I don’t write a lot of product reviews on this blog but I am now. The reason I am now is because this review relates to my travel posts AND my parenting posts. I just spent 13 days traversing the country with my son and wife. We headed out late one snowy Michigan evening and headed south. Our destination was Sarasota, Florida. I had briefly thought about driving our own car but my wife and I decided to rent a car. After choosing between several different cars and two midsize SUV’s I finally settled on a brand new 2017 Chevy Malibu. When I say new, I mean NEW this thing only had about 2,100 miles on by the time my hands touched the leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Working for the company I work for I was able to spend a fair amount of time figuring out what would work best for my small family of three for our 13-day roads trip. I liked the sharp looking Malibu at first site but was worried since it was a new design and literally had just come out. But nothing says putting GM and their cars reputations on the line like a roughly 3200-mile rods trip.
I won’t get into the details of the vacation itself since that is for another post at another time. I will say that this trip brought us through a total of 11 states. For our trip, my two biggest concerns were gas mileage and room in the cabin. I am 6’4” and my wife is 5’10”. Since I knew I would be doing most the driving me being comfy was a big deal. Gas prices are cheap right now so flying is stupid. I didn’t want to be just throwing money out the window either. Anyone who has rented or bought a new car knows that things become more clear about the quality and versatility of a vehicle once you have it on the road for a while. A vehicle’s quirks come out once you get beyond the normal everyday driving you may do.
I won’t lie I was intrigued with this Malibu and the model in particular since I have a little familiarity with it being one of GM’s flagship cars. In fact, the car I took drivers training in back in 1994 was an Oldsmobile Cutlass and was basically the same car that Chevy offered as the Malibu. My brother drives an older Malibu and once in another career field I sold many Malibu’s and over the years they have been hit and miss. So, let’s get to business. Here is a look at the Malibu through the years.
The model we rented and drove was a Chevy Malibu LT with leather and the upgraded stereo package.
Chevy Malibu Pros
Before, during and after our trip I was impressed with the overall size of the car in general. I am not a fan of feeling trapped in a car and the overall amount of cabin room we had was nice. Even at my size I didn’t feel crammed in between the door and center console/armrest. Compared to the 2015 Malibu model there is much more room, clean room and comfy room. That model was a dumpster fire on the inside as far as I’m concerned. I mean look at that radio in the picture below…is it 2001?
Leg room was another thing that was important to me but not just in the front seat but also the back seat. My son is in a car seat so him having enough leg room without my wife’s knees being in the dashboard was important. Also, I knew at some point my mother would be in the back seat behind me once we got to Florida so there needed to be ample leg room for her while leaving me able to put the seat back enough. In the end, it all worked out and there was more than enough leg room for everyone even with a full car. I can’t remember the last time I was this comfortable in a car while driving this far. I won’t lie, I had more arm room and overall space while driving the Malibu than I do in my 2005 Chevy impala which is something I greatly appreciated.
Compared to past models this one has a much wider stance than most. It also has a pretty serious driving feeling and seemed less clunky and stronger when going around tight curves in the mountains. Looking at the car from the front and rear you will notice how wide this car is. When comparing it to previous models it’s just a world of difference and a giant improvement. This wideness lends to the driving, maneuverability, and overall comfort of the car. Going through parts of Tennessee, North Carolina and West Virginia you come across some pretty drastic curves and this car grabbed on and held tight. I never felt like the car was going to tip either which is something you feel in some cars of the same class let alone older Malibu models. Even though I was driving a Malibu it felt like I was driving a more expensive and bigger car but at the same time, it didn’t feel like I was driving grandmas little car either. On steep grades (hills), the engine felt tough and didn’t feel like it was going to lose acceleration and never studdered. Also, having heated seats and a remote start was nice since part of our trip was in cold weather. When you are driving and your back is starting to hurt those heated seats come in handy. On the way home, we did hit a fair amount of snow halfway through Ohio and into Michigan. I was really surprised at how well the Malibu handled snowy and icy roads. I won’t lie, I was nervous about it since my Impala drives like a tank in the snow. The Malibu was pretty impressive.
Room for our stuff on a long road trip was also important and probably the 3rd most important factor in choosing a car. I didn’t want the car so packed that we were cramped or that it appeared we were living in it. Overall we had enough room for the few bags we brought, my son’s big stroller and also his bagged up pack in play as well as some souvenirs on the way back. I will say that I did have to take the wheels off his stroller so I could fit it sideways and far enough into the trunk to leave room for other things. The back seats fold down as well which I made use of on the side of the backseat Jax wasn’t occupying. Not everything was perfect here but I’ll get to that in the Cons section.
This particular model of Malibu came with a Bose sound system and also an upgraded touched screen user interface. Being in and out of cars all day long I notice these things and the differences between models and brands. With this model, I was impressed with the bright color touch screen and it’s larger size when compared to the base model. It was easy to use and easy to access most things on it. The screen also looked visually pleasing and it didn’t feel out of place on the dashboard like it does in some other cars. One of the best things about his model is that there were TWO USB ports and a normal cigarette car charger in the front of the center console. There was also two USB ports plus an AC outlet for things like a laptop on the back of the console for back seat access which made charging my son’s Kindle very easy. The lower model Malibu only offers one USB port and cigarette charger in the front and none in the back which was a turn-off and seems stupid (get it together GM you do this in the Impala also).
