Table of Contents
What makes a Chevrolet Malibu the best year?
We consider a few factors in deciding which Chevrolet Malibus could be considered the best year to buy. Do you have factors to consider too, beyond these? We suggest looking them up too.
Getting a car repaired can fill people with anxiety, as fixes are quite often unexpected and can result in serious inconveniences when you can't get to work or school because your car is broken. A more reliable car is simply less expensive to drive, and offers you the peace of mind you want.
Innovation & Value
While Chevrolet isn't an especially high end brand, they can offer new features that make their vehicles very competitive for that year. We consider features that are potentially available on a year of vehicle that might make your dollar go further.
The Malibu has been around for quite a long time – and is one of Chevrolet's longest lasting nameplates. However, you'll have a much easier time finding a more recent model, like 2005 or newer, than you will a 1975. While we would love to praise the simple mechanics and stylish looks of Malibus before gas consumption restrictions were put in place, you are probably seeking a regular used car.
The Best Years of Chevrolet Malibu
2015 Chevrolet Malibu
Thankfully, a recent Malibu which should be reasonably priced by now takes the top spot for the best year of Chevrolet Malibu. Chevrolet managed to make a overall winner in 2015 with the end of the 8th generation.
JD Power's ratings of the 2015 Malibu indicate that it is very reliable as the car earns a steller 92 out of 100, which is very high for a sedan. In case you didn't know, JD Power measures the reliability of a vehicle in the first couple of years, and includes nearly everything mechanical and electrical on the basis that all of those elements contribute to the expense and experience of a vehicle – the engine and brakes aren't the only parts.
The Malibu also earned high marks for having an easy to use infotainment system with Chevrolet's MyLink. Drivers also praised the reasonably quick turbocharged engine and 6-cylinder option. The complaints? Not much back seat legroom, but this is indeed a mid-sized car, and the lack of legroom results in a larger trunk.
Does anyone complain about the 2015 Malibu? Yes, of course they do, but according to CarComplaints, these owners get by easy. While some issues were registered with the engine, none were major – and there really aren't that many. One of the larger issues relates to the gas saving Auto Stop features which GM is all but required to implement for fuel consumption purposes.
Overall, with a low volume of complaints and at this point, reasonable used car pricing, the 2015 Chevrolet Malibu is a great choice.
2012 Chevrolet Malibu
The end of the 7th generation of Chevrolet Malibu offers one of the best midsize sedans. 2012 doesn't quite beat the 2015 Malibu, but it gets real close. With a “great” reliability rating from JD Power at 89, the Malibu proved in the first few years that Chevrolet gave it a good powertrain. The 2012 does have some more complaints via CarComplaints, but it has also been around longer – ten years at this point, and that does eventually expose more problems. There are still relatively few complaints with no NHTSA engine recalls – and the only recalls coming from intermittment brake light issues and small seat belt problems.Having a small number of problems across a variety of vehicle components indicates drivers didn't find anything major wrong with the vehicle, which is exactly what used car buyers want to hear.
The interior and ride are also factors that lead to the 2012 Chevrolet Malibu being considered one of the best Malibus available. The interior is nice, with high quality materials and an overall attractive look that is out of its low price range. The radio itself has big buttons and is easy to use. You can get sunroof, remote start, leather, and upgraded BOSE speakers if you want – not bad for a budget sedan.
One small warning here: The 2012 Malibu will probably have a substantial number of miles if bought used currently. Take a close look at the vehicle history to see what has been replaced or done recently. Vehicles that are over 10 years old can start to have problems, though their low starting price tag can help too.
2011 Chevrolet Malibu
The 2011 almost equals the 2012 in overall “best of” qualities. JD Power related the quality and reliability well at 86. Over time, engine problems popped up on CarComplaints, but for the year and number of reads on the road, some eventual issues are expected. In the case of the 2011 Malibu, service traction tends to tend on, and without being replaced, the timing chain could break. Being realistic here, many vehicles should have mechanical items like the timing chain fixed at a regular interval.
