When I got my driver's license, the first thing I wanted to do was slide behind the wheel, crank up the tunes and mash the gas pedal.
Woe to today's teenagers whose parents purchase a 2016 Chevrolet Malibu. With the new Teen Driver feature, those little bundles of hormones won't be having any fun at all, as the car monitors its trips and the driving behavior of the person behind the wheel.
The new Malibu sheds its rent-a-car look in favor of a sleeker design. Gone are the quad taillamps, replaced with a single unit reminiscent of those on the Hyundai Sonata. The wheelbase has been stretched four inches, allowing for an expanded greenhouse, trimmed in chrome, naturally. The longer windows and gently curving style lines all serve to emphasize the overall length.
In addition to a whole new look, the Malibu also gets a slew of new safety features, for a price. The camera based Driver Confidence package adds $1,195 to your total price. It includes front pedestrian braking, which gives an audible and visual warning when it detects a person (though not an animal) up to 131 feet ahead, and automatically stops the car if the driver doesn't brake. Similarly, forward collision alert provides a visual and audible warning if it detects objects, such as another car, up to 197 feet ahead. Also on tap are blind-spot monitoring, lane keeping assist and lane change warning, and a following distance indicator.
For an additional $1,295 you can add the radar-based Driver Confidence 2 package. Its adaptive cruise control will not bring the Malibu to a full stop, but it does monitor vehicles up to 360 feet ahead. This package also adds automated parallel and pull-in parking, where the car handles the steering during these maneuvers.
But it's the Teen Driver system that will really be a draw for parents. A responsible adult, likely the car's owner, engages the app through the Malibu's MyLink infotainment system and programs the key fob to turn the report card on. When the teen driver (or whoever the driver in need of monitoring is) gets behind the wheel, the Malibu won't turn on the stereo on until all passengers are buckled in. An alert sounds when the driver exceeds a predetermined speed and the maximum stereo volume is decreased.
There are plenty of other similar systems, like the Ford MyKey, but Teen Driver includes a few extra buzz kills. The car tracks distance traveled, maximum speed, and the number of times the traction control and collision warnings engaged. This information is then viewable later within the MyLink system by the responsible party.
Had Teen Driver been activated while I was driving on a highway outside Palo Alto, California, I surely would have been issued a failing grade. I used adaptive cruise control to keep pace with the car in front, while simultaneously using lane-keeping assist, which applies a gentle tug at the steering wheel when it senses the Malibu drifting over a lane line. My experiment resulted in the Chevy Malibu ping-ponging down the freeway. Good for a laugh but probably not good for stress levels of nearby drivers.
The drive continued up the Santa Cruz mountains and into Half Moon Bay. Clouds were gathering along the summit, and I had a mere 3 miles of twisty roads to put the available 2-liter turbo four-cylinder engine through its paces before the pavement turned wet.
Chevrolet shaved 300 pounds from the newly designed Malibu, resulting in a ride that is easier to toss through the turns. A four-door midsize sedan is far from a sports car, of course, but the 250 horsepower responds when called upon. An eight-speed automatic transmission delivers power to the front wheels smoothly and quietly, but it is slow to downshift under more aggressive driving.
The standard engine, a smaller turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder, produces 160 horsepower. By the time I was able to sample this variant, the rain was in full effect and pushing it over a winding road would have been asking for trouble. Still, in highway driving and city traffic the smaller engine performed surprisingly well. The six-speed automatic, standard with this engine, also downshifts a bit slow, but that's only noticeable under extreme driving conditions.
Gas mileage may be the deciding factor, as the smaller engine gets a combined EPA fuel rating of 31 mpg, besting the 2-liter by 5 miles.
Previous generations of the Malibu got poor marks for rear passenger comfort, but the 2016 Malibu has 1.3-inches more legroom in the back. It's enough for me, at 5'9", to fit comfortably in the back seat, with plenty of headroom and space to cross my legs.
Tech inside the cabin features a standard 7-inch color touchscreen, but navigation is only available on the optional 8-inch screen. OnStar 4G LTE can be used as a hotspot and wireless charging is available. You can upgrade the rear with USB ports and heated and cooled seats.
Apple CarPlay comes standard, with Android Auto available as an update in March of next year.
The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu is in dealers now. The 1.5-liter starts at $22,500, while the more powerful 2.0-liter starts at $29,495. The Malibu is not available in the UK, but those prices translate to £14,847 and £19,463 respectively. Currently the 2015 Malibu is offered in Australia through a partnership with Holden, but no word if the 2016 model will land down under. Prices translate to AU$30,992 and AU$40,628.