Chevrolet Keeps a Tepid American Tradition Alive for 2017

The sport package, long associated with entry-level vehicles boasting questionable rear spoilers and not much else, remains a puzzling fixture in the automotive landscape.

For low-end imports — rebadged or otherwise — this package historically meant a swoopy graphic plastered along the bodyside, supposedly meant to alert bystanders to the vehicle’s blistering, paint-peeling speed. For others, it simply meant nicer wheels and a spoiler. Ideally a large one, so those same bystanders could ponder the downforce needed to keep a midsize, front-wheel-drive sedan’s tail planted. Rarely was there an addition of a single extra horsepower, and most lucid people knew this.

Chevrolet is keeping this tradition alive, resurrecting the sport package for its 2017 Malibu. However, while the current generation Malibu bowed to positive press, several changes coming for 2017 contain hidden downsides.

For starters, Chevrolet will ditch the 1LT and 2LT trim lines, replacing both with a simple, midrange LT model. That means the turbocharged 2.0-liter four, which makes 250 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet of torque, can only be had in uplevel Premier trim. That model ditches its eight-speed automatic in favor of a nine-speed unit, promising an extra mile per gallon on the highway (33 mpg) and unchanged city fuel economy.

Unfortunately for owners, the cost of feeding the engine stands to rise. While nothing has changed with the 2.0-liter between 2016 and 2017, General Motors now requires owners to fill up on premium fuel. For the 2016 model year, GM claimed premium fuel was recommended, but not required. This could certainly take away from the satisfaction that comes from achieving slightly higher fuel economy.

While the LT solders on as a single trim line, the availability of a sport package adds some visual appeal. The package, naturally, includes 18-inch wheels and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, as well as a blast from the past. Yes, you’l be able to get a rear spoiler for the svelte, carefully styled Malibu. Listed as a “late availability,” we assume the spoiler will be of the subtle, lip variety, because Limp Bizkit isn’t on the charts and no one in Detroit would think a wing works in this  day and age.

So, if an LT offers too little but a Premier is too pricey, the sport package could partially fill in the gap, though it can’t replace the extra horsepower once found in the 2LT. Now, about that turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder found in the L, LS, and LT. The engine loses three horsepower compared to last year’s model, ringing in at 160 hp. Torque is unchanged at 184 lb-ft, so don’t expect to notice a difference.

While the lower trims lose horsepower, they do gain content. Apple Car Play and Android Auto are now standard on the LS and LT, as is a 7.0-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system.

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