Both the Accord and Malibu follow the contemporary midsize template: front-wheel drive, a five-seat cabin and reasonably efficient use of its midsize footprint. Each provides comfortable room for four along with adequate room for five, and a generous cargo area in combination with reasonable performance and efficiency. And while the Accord and Malibu have starting points in the low $20,000-range, they'll often transact some $10,000 higher. We've selected trim levels – Accord EX-L V6 and Malibu Premier – with price points at or near $30,000.
CHEVROLET MALIBU PREMIER: While not the new kid on the block (the Malibu nameplate was first introduced in the 1964 model year), today's Malibu is less established than Honda's Accord. That's due to the Accord's ongoing popularity in the midsize category, and in part due to GM's historical apathy toward that category. The revitalized GM, however, is again focusing on cars, led by the redesigned Malibu (new in '16) and compact Cruze.
We don't think you'll confuse the Malibu with anyone else's design, although in Chevy's television advertising it's been confused with everything this side of a Bentley. From a subjective viewpoint, this is a seductive arrangement of sheetmetal, one that's more organic than origami, a design that belies its accessible price point.
Under the Malibu's hood you'll find your choice of a 1.5-liter turbocharged four connected to a six-speed automatic, or an upmarket (standard in Premier) 2.0 liter turbocharged four driving a new nine-speed automatic. The turbocharged 2.0-liter four produces 250 horsepower and a respectable 260 pound-feet of torque. And while its EPA estimate almost overlays Honda's V6, the Malibu achieves both city and combined figures that are one mile per gallon better than the Accord.
In its Premier trim, the Malibu is almost lavishly appointed. Seats are leather covered and heated (like the Accord), but are also ventilated. The Malibu's interior volume is almost Impala-like at 103 cubic feet, while the trunk measures almost 16 cubic feet.
Autoblog's David Gluckman observed at the launch of the 2016 version that "all models of the new Malibu are extremely quiet, with continued use of dual-pane glass to keep things hushed and relaxed. That attitude extends to the handling – it's neither a barge nor a sports car, instead hitting an everyman sweet spot that should appeal to most buyers, which is to say not enthusiasts. The steering is electric, with the usual weight devoid of feedback, but it's well tuned to go along with the unaggressive character of the rest of the car. It's pleasant. You feel the [Malibu's] weight reduction, or the engineers did a better job tuning the suspension, or possibly both, because the car soaks up bumps without floating and carries itself with a feeling of solidity that's been absent on recent GM midsizers."
HONDA ACCORD EX-L V6: For some 35 years enthusiast publication Car and Driver has compiled a 10 Best listing. And for 31 of those 35 years Honda's Accord has appeared on it. That, in a nutshell, is the Accord's appeal, for its combination of virtues can embody as much 'appliance' as the commuter might wish for, as well as the sport sedan an enthusiast would hope for. It offers, in short, something for everyone.
Opting for Honda's Accord EX provides you with the company's Smart Entry, push-button start, a power moonroof, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. Adding the 'L' supplies leather seating, heated front seats, and a memory driver's seat. Finally, opt for the V6 and you enjoy an 89-horsepower bump over the Accord's standard 2.4-liter four, increasing horsepower from 189 to 278. The V6 is equipped with a conventional six-speed automatic, while the four is equipped with a CVT.
Coincidentally, the Accord and Malibu are both in their 9th generation, although since its redesign in 2013 the Accord has been refreshed once (for the 2016 model year), and a full redesign is rumored in 2018. But there is nothing dated about the current platform, with adequate room and what feels to be a right-sized footprint.
Gluckman also reported on the Accord's 2016 refresh, noting that "Honda improved body rigidity on most sedans with bulkhead and floor bracing as well as a thicker shock-tower brace. These changes are so subtle we were unable to notice them specifically on our brief drive, but we can report that the Accord continues to feel solid as ever. The suspensions have also been reworked, in part to deal with the extra unsprung weight from the [larger] wheels as well as to improve overall ride and handling."
With roughly the same efficiency from the Accord's V6 and the Malibu's turbocharged four, a footprint that's slightly more nimble in the Honda and more expansive in the Malibu, and window stickers that overlap, it's left to what you like and (of course) what deal you like. With a higher anticipated residual, Honda should supply the better lease rate, but GM has the resources to counter a lower lease offer with higher incentives; you pay your money and take your choice. Despite the Accord continuing to offer a very competitive bang for your buck, the Malibu hasn't been this compelling in years.