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Sedans are not quite yet a thing of the past, and the 2021 Chevrolet Malibu is still in the game - but only just. Unfortunately, the things that drivers might not like about it are big deal-breakers. From the weak acceleration on the base 1.5-L engine to the very limited outward visibility, there are things about the Malibu that seem like they might deter more buyers than anything.
But should you write the Malibu off entirely? There are some good things about it. All new for this model year is standard smartphone app integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Also, the infotainment touchscreen is probably one of the easiest to use that is on the market right now. On top of that, the Malibu has a spacious interior for a sedan.
The upgraded turbocharged engine is probably what buyers will want to go with if their hearts are set firmly on a Malibu. This powertrain comes on the line-topping Premier trim level, and it puts out 250 hp. This means you will have to shell out a lot more money than you might like, so you might need to shop around and hope you get lucky at finding a great deal on this trim.
So, should you get the Malibu? Should you consider one of its rivals? In this review, we will go over what is new for 2021, why we like the Malibu, what we think could be improved upon, and how it stacks up against the top competitors. Be sure to read through until the end where we will give you our final verdict on the 2021 Chevrolet Malibu.
What's New for 2021?
There are only a few things worth highlighting this year. First and foremost, you get standard smartphone app integration on the 2021 Chevy Malibu. Also, there is the new Sport Edition featuring blacked-out exterior trim. Other than that, expect everything to carry over from the 2020 iteration of the Malibu.
Top 10 Reasons to Buy a 2021 Chevrolet Malibu – The Pros
1. Smartphone App Integration is Now Standard
New for 2021 is standard smartphone app integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This means that both iPhone owners and those with Androids can sync their devices to the Malibu and utilize their apps instead of some of the vehicle's integrated features (such as navigation). Even the base L trim has this compatibility, which is not something you find on a lot of line-ups. Many automakers still reserve this function for trim levels above their bases. Easy and efficient, smartphone app integration is something Malibu drivers will get a lot of use out of.
2. The Sport Edition
Again, a new addition for the model year. The Sport Edition is one worth considering. You can opt for it on the LT trims, and it gives you a ton of chic design elements. Blacked-out exterior trim includes the front grille, front and rear Bow Tie badges, and a black-finished nameplate. Add to that some 19-inch wheels done in black-painted aluminum, and you have a cool-looking exterior. It is essentially an expansion of 2020's addition, the Midnight Edition.
3. A Spacious Interior
The 2021 Chevy Malibu might look small, but on the inside, it feels spacious. Up front, everyone has room for heads, knees, and hips. And even in the rear, occupants will have plenty of space to stretch their legs. Taller adults can fit in the rear outboard seats without a hassle. While the numbers do lag behind some of the Malibu's top rivals, it ranks pretty high on the list for spacious sedans.
4. The Touchscreen Interface
Chevy's infotainment system is one of the most user-friendly contraptions out there. The touchscreen interface is sizable enough even on the standard 8-inch touchscreen. The menus are clearly set up and buttons appropriately labeled. The learning curve on this system is short, so if you aren't a tech-savvy person, this might appeal to you.
5. Secure Braking Capabilities
The Malibu has some remarkably secure brakes. While cruising around town, the pedal feels light and easy to predict. It firms up as needed, and the Malibu's gas-powered variants can make a snappy panic stop, going from 60 mph to 0 in roughly 113 feet - one of the shortest stopping distances for its segment. The hybrid brakes maintain a good amount of firmness too and keep an even feel to the pedal.
6. Handling Inspires Confidence
Not only do the brakes inspire confidence, but the handling does too. The Malibu can round through corners with the ease of a sporty vehicle. For being non-sport oriented, this is rather impressive. Despite some howling from the standard all-season tires, you get a nice amount of road grip while taking turns. The Malibu is constantly predictable in its handling and should make drivers feel comfortable with its abilities.
7. Plenty of Seat Comfort
The Malibu's seats are padded for comfort. The front seats, which are firmly padded, have side bolstering that will keep occupants cozy. Lateral support is absolutely sufficient, and the support holds up well over long journeys. The rear outboard seats are comfortable as well, but the center seat is probably best left for a smaller child.
