The sedan market has always been competitive. That is why it is truly impressive that the Malibu has managed to stick around as long as it has. In fact, it is currently in its ninth generation, which debuted in 2016.
Despite the fact that the 2021 Chevrolet Malibu is part of a generation that has been around for six years, it still manages to be fresh. Changes for this year include the addition of wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard features. There is also a brand-new Sport Edition that will give your Malibu blacked-out exterior accents.
This year, the Malibu continues to be available in five trim levels. With approximately a ten-thousand-dollar difference between the entry-level model and the top trim, it is important to know which model has the features you are after. The following guide was designed to help drivers know which model will satisfy their needs without having them overpay.
Compare the 2021 Chevrolet Malibu L vs Malibu LS - What is the Difference?
The L trim level of the 2021 Malibu has the same engine that the LS, RS, and LT models use. It is a turbocharged 1.5L that makes 160-horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. While those numbers do not sound that impressive, this is plenty of power for a vehicle of this size.
This engine gets paired with a continuously variable transmission. The 2021 Malibu is only available with front-wheel drive. Since there are no options for the L when it comes to the powertrain or drivetrain, you can expect this trim to give you 29mpg city and 36mpg highway.
The L trim level sits on 16-inch steel wheels and comes with a compact spare tire. You will not find too many fancy features on the exterior of this model, although it does have power side mirrors and daytime running lights. The headlights are halogen and come with an automatic on/off feature.
Both the driver and front passenger get six-way adjustment for their seats but they have to do it manually. Also manual is the single-zone climate control. In the back, the seats have a 60/40 split-folding feature to give you access to the trunk for when you need to haul longer items. Keyless open and start are standard features.
Although the features may not be terribly impressive for the L trim so far, this base model makes it up when looking at the technology. An 8-inch touchscreen is standard, allowing for the newly standard wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to easily be controlled. A six-speaker audio system is included. The L trim is compatible with both OnStar and Chevrolet Connected Services.
When it comes to safety features, the L trim once again goes back to basics. It does come with a rear vision camera and tire pressure monitoring system. A rear-seat reminder, which tells drivers to double-check the backseat when exiting their vehicle, is also included. Otherwise, it sticks to old-school methods to try to keep its occupants safe.
Option number two, the LS, has the same standard exterior features. It does, however, unlock several available upgrades. Highlights include Intellibeam headlights, a rear spoiler, and a keyless entry pad.
Inside the cabin, the LS is once again very similar to the L when it comes to standard equipment. The only two additions are a Wi-Fi hotspot and an outside temperature display. Once again, this model unlocks many extra optional upgrades. You can get a trunk organizer and a cargo net, for example. The cloth can also be upgraded to premium Jet Black.
Standard safety upgrades are minimal, although this model does get a teen driver system and what Chevrolet calls "Buckle to Drive." Not surprisingly, this model can get a long list of extra driver aids. They are bundled into convenient packages.
The standard Driver Confidence Package has lane change alert, lane keep assist, and lane departure warning. It also has automatic emergency braking, forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert, front pedestrian braking, and rear park assist. These models get the automatic high beams as well as body-colored outside mirrors when they add this package.
There is also what Chevrolet calls the Driver Confidence Cloth Package. This is basically a less expensive option with significantly fewer additions. It will give your Malibu LS rear cross-traffic alert, rear park assist, and lane change alert. This package also throws in the side mirror upgrade.
The LS costs approximately $1,000 more than the entry-level L. This is if buyers do not add on any of the available extras. The few standard additions justifying the jump in price is a bit of a stretch.
Compare the 2021 Chevrolet Malibu LS vs Malibu RS - What is the Difference?
The RS is a sportier variation of the 2021 Malibu. It adds a dual-outlet exhaust but no other mechanical upgrades. This trim does get eye-catching 18-inch aluminum wheels to ride on.
Black trim around the grille and black Malibu emblems help to set the RS apart from other options. Those previously available body-colored side mirrors join the list of standard equipment, along with a rear spoiler. Otherwise, the exterior of the RS looks like the L and LS trims.
Inside the RS, the driver gets upgraded to eight-way power-adjustment to make it easier to get comfortable for the long haul. Also added is power lumbar support. The passengers continues to be stuck with six-way manual adjustment. A leather-wrapped steering wheel is standard for the RS. You can also get a leather-wrapped shift knob, although that is merely an available feature for some reason.
Convenient steering-wheel-mounted controls are added for this midlevel model. Use it to manage cruise control, operate the audio system or phone interface, or control the driver information screen. In the back, a rear seat armrest is added.
