You have got to be extra special to stand out in a segment that is overflowing with models such as the Camry, Accord and Altima, as buyers blindly flock to them. They may not have exactly garnered a reputation for being thrilling to drive but they serve a very specific purpose, and that is to get you from A to B with minimal fuss. They do this a little too well; there is a possibility that you may not remember the journey at all because when it comes to performance and driving dynamics, they are certainly not the go-to models. You’d never go anywhere near the upper reaches of the tachometer because, well, why would you? The four-pots are not intended for spirited driving and some would argue this renders them a tad forgettable.
But the Malibu, which sits in the same class, bucked that trend a while ago and is easily one of the more memorable cars in the mid-size segment – and that’s because Chevrolet had the wild idea of bolting on a turbo to the four-banger back in 2013. It made a world of difference to its character, and having spent the weekend in the 2017 model with an all-new 2.0-litre turbo, I came away rather impressed. It boasts more attractive aesthetics than its rivals and it has a well-appointed cabin, which is also ever-so roomy, but there’s another pertinent reason why this saloon would be my pick of the bunch, and it’s because of its zest for life. At the wheel of the others, there may be a tendency to just switch off until you reach your destination as there’s not much to keep you genuinely interested in what’s going on, but the blown Malibu – the first Chevy in our region to offer a turbo engine option – proves to be far more engaging.
The striking saloon features a bold front, a smooth profile with a rising beltline, and rides on attractive 10-spoke 18in alloys (it looks similar to the full-size Impala) but it is the dual trapezoidal exhaust chrome tips that help identify it as the peppier variant – the ‘Turbo 2.0’ badge was deleted from our tester (it was also decked out with a boot lip spoiler and had an upgraded front grille with an integrated licence plate holder) and aside from the exhaust and a slightly revised rear bumper, the Malibu Turbo is identical to the naturally aspirated variants. The usual gold-coloured Bowties have been blacked out but with 250bhp and 350Nm of torque at your disposal, you could say this one is a bit of a sleeper.
It sure caught me by surprise when I pressed it into action. The very first time I floored the throttle I was scratching my head; the response was instantaneous – no lag whatsoever. Was the twin-scroll turbo missing? I had to pop the bonnet to make sure, because it’s such a good unit and doesn’t require a second or two once it’s pushed extra air into the cylinders to deliver a hefty punch when you call on all of those horses. It is mated to a six-speed automatic (which sends the grunt to the front) and it goes through the cogs at a quick and smooth pace. Floor the throttle from a dead stop with traction control switched off and the front tyres plead for life. It’s not quite a smoky burnout; the Malibu takes off in such determined fashion that I would imagine Chevrolet will easily overcome any remaining traces of blandness that are associated with the nameplate thanks to this latest effort.
The interior is just as pleasing as the exterior – the driver-oriented cockpit features intuitive controls that are in easy reach, and the leather seats aren’t just comfortable, they also hold you in place when you drive enthusiastically. There’s an 8.0in infotainment touchscreen, satnav, and lots of safety kit including front pedestrian alert, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, side blind zone alert with lane change alert and a forward collision alert with following distance indicator. They all work just fine but my only gripe with the Malibu is with the rear-view camera; it doesn’t offer the sharpest of images. Other than that, there’s really not much else to complain about here.
It debuted in the Sixties, was ditched in the Eighties, returned in the Nineties (but wasn’t taken seriously; see the fifth and sixth gens for details…) and now its appeal has grown again. Given the choice I would opt for the 1964 sub series of the mid-sized Chevelle, but for those of you who are not still living in the past and who want a handsome saloon that can accommodate a large family, handle the school and grocery runs and also be fun to drive, you need to give this ninth-generation Malibu Turbo a serious look.