2016 Chevrolet Malibu vs Nissan Altima

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The Chevrolet Malibu is all-new for 2016, while over at Nissan, a massive mid-cycle refresh arrived for the Altima. They’re both decent family sedans, offering a comfortable, familiar ride, although one manages to inch ahead and emerge as the better pick. Let me tell you why.

First, what’s new with these cars? For 2016, the Altima has received what Nissan says is one of its biggest mid-cycle refreshes ever, bringing fresh looks, new technology, and tuned driving dynamics that sharpen the handling.

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Chevy, on the other hand, completely reengineered the Malibu, giving it an all new face, a reshaped interior, more engine options, and a lighter curb weight, with about 300 pounds shaved off of most the Malibu’s trim levels. As for those engine options, a new 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine has been introduced as the base option, while a new Malibu hybrid is also available.

Chevy is looking to take its Malibu from a has-been to a star, while Nissan is working proactively to keep its share of the midsize sedan pie. So which makeover works better? Let’s start by looking at how these cars drive.

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The Drive

The drive here is totally predictable for both cars. Steering in the Malibu has a little bit more weight and feedback to it, while the Chevy also manages to feel lighter through corners. That’s not to say the Altima is bad, because really, the difference between the way these cars drive is so minute.

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Even when it comes to comfort, it is once again very hard to pick a better car. Both the Altima and Malibu offer a smooth ride, even over rough pavement. When it comes to isolation from the outside, the Chevrolet seems to have a slight edge, with a little more tire roar coming from the Nissan.

What’s important for most drivers who will get behind the wheel of these cars is that both are simple to drive. Sight lines are unobstructed, the seating positions are nicely set and the agreeable driving dynamics set the driver up for a comfortable drive.

A lot goes into making cars drive this well, but most of that work goes unnoticed. That’s because the point of a great midsize sedan is to have it perform well in all conditions while providing a perfectly safe (read: forgettable) drive.

Both of these cars pull it off with ease.

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Opposites Face Off

Powertrain differences are certainly apparent, though, with both Chevy and Nissan taking two different approaches. In our test Altima, a 2.5-liter four cylinder hooked up to a CVT provides 182 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Those seeking more power can bump up a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 270 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque, though the four banger provides more than enough power for a vehicle in this class.

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Nissan has to be given credit for making a pretty good CVT. Off the line, power is immediate, while high in the rev range, the transmission drops rpms and doesn’t drone on waiting for the car to catch up.

The Malibu actually has about 20 less horsepower than the Nissan, but you would probably never know. Powering the Chevy is a turbocharged 1.5-liter four cylinder that’s new for 2016 that easily feels as powerful as the Altima’s engine, thanks in part to its 184 lb-ft of torque that comes on at 2,000 to 4,000 rpm. Best of all, power feels quite linear and turbo lag isn’t apparent.

Fuel economy is pretty evenly matched, with the Altima beating the Malibu by 2 mpg on the highway, likely thanks to its CVT. Both cars are rated to return 27 mpg in the city, which is a little closer to the truth. We found that over the same 62-mile commute into and out of a major city, both cars managed to return between 26 and 27 mpg.

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Moving Inside

When it comes to style, the edge goes to the Malibu, at least in my eyes. Inside, this car is a nice place to be, with a more expressive style than the Altima. Features like the material on the dash, which can be leather in higher-trimmed cars, feels good to touch and ties the whole interior together nicely. The front seats in the Chevy feel comfortable and slightly more contoured than the Nissan’s flat front seats.

That’s not to say that the Altima’s seats aren’t comfortable, though, providing a nice cushy feel. Functionally, the Nissan works fine as well, the issue here is simple: it’s boring.

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The Altima offers a plain interior with less style and flair compared to the American car, though, admittedly, that’s what some are looking for.

This is the family sedan segment, so the backseat and trunk are big selling features. The Malibu offers exactly two inches of extra legroom than the Nissan with 38.1 inches, plenty to seat an adult. While the extra legroom was appreciated and noticeable in the Malibu, the Chevy also has slightly more contoured back seats, which can be a little more uncomfortable for larger people.

When it comes to the trunks, the Malibu takes the edge by less than half of one cubic foot, measuring in at 15.8 cubic feet. In practice, the difference is negligible and each offers plenty of cargo space.

