2015 Chevrolet Malibu Turbo First Test
Attractive and Quick, But Flawed
With well-defined shoulder lines, clean 19-inch wheels, and Impala-like front styling, the 2015 Chevrolet Malibu Turbo is one good-looking four-door. As a midsize sedan, though, the volume model is less than convincing. Chevrolet tried to remedy this for 2014 by adding a little more rear-seat knee room, updated sheetmetal, and standard engine stop-start technology, but in our most recent Big Test comparison, the car placed sixth out of six cars. That review covered the Malibu with the 2.5-liter I-4, so when a loaded 2015 Malibu Turbo arrived in the Motor Trend Garage, we track-tested the car to see how well its enhanced performance matches up to the competition.
Slam the Malibu Turbo's throttle to the floor, and you'll either be highly entertained or slightly nauseated, or both. Turbocharged four-cylinder four-doors can be lots of fun when you're not interested in the more linear feel of a six-cylinder midsize sedan. In the Malibu Turbo, a bit of turbo lag is followed by a sudden burst of acceleration. At wide-open throttle from a stop, on the right surface, you can even burn a little rubber. The Malibu's turbocharged 2.0-liter I-4 is good for 259 hp at 5300 rpm and 295 lb-ft from 3000-4000 rpm, and it's mated to a six-speed automatic with manual controls on the gear stalk. Those basic stats sound somewhat impressive on paper, but let's head to the test track.
From 0-60 mph, the 2015 Malibu Turbo is a mid-pack performer. It's quicker than a couple turbo-four-powered midsizers, but behind a pair of six-cylinder four-doors. The Chevrolet's 6.3-second time was, as you'd expect, quicker than an all-wheel-drive 2013 Ford Fusion with a turbocharged 2.0-liter I-4 (6.8 seconds). Our long-term 2013 Kia Optima SX-L made more power but less torque than the Malibu Turbo from its turbocharged four-cylinder, and turned in a 0-60 mph time of 7.2 seconds. The V-6 midsize sedans still lead the class in this benchmark sprint, with a 2012 Toyota Camry SE V-6 clocking in at 5.8 seconds and a 2013 Nissan Altima V-6 at 5.9 seconds. In 45-65 mph passing, the turbocharged four-cylinder cars yield to the traditional V-6 cars, with the Malibu's 3.5-second time beating the Optima (3.9 seconds) and all-wheel-drive Fusion (3.7 seconds), but not the Camry (2.8 seconds) and Altima (2.6 seconds).
Turbo-four or V-6, fuel economy for those for midsizers is essentially a tie, with the 2015 Malibu Turbo at an EPA-rated 21/30 mpg city/highway; the 2015 Optima Turbo at 20/31 mpg; the 2014 Camry V-6 at 21/31 mpg; and the 2015 Altima V-6 at 22/32 mpg. We haven't yet tested a Honda Accord sedan with a V-6, which is EPA-rated at 21/32-34 mpg. If you're frequently making the most of the Malibu Turbo's 2.1-second 0-60 mph advantage over the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter I-4 model, though, forget about 30 mpg on the highway. Seamless engine stop-start technology is standard on that Malibu but not offered on the performance-oriented turbocharged model.
Just as we found with the 2014 Malibu 2.5, the Malibu Turbo has a soft brake pedal. Even so, the Chevrolet brings the 3625-pound car to a stop from 60 mph in just 115 feet, better than the Fusion (117 feet), Optima (123 feet), Altima (123 feet), and Camry (126 feet). The Malibu also beat the group around the figure-eight course, in 26.4 seconds at 0.70 g (average). In the real world, the Malibu Turbo does provide some road feel, but there is pronounced tire noise at highway speeds.
While the six-speed automatic often searches for the highest gear to increase fuel economy (like others in this class), the slightly awkward manual controls on the top of the gear stalk are much appreciated. Instead of a manual gate or steering wheel-mounted paddles, in the Malibu Turbo, the driver knocks the gear stalk into M and then selects the desired gear. Around one of our favorite driving roads in Southern California, we stuck with second gear via that manual mode, which really woke up the car and, to the transmission's credit, didn't automatically upshift at higher rpms.
The 2015 Malibu Turbo's interior is the car's major competitive drawback. It's not our test car's attractive brown piping against tan leather seats, nor the special-looking two-tone dashboard. No matter how attractive or powerful the Malibu gets in turbocharged form, the 2015 Chevrolet is still lacking when it comes to rear-seat space and ease of entry/exit. (The automaker added 1.25 inches of rear-seat knee room for 2014.) Unlike in the Malibu, you won't find a sizable drivetrain hump in a Toyota Camry, and the Honda Accord has plenty more rear-seat legroom. Were we shopping for a midsize sedan, these crucial details would keep the Malibu off our list.
If the Malibu's comparative deficiency in interior space isn't of concern, you might like the car's two cellphone stands, or the cool storage area hidden behind the fold-up center-stack touchscreen. While we still can't figure out the design purpose of the horizontal strakes just above the glove box, the blue ambient lighting is a nice touch. On a future Malibu, we'd love to see larger sideview mirrors that fold in (manual or power-operated) and more realistic faux wood trim.
Ultimately, the two things we want from the Malibu aren't going to be meaningfully addressed this model year or the next. No matter the engine, the car could use more interior space and easier rear-seat entry/exit -- until that happens, the Malibu Turbo would need class-leading performance or some serious incentives to drive it to the top of the pack.
|2015 Chevrolet Malibu Turbo|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$35,640|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||2.0L/259-hp/295-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3625 lb (60/40%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||191.5 x 73.0 x 57.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.9 sec @ 94.3 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||115 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.85 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.4 sec @ 0.70 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||21/30/24 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||160/112 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.80 lb/mile|