA estimates of 22/33/26 mpg city/highway/combined. The Malibu has a 15.8-gallon gas tank, which means the 1.5-liter should be able to do just over 500 miles on a full tank.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    15.8 Gallons
  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 29/36 mpg
* 2021 Chevrolet Malibu L

Malibu Interior

The Malibu's interior is exactly what we've come to expect from Chevrolet in recent years. It's a logical interior with all the niceties, nearly ruined by substandard materials. It's dull but easy to operate, nothing spectacular to look at but with all the modern features. All of its rivals offer similar specification levels, but with a bit more imagination. The Mazda 6's minimalist interior is particularly striking and just as easy to operate.

The seating position for the driver is okay. All the buttons are easily within reach and the dials are clear. Visibility isn't perfect as the thick C-pillars create large blind spots on the car's side. Unfortunately, blind-spot monitoring and other driver assistance features are only available higher up in the range.

2021 Chevrolet Malibu Dashboard Chevrolet
2021 Chevrolet Malibu Steering Wheel Design Chevrolet
2021 Chevrolet Malibu Central Control Panel Chevrolet
See All 2021 Chevrolet Malibu Interior Photos

Seating and Interior Space

Chevrolet says the Malibu is a five-seater, and, to be fair, it is. It just depends on the size of the three rear passengers. The rear legroom measures 38.1 inches, outstanding for a tall person, but the shoulder and hip room (57.1 and 53.4 inches, respectively) is slightly tight.

The legroom in the front is plenty, measuring 41.5 inches. The front headroom is 39.1 inches and the rear headroom is 37.5 inches.

The seats are nicely cushioned, offering plenty of support. A six-way manually-adjustable driver's and a tilt and telescoping steering column make it easy for the driver to find a suitable driving position. The seat material quality isn't that great, with only the top-spec model receiving decent looking perforated leather seats as standard.

  • Seating capacity
    5-seater
  • Front Leg Room 41.5 in
  • Front Head Room 39.1 in
  • Rear Leg Room 38.1 in
  • Rear Head Room 37.5 in

Interior Colors and Materials

The Malibu is let down by its lack of premium materials low down in the range. A leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter are only standard fitment on high-end models, for example. The L, LS, and LT all have dual-tone interiors with a Dark Atmosphere and Medium Ash Gray color scheme contrasting nicely. The LS, LT and RS come standard with Jet Black premium cloth seats. Being the top-spec model, the Premier has perforated leather seats in either Dark Atmosphere/Light Wheat or Jet Black. The latter is also available as an optional extra on the LT but for an added cost.

Malibu Trunk and Cargo Space

The Malibu has a 15.7 cubic foot trunk, which is on the small side in this segment, although it is still big enough for a month's worth of groceries. When more space is needed, the rear seats can be folded down in a 60/40 split. The Honda Accord has a bigger trunk, offering 16.7 cubes of space.

The storage options in the cabin are more impressive. It has a large glovebox, large door pockets with bottle holders, two cupholders, and a space for small items in the center console and center armrest storage. Rear passengers get smaller bottle holders in the doors and two cupholders hidden in the armrest for trims equipped with this armrest.

2021 Chevrolet Malibu Front Seats Chevrolet
2021 Chevrolet Malibu Rear Passenger Seats Chevrolet
2021 Chevrolet Malibu Trunk Space Chevrolet
  • Trunk Volume
    15.7 ft³

Malibu Infotainment and Features

Features

The base L trim is equipped with keyless entry and ignition, power windows, a manual tilt-and-telescoping steering column, six-way manually-adjustable front seats, manual air conditioning, a rearview camera, and non-adaptive cruise control. The LS only adds a few minor convenience features, like visor vanity mirrors and an outside temperature display. More importantly, it enjoys a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and allows you to delve into the options list. The RS trim comes with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter and an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat. The LT adds the nice luxuries, including remote start, heated front seats, and dual-zone climate control. The top-spec Premier adds a heated steering wheel, an HD rearview camera, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, ambient interior lighting, and heated rear outboard seats.

Infotainment

Chevrolet is known for offering some of the best infotainment systems in the industry. Its systems are logical, user-friendly, and come as standard with comprehensive functionality. All Chevy Malibu models are equipped with an eight-inch touchscreen interface and a six-speaker sound system. You can also connect two phones, and it will respond to voice commands if you have a compatible phone. The big news for 2021 is the inclusion of wireless charging and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

From the LS trim upwards, you can create a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot for up to seven devices. The Premier comes with a high-definition display and a nine-speaker Bose sound system. Navigation and voice recognition are also included on this model.