Tech

New technology arrived for both cars this year, but the Altima’s suite of driver assistance features is definitely the more impressive setup. Our Altima came outfitted with all the latest driver’s aids, including adaptive cruise control and something Nissan calls Predictive Forward Collision Warning. This system allows the car to look two cars ahead to predict what is going to happen in traffic. This fancy radar technology also helps the adaptive cruise system, which is one of the smoothest systems available. It reacts quickly, but not abruptly like some can.

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On the Altima 2.5SL, all that technology is part of a $2,190 package. On the Malibu 1LT that we tested, all of its safety tech costs $1,195, but it’s also not as good.

Our tester didn’t come equipped with the driver confidence package fitted, which brings along auto high beams, blind-spot monitoring, land keep assist, forward collision warning and more. But no adaptive cruise, and certainly no systems that look two cars ahead.

To be clear, adaptive cruise control is available on the Malibu as well, but only on the top Premier trim. Altima buyers are granted access to the technology lower down in the lineup.

Compare Specs

2016 Chevy Malibu
vs
2016 Nissan Altima
Vehicle 2016 Chevy Malibu Advantage 2016 Nissan Altima
Engine 1.5L turbo 4-cyl - 2.5L 4-cyl

Horsepower  163 HP Altima 182 HP

Torque  184 lb-ft Malibu 180 lb-ft
Transmission 6-Speed Automatic -  CVT
Weight  3,126 lb Malibu 3,254 lb
Rear Legroom38.1 inchesMalibu36.1 inches

Trunk Room 15.8 cu-ft Malibu 15.4 cu-ft

Fuel Economy (MPG)  27 city, 36 hwy Altima 27 city, 39 hwy

Fuel Economy (L/100 km) 8.7 city, 6.3 hwyAltima8.7 city, 6.0 hwy

US Price (As Tested) $27,415Malibu $32,165
CAN Price (As Tested) $26,170Malibu$34,179

So how about interior technology? Well, infotainment in both of these cars is upgraded and both offer competent operation, though things are easier with Chevrolet’s MyLink. Four nice-feeling rubber-wrapped buttons on the steering wheel can control all of its major functions, while the touchscreen itself has fewer buttons than the Nissan and is quicker and more intuitive.

Pricing

At the very base level, you’ll be paying a little more for the Altima, which is the same story once you load them up. A basic Malibu costs $22,555, while a base level Nissan Altima leaves the dealership for $23,335. At the top end, the Malibu Premier sells for $32,725, while the Altima 3.5 SL sells for $33,525. This story of the Altima edging out the Malibu in price is a constant throughout the lineup. All these prices include destinations costs.

In Canada, the story is much the same, with the base Malibu selling for $21,745 not including delivery while the Altima starts at $23,998, also not including destination charges. Spring for the top-trim Altima 3.5 SL and you’re looking at spending $35,498, while the Malibu Premier will leave the dealership for $32,045.

North of the border the Malibu offers even more value, but in each case, the Chevrolet proves itself to be the cheaper car.

The Verdict: 2016 Chevrolet Malibu vs Nissan Altima

What we have here is almost a tie. Two nice handling, well-equipped family cars that offer a solid amount of features for about $30,000. But in the end, it comes down to the car that offers a little more space for the family, a little more value and a bit more style: the Chevrolet Malibu.

  • Phil Greene

    detroit garbage. I would never consider an American car. Especially a chevy.

  • JupiterDog

    Oh please, spare us the BS

  • Frank Yoster

    Dumb…

  • Sam

    Malibu has been ranked most dependable mid-size car last two years in a row. Chevy today is not Chevy of 10-20+ years ago.

  • Jeffery Surratt

    My last 2 GM cars went over 200,000 miles with just starter, alternator and water pump replacements. Garbage ???, I think not.

  • bruce w. baker

    Hey Phil, Nissan has no balls or they would be running Altima’s in Nascars Cup series like Toyota, Ford, & Chevy! Where’s Nissan at the Indy 500 ( in the parking lot ) ? I rented a 2016 Malibu last March with 6,000 miles on it an i fell in love with that awesome interior ( star ship ) lighting from dashboard through the door panel/cards! GM kicks ass with it’s great ASB brake systems ! There would be one less kid riding a skateboard if that Malibu didn’t stop on a manhole cover for real ! Only sale outs buy rice burners , buy only USA stuff if you want to stay Americans in America!

  • I wish to remain anonymous

    “though things are easier with Chevrolet’s Uconnect.”

