2019 Chevrolet Malibu RS First Drive Review

Considering that nearly every story we write these days starts with something like, “As crossovers continue to crush sedans in sales …,” it’d be obtuse to ignore the very real headwinds that face the 2019 Chevy Malibu. Crossovers march steadily on to sales records, and the still-sizable cadre of sedan buyers has eroded. But those remaining have a strong selection of interesting, well-designed, and efficient sedans to choose from – the fittest of the breed are hanging on.

Around back, dual exhaust tips poke out from a revised lower fascia, replacing the tucked tips hidden behind the old Malibu’s bumper skin. They’re rounded, oblong quadrangles, loosely resembling the taillights, which themselves are unchanged. A spoiler juts above the trunklid. The five-spoke wheels split at their tips. Is this what counts as sporty in the midsize segment?

The CVT itself has no glaring vices, but also isn’t nearly as sophisticated or slick as the latest units from Nissan and Subaru. What is shocking is that the RS isn’t available with the 2.0T and nine-speed automatic — a more natural fit for a “sporty” trim. It’s not even an option. Just like the word “coupe” has been twisted to encompass a broad variety of vehicle types, in the sedan world, “sporty” is not what it seems. From a dynamic standpoint, “sporty” is an antonym for “Malibu RS”.

The Malibu RS doesn’t offer enough, with enough pizazz, to offer a serious challenge to similarly-priced and -positioned competitors. Some real talk here: If Chevy wants to keep selling Malibus a few years on, it’s going to need more than a revised grille and some exhaust tips — or a shady plot in the graveyard of runner-up sedans, next to the Fusion, awaits.