Chevrolet has manufactured the mid-size Malibu two- and four-door sedans since 1964, with a gap in production from 1983 to 1997. The Malibu began as a trim-level of the Chevy Chevelle, becoming its own model line in 1978. It morphed from rear- to front-wheel drive during the gap in production. I recently tested a 2019 Malibu RS (a new model for this year), with an extra-cost, Cajun-red, metallic paint job.
My wife and I drove the 2019 RS tester extensively around Northern Colorado for several days, and the ride was firm and somewhat sporty, and the guidance, handling and visibility were all acceptable. Acceleration with the turbocharged, four-cylinder engine is pedestrian, reportedly zero to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds. Specifications of the RS engine are: 1.5-liter displacement, 163 horsepower (@ 5,700 rpm), and 184 lb.-ft. of torque (@ 2,500/3,000 rpm). It is mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with manual-mode shifting capability. The wheelbase is 111.4 inches and the length is 193.8 inches, and the car weighs in at 3,126 lbs.
The CVT is a new component in the Malibu lineup, standard in the LS, RS and LT models but not in the top-line Premier. I happen to like the design – it does enhance fuel economy – but lots of motorists detest the droning of the engine pulling what is basically a belt-drive transmission into action. (For reference, Subaru puts the CVT in the entire lineup of automatics that it sells.)
The exterior design of the 2019 Malibu RS is visually distinctive and seemingly tailored, hinting at an advanced body structure that is stiffer, stronger and approximately 200 pounds lighter than the eighth-generation units phased out in 2016. The RS is affixed with dual chrome exhausts, a trunk spoiler, RS badging and very attractive 18-inch, 10-spoke aluminum wheels fitted with Continental ProContact 245/45R18 all-season radials. RS stands for Rally Sport, a denomination rolled out on the Chevy Camaro in the late 1960s, and, as the acerbic Lloyd Bentsen might have said, “I knew the Camaro RS, and the Malibu RS is no Camaro.”
EPA fuel economy ratings of the RS are 36 mpg on the highway, 29 mpg in the city and 32 mpg combined, and the tank holds 15.8 gallons. My observance while driving the RS was 34.9 mpg. The interior of the Malibu had black cloth seating, not-very-supportive bucket seats, an 8-inch infotainment screen, a push-button/remote starter and a bit too much hard plastic in the trim.
Total M.S.R.P. for the RS came to $26,085.00, and that included a base of $24,120.00, freight of $875.00, the aforementioned paint and a few minor options. The car is a delight to look at from the outside, not very expensive, easy on the gas budget and has a mammoth 15.8-cubic foot trunk. If Chevrolet would put the bigger 2-liter engine in the car, along with a 9-speed transmission, some of these points would go away, but they nonetheless would have a heck of a package in this Malibu RS.
Stu Wright is an automotive writer and photographer, a 35-year resident of Greeley and a member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press.