Remember how I said I had to take the wheels off my kid’s stroller to get it in? Well, that annoyed me; a lot. Granted it’s a jogging stroller, the wheels are bigger and meant to come off but still. Inside the trunk, the bottom of the speakers hangs down from the rear window deck and while packing I was worried I was going to break something. I felt like I was literally packing around the speakers and this was the only reason I had to take the wheels off. If the speakers didn’t hang so low (or at all) it would not have been an issue. Even maneuvering the stroller into the trunk with the wheels on for side trips or to go to the beach was annoying because of the speakers. I love how much space there is the truck (I was surprised at just how much room there was) but the opening just isn’t wide enough for large items with these speakers taking up so much space above. On the way home, this trunk was packed full despite these issues.
This Malibu came with 4G LTE Wi-Fi service…in theory at least.
We’ve all seen GM’s ads for it on TV by now. The problem with this was that I could never get it working. Connecting our phones was easy but unless you have a data plan FOR THE CAR you don’t get internet service on connected devices. The car rental company said they could not connect it and to call OnStar. OnStar said they could not connect it because I was only renting the car and that the rental company should be able to turn it on.
Someone needs to figure out what’s going on there. Having the advertised built in LTE Wi-Fi was a huge HUGE selling point on this car as a rental especially for my wife. The idea of my 2 ½-year-old sons having Wi-Fi for his Kindle on a 3,200-mile road trip was a big deal, let alone for me and my wife’s phones. In the end, this never got figured out by anyone and I was more than a little annoyed. This might have been the biggest reason I chose to rent the Malibu. In all honesty and had I known ahead of time I that I would not be able to get Internet access I probably would have gone with a VW Passat or Toyota Rav5 despite how much I loved driving the car.
Lack of internet access was also why I never bothered using the Chevy MyLink Android app and projecting my phone onto the screen for navigation, texting, and music on the way to Florida. If I am going to unexpectedly burn though my phone data on a road trip I don’t want to bother with needless technological shenanigans. That being said, on the way home we did use it and I was more or less happy with how it worked. Having an actual google map on a large screen did come in handy. I will admit I didn’t play around with many of the features and the lack of internet (in the car itself) made me not willing to explore more.
Also, the USB ports and the Cigarette lighter only work when the car is turned on. This bothered me more than I thought it did in retrospect and is a really dumb design. So don’t expect to charge your phones/tablets in the car when you are shopping or getting something to eat while you’re on the road.
As a parent, the LATCH system is a pretty important feature. No, not all parents use it and not all parents can since some older cars don’t have it, but, the Malibu does. I am an ardent latch user even in our 2005 Impala. That being said I was never able to actually use the LATCH system with my son’s car seat during our trip. The reason is because of two things
- The LATCH fitting itself is so small and sits too far into the recess of the seat.
- The leather seats.
Because of the tightness of the new leather seats where the bottom and back meet and the smallness of the LATCH fitting I was never able to get the car seat end buckled in. The night we left I spent twenty-five minutes alone trying to connect this and then about that same amount of time before we left Florida. This is a huge design flaw that isn’t an issue in the models with cloth seats ( I checked). I ended up just using the regular car seat belt and the anchor in the back window area for a solid and safe fit. While driving home it always irked me that I could never get the LATCH connected right, however.
The Chevy Malibu’s have a really nice user digital interface built into the gauge cluster which can be controlled using buttons on the steering wheel. This made keeping track of gas mileage and miles driven really easy (as well as controlling the radio) The problem though is that I never could get a real good bead on exactly how good of gas mileage we were getting despite these tools at my disposal.
Like most new car models the car will tell you how many miles you can drive depending on the amount of gas in the tank. The issue with the Malibu was that when it was topped off and the tank was full it gave different readings. One time it said 240 miles then 270, then 310 and another time it said 325. When I picked it up with a full tank it said 285 miles. So, I was never complexly sure how many miles I could drive on a full tank. A full tank is a full tank so didn’t get why there was a difference. The only thing I can think of is that the computer basis it on the MPG average that the car is getting. I did notice the better gas mileage we were getting the slower the miles we were able to drive on a tank of gas went down.
Gas mileage can differ depending on driving conditions of course but we averaged about 30 MPG for the whole trip but my best was 43 mpg which exceed the cars advertised specifications. Overall the gas mileage was better than my regular car but not as great as I thought it would be or what I was expecting. ***I will add that driving through the horrible state of Ohio killed my gas mileage and West Virgina didn’t help either***
The really interesting thing is how fast the gas down when full. The day I returned the car I topped it off and it said 335 miles was my driving distance (again another seemingly random number). By the time I dropped it off at the airport (about 13 miles away and 10 of it was highway) it had dropped to 291 miles AND the gas gauge dropped an 1/8th of a tank from being overfull. This quick drop of a 1/8th of a tank was something that bugged me throughout the trip. I couldn’t figure out why it was burning gas so quick with very little actual driving especially in the top 1/4 of a tank. In this last instance, I didn’t even use a half a gallon of gas according to the companies MPG specifications. Curious.
In the end, my wife liked driving this car, my son liked being in this car and I liked driving this car. I would seriously consider renting another one and maybe even buy one if the possibility arose. Despite not having WIFI I think I would rather drive this on a long trip than the other car models I considered but until I actually road trip with one of those it’s hard to say. I’m still curious about the Rav 4/5. Feeling safe in a car is important. Feeling like your family is safe in a car is even more important and as a husband and father, I felt very safe in this one. I am not a traditional “car guy” and nobody paid me to write this and I am sure there are all kinds of technical car terms I should have used, so, sorry about that.
If you are thinking of taking a long road trip and renting a car I would highly suggest the Malibu. Even for a family of four, there is more than enough room and features that will keep everyone happy.
Just get the WIFI figured out.
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