8. A Lot of Ride Comfort
The Malibu does not disappoint when it comes to ride quality. The amount of comfort you get is typical Chevy. While a few folks might find the ride to be slightly too firm, most will enjoy how quickly the suspension irons out any road perfections, keeping them from getting into the cabin. The whole experience of driving the Malibu remains pleasant (thrilling, even) while still giving you a bump-less ride quality.
9. A Quiet Cabin
The cabin is likewise comfortable in that it is well insulated from outside noise. The engine barely makes a peep, and hardly any wind noise gets in. Even the engine on the hybrid is pretty tame, never making a nuisance of itself. Broken asphalt might trigger a little road noise, but it is nothing invasive. Overall, it is probably one of the quietest cabins in this segment. Consider us impressed.
10. Controls are Easy to Use
Not too up-to-date on up-to-date technology? That's okay; the Chevy Malibu does not force ill-paced, ill-conceived, downright confusing controls on you. Instead, everything is laid out in clear, easy-to-read and easy-to-reach fashion. It is easy for someone making an upgrade from a 20-year-old vehicle to adjust to the Malibu's controls. Even the voice controls (which occasionally need specific phrasing) are simple enough to use.
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Reasons Not to Buy a 2021 Chevrolet Malibu – The Cons
1. A Bland Base Engine
The base engine is a 1.5-L 4-cylinder engine that has a power output of 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. It is matched to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Unfortunately, the under-powered engine makes for a really dull ride. It comes on the L, LS, RS, and LT trims, leaving the better turbo 2.0-L engine for the line-topping Premier trim level. This base engine is not able to accelerate like the 2.0-L and just feels sluggish. Trying to get up to speed on the highway or pass other drivers is quite the chore.
2. Minimal Outward Visibility
One of the biggest design flaws is that the Malibu has thick roof pillars and a decklid that is placed quite high. This combination means that there is diminished outward visibility. Also, stick with the black dash surface; it causes less distractions than the beige one. At least you get a standard rear-view camera to help you mitigate backing up procedures.
3. Dated Interior Materials
The Malibu's interior quality is not terrible, but the materials come across as being dated. The textured hard plastics look nice enough, but some of the hard plastics in the rear of the cabin feel a bit too scratchy for the liking and therefore come across as a bit cheap. The soft-touch surfaces are much nicer if you end up in the Premier trim level.
4. Not Much Interior Storage or Cargo Space
The Malibu is not a class leader when it comes to cargo or interior storage spaces. The trunk offers 15.8 cubic feet of space, which is fine enough for luggage, but it is not going to hold much else. The hybrids' trunk is even smaller, so you will have to put golf bags in the rear seat. The battery just takes up too much space. And, as far as small item storage inside of the cabin goes, your small items will feel a bit too big for what is available. The arm rest is just average in size, and the cup holders only fit one size and have no grippers.
How It Stacks Up to the Competition:
2021 Chevrolet Malibu vs. 2021 Honda Accord
The 2021 Honda Accord might not be as quiet as the Malibu, but it has several fuel-efficient engine options that offer up a good amount of power. The Accord's interior is massive, so space should not be an issue for anyone. The Accord's handling feels sporty and is pretty comparable to the Malibu's. There are a bunch of advanced driver aids that come standard on the Accord, more so that come on the Malibu.
2021 Chevrolet Malibu vs. 2021 Toyota Camry
The 2021 Toyota Camry will be another top contender for the model year. There are some issues with the infotainment system being difficult to use and the engine being loud when put under acceleration. Also, The advanced driver aids come across as being too sensitive for the liking. However, drivers do get solid fuel economy from the 4-cylinder engine, and there is plenty of outward visibility from the driver's seat.
All in all, the 2021 Chevrolet Malibu is probably going to slip behind in the competition due to the lackluster base engine and quality issues. The Premier trim level is really the only one worth buying since it has the 2.0-L turbo engine instead of the base engine. Otherwise, you might need to look elsewhere for a more powerful sedan.
• Why buy a 2020 Chevrolet Malibu? w/ pros vs cons