Once again, going up from the LS to the RS will costs buyers around $1,000. In this case, however, the price increase seems more justified with its additions to the standard equipment list.
Compare the 2021 Chevrolet Malibu RS vs Malibu LT Trim Level. - What is the Difference?
The LT model does not gain any mechanical upgrades. In fact, it loses the dual-outlet exhaust. That is okay because the LT is meant to be more sophisticated than athletic and makes its improvements elsewhere.
Wheel size goes down from 18-inches to 17 when choosing the LT. However, this model is available with 18-inch bright aluminum wheels or 19-inch black-painted aluminum wheels if you are willing to pay extra. The LT has an appearance package that can be added as well, which gives it gloss black side mirrors, dark chrome on the grille, and sport pedals inside the cabin.
All of the black exterior accents that were added by the RS are lost by the LT. This more luxurious model does get heat for its body-colored side mirrors. The taillights, as well as the daytime running lights, get upgraded to LED.
There is a Midnight Edition version of the LT. It gives it those 19-inch black wheels, plus black bowtie emblems and a blacked-out grille. This model always comes with a Mosiac Black Metallic paint job. The new Sport Edition package is very similar, although it is not limited to just one exterior color.
Also available is the LT Redline Edition. This model has 19-inch black wheels but adds red hash marks to them. The black mirror caps also get red graphics, as well as the black badging. This package can be had with Summit White, Silver Ice Metallic, or Mosiac Black Metallic paint.
The LT adds dual-zone automatic climate control to its cabin, no matter what the exterior looks like. A vent is added to the back of the center console to help control the temp in the backseat. Both the driver and the front passenger get heated seats when you choose this upper trim as well. Optional features for the cabin include a heated steering wheel and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
For some reason, the LT loses the leather on the steering wheel. That said, it is eligible to add the Leather Package. This will give it a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather shift knob, and leather upholstery. It also adds that auto-dimming rearview mirror, further adding to the convenience and luxury of the cabin.
There are not too many tech upgrades found on the LT. It does get a remote start system standard, however, as well as a trial for satellite radio. The same optional driver aids for the LS and RS remain available when you choose the LT. This trim will cost more than $2,000 more than the RS but adds a nice amount of comfort and convenience.
Compare the 2021 Chevrolet Malibu LT vs Malibu Premier Trim. - What is the Difference?
The Premier is where things get next level for the Malibu. This model gets a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine, which means it can make 250-horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. A nine-speed automatic transmission is also standard. The dual-outlet exhaust makes an appearance again for the Premier model.
For the 1.5L engine, automatic start/stop technology is included. This is not the case with the Premier's 2.0 option. Accordingly, buyers who go with the Premier can only expect 22mpg city and 32mpg highway.
Underneath the Premier model are 19-inch aluminum wheels. The top trim is the only one to give turn signal integration to the side mirrors. A dual-pane sunroof, which is optional for the LT, becomes a standard part of the Malibu Premier. On top of the LED upgrades made by the LT, the Premier also gets LED for the headlamps.
For the cabin, the front passenger finally gets six-way power-adjustment and some power lumbar support. Driver seat memory settings are also included and the front seats add ventilation. Perforated leather seat trim further adds to the luxurious feeling of this top-of-the-line Malibu, as does the ambient interior lighting.
The driver information jumps up to 8-inches and the infotainment system gets navigation added on. Wireless charging, which seems to be a feature rapidly growing in popularity, is also part of the equipment list. Both a heated steering wheel and an auto-dimming rearview mirror are standard. So is leather for both the steering wheel and shift knob.
Expecting the ultimate version of the Malibu to come standard with driver aids seems reasonable. Unfortunately, that is not the case. This model does upgrade to an HD rear vision camera. It is also eligible for the Enhanced Driver Confidence Package. On top of the things included in the normal package, it adds adaptive cruise control. It also upgrades to "enhanced" automatic emergency braking, which is not limited to speeds up to 50mph like the standard version.
The Premier trim does have a more satisfying engine and several nice tech upgrades. Is this worth paying over $6,500 more? In most cases, probably not.
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Which Trim to Choose?
Let's face it, the L and LS trims are simply lacking when it comes to the features that today's drivers expect. The RST adds some nice style touches but not enough substance to really make it worth it. On the other end of the scale, the Premier does have some fancy upgrades but its price tag is daunting in comparison to the rest of the lineup.
That leaves us with the LT. This model adds things like automatic climate control and heated front seats, as well as tech upgrades like satellite radio. Plus, it is available with appearance packages to help you find a model that you find stylish.
For most drivers, the LT hits a sweet spot between price and features and will be the right way to go.
• Compare the 2020 Chevrolet Malibu Trim Levels