x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Road Test: Chevrolet's new Malibu is a quiet, comfortable family car

An upgraded interior gives the Malibu more cruising appeal, with a lot of features you'd normally find on higher-priced cars.

This year's Malibu has a completely new, upgraded interior finish. Chevrolet
This year's Malibu has a completely new, upgraded interior finish. Chevrolet

Ahh, a long, lonely road out in the desert south of Dubai, bright sun shining the way, and I'm behind a steering wheel. It's the kind of time I like for myself, when I like to have fun. It's time to let loose.

Whoops, I forgot; I'm not driving some fancy supercar, no 500hp monster that will kick me in the seat with a flick of my right foot. Nope, I'm in a family saloon, a four-door, mid-sized car that will undoubtedly see duty carting the kids around to football and school. It doesn't sound like the kind of fun I was hoping for today.

But as it turns out, that's all right. I'm on the UAE launch of the newly redesigned Malibu, Chevrolet's mid-sized saloon, and if I can't be in an exciting sports car, then I'd want to be ensconced in a bit of comfort and space to stretch out in.

Wait, maybe I can pretend it's a sports car as, after all, Chevrolet engineers are adamant that they designed the Malibu with the "DNA" from a Camaro and Corvette. If you squint really hard, you can … no, you can't see it. The rear lights may have a similar shape but, really, there is no mistaking this for anything but a family saloon.

However, it doesn't have to try to be sporty, and the Malibu stands on its own in styling. I wouldn't call it daring by any means, but the new shape is attractive and clean, with Chevrolet's signature double-port grille at the front, some sharp creases flowing over the full, almost muscular body and the large, 18-inch wheels on this top-of-the-line LTZ model. And, apparently, it's supposed to be one of the most aerodynamic cars in its class, with a drag coefficient of .29. It's certainly just as good looking, if not even more attractive, than most of the other cars it's up against, such as the Honda Accord (hideous) and Toyota Camry (less hideous).

Inside, you'll find Chevrolet engineers spent quite a bit of time in the details, little things that make the car a bit more useful and better for passengers, such as having an electric parking brake so a big lever doesn't intrude on space.

Most notably, it's quiet - eerily so, with very little wind and tyre noise entering the cabin. Laminated glass, noise-absorption pads, even the design of the wing mirrors all contribute to this peaceful, serene drive. Hey, if you don't have a glorious, monster V8 under the bonnet to listen to, then I don't want to hear anything.

Another notable feature is a surprisingly handy storage compartment tucked behind the digital infotainment screen. At first, I thought this was just a gimmick, but the more time I spent in the car, the more I found myself popping the screen up and putting my phone and wallet into the cubbyhole; it's the perfect size for these things and keeps them in place and out of sight. It's a nice touch and a clever idea.

The rest of the cabin has been completely redone from the last Malibu, this time using some better quality materials and a sweeping, cockpit-like design. There's even ambient lighting under the dash panels at night, to mellow the drive. The sat/nav system though looks a little dated - in fact, it didn't even have the roads we were driving on in its files, and operating it is clunky. And though Chevrolet engineers say they did their best to reduce the amount of buttons for radio and climate controls, there is still a confusing array in front of you, made more confusing by the fact they're the same colour as the rest of the dash. But the seats are wide and comfortable and there's plenty of room for passengers.

Here in the UAE, two engines are offered with the Malibu: the base Ecotec 2.4L four-cylinder and a 3.0L V6, like the one in this LTZ. With direct injection and continuously variable valve timing, the 3.0L puts out a very competent 260hp, though to get that much power you have to rev it all the way to 6,900rpm (or 5,600rpm to get to the peak torque of 290Nm), something drivers in this car will very rarely reach. No matter though as there wasn't really any time that I felt I needed more power.

The ride is comfortable yet not bouncy around curves, and this LTZ even has variable-assist steering boost, something you normally find on a bit more "fancy" cars. In fact, there are a lot of features you'd normally find on higher-priced cars, such as that electric parking brake, a rear reversing camera, keyless entry and ignition and six air bags for safety. Chevrolet's head of Middle East operations, John Stadwick, says he has high expectations for this new saloon and, after a day behind the wheel in the Malibu, I don't doubt this will garner a big part of the family car market.