    Interesting, when did Chevy start using FCA’s UConnect instead of MyLink?

  • Circa79

    but you will buy a “Japanese” sedan that was designed and built in America? OK. So at the end of the day you are saying the Americans hired by Honda, Nissan, Toyota, etc. are smart but those employed by the “American” brands are incompetent.

  • Phil Greene

    I went to a new car showing and there was a cutaway of the bran new cadillac engine. I saw two valves per cylinder and pushrods and rocker arms and a single cam buried in the block. How advanced, ala 1930’s, it all was. Need I go further.
    Detroit junk!

  • Circa79

    you really aren’t too sharp. Only cadillac car that has an OHV engine is the CTS-V which has a 640hp LT4 engine shared with the Z06. This engine is all aluminum, has direct injection and cylinder deactivation. It has nothing to do with any engine from the 1930s. Only someone who knows nothing about modern engines would make such a statement. The GM small block V8s go toe to toe with the best V8s from any manufacturer in the world.

  • Phil Greene

    My Japanese engine (94 cubic inches) developes 215 horsepower or over two hp per cubic inch. Match that.

  • Circa79

    nobody talks about cubic inches any more. Give me liters. And hp per liter is a nearly useless metric. The engine you were talking about develops about 110hp per liter in the Cadillac. Numbers once thought impossible in a 2 valve design, even with forced induction.

  • Phil Greene

    Only two valves per cylinder, what is it, a Model A? Every modern engine has four valves per cylinder, but not GM Junk.

  • Circa79

    Actually the Chrysler hemi v8 is 2 valve per cylinder.

  • Phil Greene

    More garbage from Detroit.

  • Jenia Doljnenko

    Nissan is a bad cars,Chevy is a Korean fucking soap!

  • VM

    Yeah, sorry to burst your bubble there buddy, but Altima is actually not only assembled in the Good Ole’ US of A, but does so with almost 3/4 American made content.
    Unfortunately over the last 2 decades more “rice burners” are actually made in the US, than what “used to be” American cars.
    Pretty sad.

  • bruce w. baker

    I know that ! But where does all the profit go? Don’t lie now!

  • bruce w. baker

    Move to Japan trader!

  • bruce w. baker

    Think about it ! There are Japanese cars infesting the whole planet now! How do you know exactly whats inside your Nissan, Toyota, Honda, etc. dashboard ? I believe Japan still wants to rule the world, & my good friend from Okinawa keeps scaring me with all her stories on how evil the Japanese still are! Crash, crash, crash, kaboom! P.S. That gas pedal, & airbag problem is just the tip of the iceberg !

  • James W

    I lease cars. I like Chevrolet. I like that when the dashboard says it’s time to change the oil I bring it to the dealer and maintenance is covered. I just put fuel in and wash it as needed. After 2 or 3 years I get the latest model and someone else can pay for the repairs that come up when any car ages. Chevrolet and GM has come a long way and I prefer to support an American company.

  • bruce w. baker

    You don’t know much about engines if you think the 426 Hemi, & 350 Chevy engines are junk! Toyota had to get help from Chevy/Nascar to build their v-8 race engines ! Where do you think the Mazda rotary engine design came from (Germany/USA) ? It would not surprise me if the tractor engine in the Datsun Z cars came from out side Japan! The first Japanese car i ever saw with a V-8 engine in it was a 240Z with a 350 Chevy engine stuffed in/on it by a friend back in 1975 without a hood !

  • Rudy™

    Yeah, good luck with that crap-can chevy a few years down the road when it falls to pieces and Gub’mint Motors won’t stand behind it. Learned my lesson the hard way with Big 3 union-built products. They are no longer allowed in our driveway.

  • 270000km on my Altima and still so smooth on highway. Great engine superb interrior not a single electrical issue, everything works great

  • Hahaha, I think YES

  • QX1

    In Europe begginning from early 90′ no cars that had 2V per cylinder and pushrod engine were produced. OHV and DOCH engines can tolerate highet speed for longer time of period cause in Germany autobahn had no speed limit. I am pretty sure that DOCH engine is more economical than pushrod engine. I am surprise USA still produces them and has them for sale.

  • QX1

    European V6 engines are twice as good as american V8. And Hemi is not the only car where you find small block V8. 240z is not actual pure bred sportcar as Ferrari, even if you put there V8. You can put V8 to WV Golf 1 also, that my friend did but this is not making it zr1. There is needed much more than a engine only.