Chevrolet Malibu Sedan Problems and Reliability

Reliability ratings for the Chevrolet Malibu are excellent. The 2021 Chevrolet Malibu received a highly impressive 86 out of 100 points in the J.D. Power survey and a specific 89/100 rating for quality and reliability. It seems the people who own these cars like them very much. According to the NHTSA, the Malibu has remained recall-free for all of the last three years. The most recent round of recalls was in 2018, but since then, it has remained trouble-free. The Malibu is sold with a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain/drivetrain warranty. Roadside assistance also runs for five years or 60,000 miles while complimentary scheduled maintenance covers a single visit in the first year.

Warranty

  • Warranty Note:
    Preliminary 2021 Warranty \ 
  • Basic:
    3 Years \ 36,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    5 Years \ 60,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain Note:
    Qualified Fleet Purchases: 5 Years \ 100,000 Miles
  • Rust-Through:
    6 Years \ 100,000 Miles
  • Corrosion:
    3 Years \ 36,000 Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    5 Years \ 60,000 Miles
  • Roadside Assistance Note:
    Qualified Fleet Purchases: 5 Years \ 100,000 Miles
  • Maintenance Note:
    1 Year \ 1 Visit

Malibu Safety

The Chevy Malibu crashworthiness review from the NHTSA returned an overall four out of five stars. The IIHS gave it a good rating in most departments, but it scored "marginal" for both the LATCH system's ease of use and the small overlap front passenger-side impact. It's a reasonably safe car, but it's disappointing when you compare it to rivals like the Honda Accord which received five stars from the NHTSA.

US NHTSA crash test result

  • Overall Rating
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
  • Side Crash Rating
  • Rollover Rating

Key Safety Features

For what is essentially a family car, the Malibu has surprisingly little in the way of driver assistance features. Apart from the L, every model comes standard with Buckle to Drive, which won't allow you to move the gear lever out of park unless the seatbelt is secured. Other standard safety features include ten airbags (including dual front knee airbags and side airbags for all outboard seating positions), a rearview camera, and cruise control. All the good stuff is optional from the LT upwards. Even on the Premier trim, you have to pay extra for the following distance indicator, automatic braking in emergencies, forward collision alert, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and blind-spot alert. An automatic parking assist is also available as an optional extra on the Premier trim. Most rivals outclass the Malibu in this area.

Verdict: 🏁Is the 2021 Chevrolet Malibu a good car?

The Chevrolet Malibu does have two standout features that might lure potential buyers away from the competition. The first is the styling, which is handsome without being flamboyant. The second upside is the available engines. The 1.5-liter is good for fuel economy, while the 2.0-liter will please those in search of something reasonably powerful. The infotainment system is fantastic, and the ride is spot on.

On the downside, the Chevrolet is not a value proposition. Other cars offer way more for less, mostly on the safety side. Active driver aids have become the norm in most segments, especially those aimed at families. Oddly, Chevrolet charges you extra for these safety features, even on the most expensive model in the lineup.

The interior is comfortable, if somewhat bland. There are some cheap plastics in there as well.

The Malibu sedan is a good car, but to be considered class-leading, a vehicle has to be great and there are great cars in this segment. You won't regret the Malibu as your vehicle until the moment one those rivals drives by. Considering the volume sold in this segment, that's going to happen quite frequently.

🚘What's the Price of the 2021 Chevrolet Malibu?

The base L has an MSRP of $22,270 in the US. The LS retails for $23,400, while the RS comes with a price tag of $24,400. The LT retails for $26,800, and then it's a giant leap to get to the Premier trim, which has an MSRP of $33,500. The price of the Chevrolet Malibu excludes the brand's $995 destination charge. The cost of the Malibu will naturally increase if you opt for one of the available packages.

The Chevy was once considered competitively priced, but the Honda Accord can now be considered the value option. By comparison, the Accord range doesn't have a model to compete with the base L, but from there, it has a trim that matches every available Malibu. Considering that the Honda is mostly just a few hundred dollars more but comes standard with Honda Sensing, it represents better value for money.

New Chevy Malibu Models

The new Chevrolet Malibu range consists of five models. They are the L, LS, RS, LT, and Premier. The Premier is equipped with a powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged four-pot mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. Every other model in the lineup is powered by a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a CVT transmission. All models are available in front-wheel-drive format only.

