I recently spent a week driving around a Chevrolet Malibu 1.5L with the Turbo in and around the greater San Francisco Bay Area and here are my thoughts.

Being a small blog and with my home base in the middle of California, any new cars I drive are rentals. So when my family headed up to the Bay Area for an annual conference we go to every year, the Malibu with a 1.5T base engine is what we got.

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Based on my week of driving the 2018 Chevrolet Malibu around, I can confidently say that the Malibu with the base engine strikes that balance of being a perfectly adequate people hauler with a dash of fun.

How well the Malibu drives

If you drive in the Bay Area the two things you don’t necessarily need but kind of like out of a car are passing speed and maneuverability, two things the Malibu excelled at. I’ll get into the passing speed in a bit.

Even with all our luggage crammed into the trunk and with four adults strapped in, the Malibu bobbed and weaved out of traffic like a featherweight boxer.

At low-speeds, in parking lots, and around town the rack-mounted electric power-assisted rack and pinion steering was a welcome surprise. Below something like 10 MPH, the steering is extremely light, great for maneuvering for parking or putting around.  I found it extremely satisfying how I could spin the steering wheel to and fro, maneuvering the Malibu into a parking spot with the precision of a Hibachi grill chef.

On the highway I could overtake, signal, and change lanes with confidence as the suspension and tire combo more than adequately gave me the confidence to ever so slightly push the Malibu at highway speeds.

I particularly found this useful on I-152 between Los Banos and Gilroy where elevation and twisty corners on a two-lane road make for particularly aggressive driving, especially from trucks who just have to overtake everyone. With the confidence that I can maneuver around traffic, I could drive away from tailgaters or whatever was coming behind me with ease.

I can only imagine how nice this Malibu handles if I had no passengers and it was just me.

With 30,000 plus miles on this rental, the OEM Goodyears were swapped for Nankang NS-25 all-seasons but these Chinese tires did just fine.

Ecotec 1.5L Turbo- A true gem of an engine

Knowing absolutely nada about what engine was underneath the hood, I assumed some sort of V6, which that assumption was quickly put to rest once I put my foot to the floor and heard the engine note, it’s a four-cylinder.

Ecotec 1.5T
Ecotec 1.5T

Apparently the last generation Malibu had a larger 2.5L four-cylinder with 197 HP at 6,300 RPM and 191 lb-ft at 4,400 RPM.

This 1.5L Turbo makes a mighty 163 HP at 5,700 RPM and 184 lb-ft between 2,000-4,000 RPM. That torque figure is what really sets this engine apart from the older 2.5L engine.

Sure, the older 2.5L has more HP and torque but you have to get up into the upper rev range to access that torque and peak HP. This 1.5L Turbo has immediate power off the line which proved useful in stop and go traffic.

Even with four of us,  all our luggage, and with the air conditioner at full blast in 90-degree weather, the Malibu never felt particularly strained.

Only in the upper rev range and above highway speeds, around 70-100 MPH, did the 1.5L Ecotec start to show that yes, it’s a tiny engine with a small turbo. There was little oomph and passing power if you wanted to overtake say from 70-90 MPH.

I presume the turbo is small for off-the-line performance but quite simply runs out of steam in the upper rev range.

And yes I said 100 MPH because I just about touched triple digit speeds not knowing since the noise isolation between engine and passenger compartment was pretty good.

Here’s the dyno chart confirming my suspicions and experience.

Although I could never really find out how to shut off the stop-start, since this Ecotec is so small, it was quick to fire up every time and the starter motor makes a charming yet very quiet noise so I wasn’t annoyed by the stop-start at all.

Touchpoints

I only really sat in the drivers seat and although cloth, the seat’s are nicely bolstered.

The steering wheel, is I assume, standard GM fare but felt comfortable to grip and turn.

Some car journalists might whine about the smattering of cloth inserts around the dash but I found it quite appealing to look at and occasionally poke just because.

An absence of confusing buttons was nice, there wasn’t a steep learning curve trying to figure anything out.

Exterior

It’s hard to put my finger on the front design language. I guess you can say it’s not offensive but it surely doesn’t evoke any quickening of my pulse looking at its front. It’s quite utilitarian and clinical looking, something that blends in today’s modern traffic.

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The side profile and rear, however, is quite pleasing to look at, you can tell this Malibu’s seen some wind tunnel testing.

Luggage

This Malibu being front-wheel drive and almost full-size, I expected the trunk to be large and it was.

The Malibu’s trunk managed to swallow a three-piece luggage set, at least three tote bags, a handful of paper bags and one or two plastic bags filled with groceries. Suffice to say, there was not wanting for extra trunk space.

Contrast this to cars like the Nissan Maxima which was tiny to begin with.

Things that bugged me

I’m easy to please so there are few if any things that bugged me worth pointing out.

For one, not being able to open the trunk from the inside was a little annoying. Sure, you can open it with your key-fob or from outside but it’s nice having a button to press from the inside.

The rear window is small but that’s remedied with the back-up camera.

That’s honestly all I could think of.

Final thoughts

With an MSRP of around $22,000, the Malibu is solid value for the money.

If you’re on the fence on buying one, it’s a low-risk choice with a bit of fun.

Have you driven a newer Malibu? Have anything to add? Let me know in the comments below!

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3 COMMENTS

  1. You bypass the stop/start by putting the stick shift in low and tap the plus button on top of the stick shift six times for the six speed transmission. you are now ready to go.

  2. These 2018 Malibu’s with the turbo are constantly having problems…..check engine light, no power…they
    are dangerous on the highway….so DO NOT take what this guy says very seriously. Lastly, remember where he lives, cars in CA are the worst design because of all the restrictions. DO NOT BUY A CA CAR.

  3. I am in the middle of a round trip from St Louis to Tempe. Rented a 2020 Malibu from Hertz for the trip. I’m a big guy in both stature and girth and the “full size” car is a tortuous limbo act to get in and out of. A -1 on the big man scale. Once seated the cockpit is both roomy and has a reasonable amount of comfort. Give it a 7 there. What came as a pleasant surprise was the fuel mileage. With 1100 miles in, I am averaging 37.3 MPG!! That’s a 10 in my book. Confirmed this with gallons at the pump, trip computer is saying 38. Close enough. At one fill up I opened the hood expecting to see a small V6 such as a 3.2 or something similar. I was very surprised to find the 1.5 Turbo. Plenty of get up and go and astounding fuel mileage, what a combo. Again a 10. Only other drawback so far is minor with a good bit of road noise. Give it a 7. Nice rental, but I could not own one for the entry/exit issues.

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