Chevrolet did decent on the interior of this Malibu too, scoring good reviews for a spacious inside. They also achieved good gas mileage at close to 40 mpg highway.
2020 Chevrolet Malibu
We avoid placing newer cars too high on the “best of” list simply because they haven't had a lot of time to prove themselves. While the J.D. Power quality assessment helps, that doesn't tell us much about the vehicle a few years down the road.
The 2020 Malibu compensates for our lack of knowledge about the future by being a nice overall ride. It earns high praised overall for being a great commuter vehicle that also has a reasonable powerful engine and great gas mileage at around 36 miles per gallon highway.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu
The 2014 Malibu marked the middle of the 8th generation. It does about as well as the 2011 and 2012, but isn't quite there – it seems that Chevrolet made their best cars early in this generation, which is a bit uncommon. The 2014 Chevrolet Malibu earned high 85 marks from J.D. Power. The largest issue uncovered by CarComplains involves having premature wear on wheel bearings, which is a problem that isn't especially common amongst sedans. Owners noticed the issue when having stronger than normal vibrations when traveling at high speeds. Thankfully, this is about the largest issue that came out of the 2014.
Special Consideration: Malibu Maxx
The Malibu Maxx wasn't made for many years – it did however, offer something different enough to earn a spot in the best of. The Malibu Maxx was different. Rather than staying with the traditional sedan styling, Chevrolet made the Malibu into a wagon with a Malibu front end. This gave the Malibu Maxx a big advantage in an area the mid-sized sedan segment is normally criticized for – having either worse than average gas mileage, a small backseat, or a small trunk. The Malibu could achieve 30 miles per gallon highway, which isn't quite mid-size sedan worthy – but had a more powerful engine and lots of space.
Should I look at vehicles that are not on this list?
Sure! Our list is quite relative. If you find that a Malibu that is not on this list fits your needs, go for it. Regardless of which vehicle you buy, we also strongly suggest having a mechanic look at it before you buy it. Also, get the vehicle history even if you have to pay for it. This combination of knowledge can reduce your repair costs down the road.
Also, if a dealer won't let you take the vehicle to a mechanic for a few hours, you probably shouldn't shop there.
Which Malibu would you pick as a used vehicle?
The 2015 Malibu is our first choice for a reason: Chevrolet had the opportunity to work some issues out, and its been on the road long enough to build up complaints – but it hasn't received many. At a few years old now, it's flying under the car and should be able to be found at a reasonable price. The 2012 and 2011 Malibu are likely to have a bit less life left after over a decade of driving – though it sounds appealing for people who are looking for a budget vehicle. Our favorites often blend reliability with the best price, without tons of consideration for the most innovative car.
Is CarComplaints a good source?
People who have car issues tend to be vocal about them. While issues reported to the NHTSA and IISH are also worth considering, people have to report them. CarComplains is a more open platform in which people can self report issues with cars that might not get reported to the government because they aren't as widespread.
RepairPal is another good source of info about how to plan for what a vehicle will cost to repair, but it focuses more on model than year. Using their info would be great for comparing the Malibu to a Toyota Corolla, but not as much as for comparing a 2020 Malibu to a 2013.
Were previous generations of the Malibu more reliable?
Cars, engines, and electronics have changed drastically over the last few decades. The “classic” Malibus had a completely different look than new ones, and often used carburetors to mix oxygen and gas. Newer Malibus have a more aerodynamic look to fit fuel efficiency standards and use fuel injection. While modern engines have become more reliable, the electronic components within a vehicle are more likely to have issues – and you are less likely to be able to work on them.
In decades past, one could readily work on their Malibu in their driveway with just a few tools. Technicians now rely more on electronic code readers to tell them how a vehicle is ailing. This isn't a problem for most – just different.
So more reliable and easier to work on? Possible. Are the new Malibus much more advanced in technology and capability. Definitely.
About The Author
I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.Read More About Charles Redding