The Ford Fusion and Chevrolet Malibu are two best-selling sedans from two of America’s biggest automakers. These midsize cars offer a generous amount of space and comfort for the family while combining good fuel economy.
Unfortunately, this battle between the biggest American sedans doesn’t look to go on for much longer, with Ford announcing that they’ll soon be discontinuing all passenger cars in the States. But, for now, the battle is still very much on, with Ford’s new 2020 Fusion taking on the Chevy’s popular Malibu.
Ford exits the sedan market with grace. The 2020 Ford Fusion has a generous amount of passenger room and higher trims get a plush interior. But overall we prefer the snazzier Chevy Malibu, which sports a more modern appearance and is also slightly more fun to drive.
The Ford Fusion and Chevy Malibu are closely priced, with the base 2020 Ford Fusion starting at $23,170 and the 2019 Malibu L starting at $22,090.
If we consider the gas-powered models, the Ford Fusion SE trim ($24,500) and Malibu L ($22,090) are the most comparable, both featuring 1.5-liter Turbo 4-cylinder engines and similar extra tech features. The entry-level Ford Fusion S feels somewhat stripped down, and doesn’t offer many of the valuable features found in the Malibu L.
Whereas the Ford Fusion offers three Hybrid models (4 if you count the Plug-in Hybrid Titanium), the Chevrolet Malibut only features one, the Malibu Hybrid. The cheapest Hybrid Fusion, the Hybrid SE, costs $28,000, whereas the Malibu Hybrid starts at $29,095.
Winner: Chevrolet Malibu
The unsightly 2015 Chevrolet Malibu got a complete makeover for 2016, and the 2019 Malibu continues the small design updates that have been going on since. The 2019 model sports a slightly newer, more luxurious look. In their TV commercials, the ‘real people’ even compared its design to a BMW/Tesla hybrid or Lexus, and although that does seem like a bit of a stretch, the 2019 Malibu is unquestionably a good-looking car.
Meanwhile, the 2020 Ford Fusion looks almost identical to Fusions that have been coming out since the 2013 redesign. The Fusion is still a decent-looking car with it’s stylish front grill, but no one will be complimenting your new car Fusion based off its looks.
The two cars are very similar in size, with the Malibu being slightly longer (194.2” vs 191.2”) and narrower (73.0” vs 75.2”) than the Fusion.
Winner: Chevrolet Malibu
As far as interior quality goes, the Ford Fusion is the winner with better quality materials and a less plasticky feel overall.
Chevrolet get quite a bad rep for having poor quality interiors, and the Malibu doesn’t do much to challenge that stigma. Although its more modern design looks good at first glance, the cabin feels cheap when you’re inside.
Winner: Ford Fusion (higher-end trims)
The Malibu features impressive interior features as standard, with a large 8-inch touchscreen that supports Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and bluetooth. There is also a good selection of upgrades, such as a premium Bose sound system and automatic climate control.
The base level Fusion S features Ford’s older SYNC infotainment system which feels outdated by today’s standards. You’ll want to look into the SE trim and above to get the SYNC 3 infotainment system which features an 8-inch touchscreen that is more comparable to the Malibu’s system. Ford also offers a similar list of optional extras.
For passengers, the Fusion is slightly more roomy with 44.3 inches of legroom at the front and 38.3 inches at the back. The Malibu, by comparison, has 41.5 inches of legroom at the front and 38.1 inches at the back.
The interior cargo volume is also very close, with the Fusion offering 16 cubic feet vs the Malibu’s 15.7 cubic feet. It’s worth noting the Fusion’s 60/40 folding back seat and wide trunk opening make it an especially good sedan for loading cargo in the trunk.
Winner: Ford Fusion
The base Fusion S features a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 175 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. Stepping up to the next trim up, the Fusion SE, will change the engine to the 6-speed turbocharged 1.5-liter EcoBoost engine which delivers even more power.
The base Malibu L has a 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine as standard, producing 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque.
Although the Fusion has the more powerful engine, the Malibu has slightly faster acceleration (0-60 in 8.2 seconds) thanks to its lighter weight.
It’s worth mentioning that Ford used to offer the high-performance Fusion V6 Sport up until 2019, which would be the fastest performer across the entire Fusion and Malibu range, but this trim has been axed for 2020.
Winner: Chevy Malibu
The majority of Fusions and Malibus sold are FWD, but Ford offer an AWD upgrade option on certain trims. This can be particularly advantageous when driving in snowy conditions or rougher terrain.
Winner: Ford Fusion
The Ford Fusion has fairly average fuel-efficiency for a midsize sedan, getting 21 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway with the base Fusion S.
The base Malibu L is more impressive, boasting 29 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. This makes it one of the most fuel-efficient sedans of its size.
Of course, the Hybrid variants of the Ford and Chevrolet both offer superior fuel efficiency to their gas-powered counterparts. Chevrolet maintains more miles to the gallon when comparing the Hybrid models.
Winner: Chevy Malibu
Ride and Handling
The Fusion and Malibu are very comparable in terms of ride quality. The Fusion has a slightly more responsive engine and more agile handling, whereas the Malibu has a slightly more cushioned suspension for a smoother ride. Inside the cabin, the Malibu is also quieter thanks to its dual-pane glass windows.
Both cars performed well in safety testing run by the NHTSA and IIHS.
The Fusion received an overall 5-star rating from the NHTSA. The Malibu has not received an overall rating, but its frontal crash test score was higher than the Fusion.
IIHS gave the two cars almost identical safety scores, although the Fusion performed better for passenger-side safety. The Malibu scored better in headlight visibility testing, with less glare and better visibility around corners.
Verdict: Chevy Malibu
The Ford Fusion and Malibu are very comparable sedans. For those looking to spend the least, the Malibu is the better choice because comparing the entry-level Malibu L against the entry-level Fusion S, the Chevy offers far more valuable features.
However, as you raise your budget and are willing to consider Ford’s next trim up, the Fusion suddenly becomes more competitive. Higher end Fusion trims offer a roomier interior, superior driver assists and optional all wheel drive, which are definitely worth considering.
Overall, however, we’re going to give the nod to the Chevy Malibu. Unlike Ford, Chevrolet haven’t given up on their sedans and other passenger vehicles, and it just feels like the Malibu has been on the receiving end of more recent love.