Sometimes it seems like every second car on the road is an SUV or pickup, but, in Canada, the traditional four-door family sedan remains the vehicle of choice for many buyers. And when it comes to mid-size sedans, it’s all about perception. Although not the most scintillating, this has always been one of the most competitive segments of the Canadian market (although not as intense as it used to be), and models like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Hyundai Sonata climb to the top because they seem to offer the most bang for the buck.
Where does this leave the Chev Malibu?
Not even in the running, actually. According to those who track these things, the Malibu, while a favourite with fleet operators (think Enterprise, Hertz, Budget, etc), isn’t even in the top twenty of Canadian best sellers, while its Japanese and Korean rivals are in the thick of the fight….especially the Sonata, which is near the top of the heap as 2014 draws to a close.
This where perception comes into play. Yes, a base Malibu LS starts at around $27,000, while a Sonata is just under $24,000, and an Accord is about the same. But here’s the thing: at this level, the Malibu has more features. For example, a base Accord LX has a six-speed manual transmission, while the Malibu LS comes with an automatic. The Honda also has about 10 less horsepower in its base form…ditto with the Sonata, while the base Camry LE has even less than that. In this corner of the market, manufacturers scramble to get the upper hand, and in the case of the Malibu, GM seems to have the performance edge here.
Climb up the model range, however, and things start to even out. My tester, a loaded LTZ, bangs out a healthy 259 horses, but this is less than the Camry V6, Sonata Turbo, and Accord V6. This is also where pricing starts to matter. The Malibu LTZ starts at almost $35,000, and with a few extras, such as a navi system and upgraded stereo, you’re well over $37,000. After taxes, this puts you in the $40,000 neighbourhood, which definitely takes the lustre off this kind of automobile.
That said, the Malibu has a larger trunk than any of its rivals, and, in its non-turbo form, slightly better fuel economy. For prospective buyers of the traditional four-door sedan, these kinds of things are important.
And so are creature comforts, which the Malibu has in abundance. American carmakers have churned out their share of lemons and clunkers, but through it all, they’ve usually managed to maintain a high level of quality when it comes to seat comfort and HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning). My tester had outstanding three-setting heated seats and an HVAC system second to none…..heat is distributed well throughout the car, and it warms up quickly on cold mornings…..ditto with the windshield defrost. I’v ealso driven this car through the summer, and, like all thre three domestic manufacturers, it has a killer a/c system. These may be small points perhaps, but relevant as hell when you’re putting in long days behind the wheel and dealing with traffic five days a week. This may also be one of the quietest four-doors I’ve driven in awhile, and the Malibu almost has an upscale ambience about it.
Which brings us back to perception. According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, the Malibu had four recalls and an unimpressive 17 service bulletins in 2014. This is ‘way more than any of the competitors mentioned here. Consumers notice these kinds of things, and in terms of build quality – real or imagined – the Malibu takes a back seat to its rivals. This is key in this market; typical buyers want the most bang for the buck and don’t want to feel like they’re piloting a car that’s been built to a price….even though that may be the case.
A new Malibu for the 2016 model year is apparently just around the corner, and although there will undoubtedly be pricing, styling, and mechanical changes, GM is unlikely to alter the essential character of the Malibu.
That wouldn’t make sense.
Engine: 2.0 litre turbocharged four cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel drive
Horsepower: 259 hp @5300 rpm
Torque: 295 ft. lb. @3000 rpm
Base Price: $34,815; as tested $37,360
Fuel Economy: 11.4 litres per 100 kilometres (city); 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres (hwy). Regular fuel.
Alternatives: Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Honda Accord, Kia Optima, Ford Fusion, Chrysler 200, Nissan Altima, Mazda6.