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Auto review: Go used, go Chevy Malibu

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

NAPLES, Florida — My Chevy Malibu is roomy, techy and easy on the eyes. And, most importantly, it’s a used bargain at under 20 grand.

Let’s go used car reviewing.

I’m a big fan of affordable cars whether new or used, but it’s a tough hoe for consumers these days in a market buffeted by a perfect storm of electric vehicle mandates, low post-pandemic inventories, and high manufacturing costs. The average price paid for a new vehicle has ballooned from $37,577 in 2019 to $47,338 now. Worse, the number of new cars under $20,000 has shrunk as manufacturers buffeted by rising regulation, labor costs and electronic tech find it hard to make margin on entry-level cars — driving customers into the used market, where inventories have been hammered by the lack of production during the pandemic.

“We need more used cars,” Roger Penske lamented to me in a recent interview as he listed the challenges to his dealer network.

The average price of a used vehicle — $27,297 as of last month — is up even more than new cars (33% vs. 26%) from $20,398 in 2019. Ouch. Meanwhile, affordable new cars like the Honda Fit, Chevy Sonic and Ford Focus have left the market. Manufacturers are flooding the zone instead with EVs to both meet onerous government sales mandates and to test consumer taste for battery-power. Most of the new cars I test these days are pricey electrics like the $50K Chevy Blazer EV. To make up for big losses on EVs (Ford lost $4.7 billion in its EV division last year), brands are making higher-trim models to capture profit.

Meanwhile, customers want gas-powered Swiss Army knives — affordable vehicles that can do it all from road trips to urban parking to loading in a family of four.


As I travel the country, I’ll try to report on good finds from time to time. The Chevy Malibu is one.

Sneak up behind my Malibu 1LT tester in a parking lot and you might mistake its sleek lines for a luxury chariot. Coupe-like roof, scalloped side panels, fashionably-spoked wheels. Walk ‘round to the front and the mood is ruined by a dog’s breakfast of twin grilles and competing surfaces. Give me a simple, European grille any day.

I have a friend who’s a big Lexus fan but recoils at their Darth Vader grilles. So she just parks the car head-first into her garage or downtown parking spot so she never has to look at it. Happily, when you’re behind the wheel of the Malibu, you never have to look it in the face.

Instead, you get a handsome, ergonomically-superior interior. Easy-to-read tablet screen, well-organized, bezeled climate controls, fat knobs for controlling climate and sound, intuitive automotive shifter. Alas, the steering wheel of my 2023 tester didn’t have Chevy’s newer roller button for volume and cruise control — but I could still find the raised control buttons with my fingers so I never had to take my eyes off the road.


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