The L comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels and automatic headlamps. On the luxury side, the Malibu's base price gets you keyless entry and ignition, a manual tilt-and-telescoping steering column, six-way manually-adjustable front seats, manual air conditioning, cruise control, and a rearview camera. The standard infotainment unit is an eight-inch color touchscreen, which now includes wireless connectivity for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

The LS adds a few basics like vanity mirrors, an outside temperature display, and the ability to create a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot. It does, however, grant you access to a far more extensive options list.

The RS is the sporty model in the lineup. It has 18-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, and an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat.

The LT comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, remote start, dual-zone climate control, and heated front seats, and the option of adding the new Sport Edition package.

The top-spec Premier rides on 19-inch alloys. It comes as standard with a heated steering wheel, heated rear outboard seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a high-definition rearview camera, navigation, and voice control. The standard sound system is also replaced with a nine-speaker Bose audio system.

See All 2021 Chevrolet Malibu Trims and Specs

Additional Packages

There are no noteworthy options for the base model, while the LS can be equipped with nine optional packages. Most of them add convenience features and protection against the weather, with the only notable option being the Driver Confidence 1 and 2 Package. It retails for $1,095 and adds all of the advanced driver assistance features we mentioned earlier, as well as IntelliBeam lighting. This package can be ordered on every trim above the LS, except for the Premier, which comes with an Enhanced Driver Confidence Package ($2,095), which adds all of the safety features, as well as an electronic parking brake, adaptive cruise control, and enhanced versions of some of the driver assistance features. The most notable packages for the LT include the Leather Package ($1,590) with leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and more, and the new Sport Edition package with a black Malibu badge, front and rear black bowtie emblems, a black grille with a dark chrome surround, 19-inch black alloy wheels, and a Jet Black interior. It retails for $895.

🚗What Chevrolet Malibu Model Should I Buy?

With its powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, the Premier might be the most appealing, but its MSRP of $33,500 places it amid more successful driver's cars. The standard Civic Si retails for less, is a smidgen slower, but way more fun to drive, while even a similarly-sized Accord is more enjoyable.

For the Chevy to make sense, it has to be equipped with a 1.5-liter engine. And it has to be as cheap as you can go to add the safety kit while still ending up with a reasonably priced car. The good news is that the Driver Confidence Package is now available from the LS trim, which means you can get a Malibu with all the driver assistance systems for under $25,000. That's similar in price to the RS with its leather-wrapped steering wheel and power-adjustable driver's seat, but we'd gladly forego these items in favor of safety.

2021 Chevrolet Malibu Comparisons

Honda Accord Honda
Ford Fusion Ford
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Chevrolet Malibu160 hp29/36 mpg$22,270
Honda Accord 192 hp30/38 mpg$24,970
Ford Fusion 175 hp21/31 mpg$23,170

2021 Chevrolet Malibu vs Honda Accord

The Honda Accord does the same job as the Malibu, albeit with a bit more pizazz. It's more fun to drive, and both the turbocharged 2.0-liter and hybrid models are cheaper than a top-spec Malibu. Honda has a history of making even its blandest vehicles fun to drive, and the Accord is no exception. It's also more refined, and equipped with more safety features. Shoppers in this segment will likely care about fuel consumption, so it's worth pointing out that the Accord has a hybrid variant that has EPA-estimated consumption of 48/48/48 mpg city/highway/combined. While both of these vehicles are similar, Chevrolet has stuck to a tried and tested recipe, but to its own detriment. Honda upped the game with the new Accord, making it more spacious, more capable, and more memorable. That's where we'll spend our money.

See Honda Accord Review

2021 Chevrolet Malibu vs Ford Fusion

The Ford Fusion is also due to be axed shortly, showing just how endangered this whole segment is. The Fusion used to be around $1,000 more expensive than the Malibu, but now it's cheaper. The Fusion uses the same recipe, down to the same wheelbase and a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-pot on higher trims. The Fusion is a better car to drive, being more responsive and happier when driven enthusiastically. It's not as frugal as the Malibu, however.

The Ford also can't match the Malibu's standard infotainment system, with base models only offering a 4.2-inch screen. The Fusion does have many driver-assist features as standard, which makes the Malibu's lack of features even more baffling. The Fusion is a better car in most of the categories that matter, and for that reason, we'd have it over a Malibu.

See Ford Fusion Review

Chevrolet Malibu Popular Comparisons

The most popular competitors of 2021 Chevrolet Malibu:

2021 Chevrolet Malibu Video Review

Check out some informative Chevrolet Malibu video reviews below.

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$22,270 - $33,500
Price Range (MSRP)
Chevrolet Malibu
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