2020 Chevrolet Malibu vs. 2019 Kia Optima

Detailed Review, Specifications & Comparison

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In the past twenty years hundreds of infants and young children have died after being left in vehicles, usually by accident. When turning the vehicle off, drivers of the Malibu are reminded to check the back seat if they opened the rear door before starting out. The Optima doesn’t offer a back seat reminder.

The Malibu has standard OnStar®, which uses a global positioning satellite (GPS) receiver and a cellular system to get turn-by-turn driving directions, remotely unlock your doors if you lock your keys in, help track down your vehicle if it’s stolen or send emergency personnel to the scene if any airbags deploy. The Optima doesn’t offer a GPS response system, only a navigation computer with no live response for emergencies, so if you’re involved in an accident and you’re incapacitated help may not come as quickly.

Both the Malibu and the Optima have standard driver and passenger frontal airbags, front side-impact airbags, driver knee airbags, side-impact head airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, front wheel drive, plastic fuel tanks, four-wheel antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability systems to prevent skidding, daytime running lights, rearview cameras, available crash mitigating brakes, lane departure warning systems, blind spot warning systems, rear parking sensors and rear cross-path warning.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does 35 MPH front crash tests on new vehicles. In this test, results indicate that the Chevrolet Malibu is safer than the Kia Optima:





5 Stars

5 Stars




Neck Compression

29 lbs.

55 lbs.

Leg Forces (l/r)

186/153 lbs.

114/300 lbs.



4 Stars

4 Stars

Neck Injury Risk



Neck Stress

173 lbs.

192 lbs.

Neck Compression

62 lbs.

101 lbs.

New test not comparable to pre-2011 test results. More stars = Better. Lower test results = Better.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does side impact tests on new vehicles. In this test, which crashes the vehicle into a flat barrier at 38.5 MPH and into a post at 20 MPH, results indicate that the Chevrolet Malibu is safer than the Kia Optima:



Front Seat


5 Stars

5 Stars

Hip Force

212 lbs.

306 lbs.

Into Pole


5 Stars

5 Stars

Max Damage Depth

13 inches

13 inches

Spine Acceleration

29 G’s

37 G’s

Hip Force

488 lbs.

585 lbs.

New test not comparable to pre-2011 test results. More stars = Better. Lower test results = Better.


The Malibu’s corrosion warranty is 1 year longer than the Optima’s (6/100,000 vs. 5/100,000).

There are almost 4 times as many Chevrolet dealers as there are Kia dealers, which makes it much easier should you ever need service under the Malibu’s warranty.


J.D. Power and Associates rated the Malibu first among midsize cars in their 2019 Initial Quality Study. The Optima was rated third.

J.D. Power and Associates’ 2019 survey of the owners of three-year-old vehicles provides the long-term dependability statistics that show that Chevrolet vehicles are more reliable than Kia vehicles. J.D. Power ranks Chevrolet fourth in reliability, above the industry average. With 11 more problems per 100 vehicles, Kia is ranked 10th.


The Malibu has more powerful engines than the Optima:


Malibu Premier 2.0 turbo 4 cyl.

250 HP

Optima EX 1.6 turbo 4 cyl.

178 HP

Optima 2.4 DOHC 4 cyl.

185 HP

Optima SX 2.0 turbo 4 cyl.

245 HP

As tested in Motor Trend the Malibu Premier 2.0 turbo 4 cyl. is faster than the Optima SX 2.0 turbo 4 cyl.:



Zero to 60 MPH

6.2 sec

7.3 sec

Quarter Mile

14.7 sec

15.6 sec

Speed in 1/4 Mile

96.2 MPH

90.3 MPH

Fuel Economy and Range

On the EPA test cycle the Malibu gets better fuel mileage than the Optima:



1.5 turbo 4-cyl.

29 city/36 hwy

2.0 turbo 4 cyl.

22 city/32 hwy


LX 2.4 DOHC 4-cyl.

25 city/35 hwy

S 2.4 DOHC 4-cyl.

24 city/33 hwy

EX 1.6 turbo 4-cyl.

27 city/37 hwy

SX 2.0 turbo 4-cyl.

21 city/30 hwy

In heavy traffic or at stoplights the Malibu 1.5 Turbo’s engine automatically turns off when the vehicle is stopped, saving fuel and reducing pollution. The engine is automatically restarted when the driver gets ready to move again. (Start/Stop isn’t accounted in present EPA fuel mileage tests.) The Optima doesn’t offer an automatic engine start/stop system.

The Malibu has a standard cap-less fueling system. The fuel filler is automatically opened when the fuel nozzle is inserted and automatically closed when it’s removed. This eliminates the need to unscrew and replace the cap and it reduces fuel evaporation, which causes pollution. The Optima doesn’t offer a cap-less fueling system.


A nine-speed automatic is standard on the Chevrolet Malibu Premier, for better acceleration and lower engine speed on the highway. Only a seven-speed automatic is available for the Optima.

The Malibu has a standard continuously variable transmission (CVT). With no “steps” between gears, it can keep the engine at the most efficient speed for fuel economy, or keep it at its peak horsepower indefinitely for maximum acceleration. The Optima doesn’t offer a CVT.

Brakes and Stopping

The Malibu stops much shorter than the Optima:



70 to 0 MPH

167 feet

185 feet

Car and Driver

60 to 0 MPH

117 feet

123 feet

Motor Trend

Tires and Wheels

For better traction, the Malibu RS/Premier’s tires are larger than the largest tires available on the Optima (245/45R18 vs. 235/45R18).

The Malibu L/LS’ standard tires provide better handling because they have a lower 60 series profile (height to width ratio) that provides a stiffer sidewall than the Optima LX’s standard 65 series tires. The Malibu’s optional tires have a lower 40 series profile than the Optima S/SX’s 45 series tires.

For better ride, handling and brake cooling the Malibu offers optional 19-inch wheels. The Optima’s largest wheels are only 18-inches.

Suspension and Handling

The Malibu Premier handles at .88 G’s, while the Optima pulls only .79 G’s of cornering force in a Motor Trend skidpad test.

The Malibu Premier executes Motor Trend’s “Figure Eight” maneuver 1.4 seconds quicker than the Optima (26.4 seconds @ .68 average G’s vs. 27.8 seconds @ .62 average G’s).


The front grille of the Malibu (except 2.0 Turbo) uses electronically controlled shutters to close off airflow and reduce drag when less engine cooling is needed. This helps improve highway fuel economy. The Optima doesn’t offer active grille shutters.

Passenger Space

The Malibu has .4 inches more front shoulder room, 2.5 inches more rear legroom and .7 inches more rear shoulder room than the Optima.

The front step up height for the Malibu is 1.5 inches lower than the Optima (13.5” vs. 15”). The Malibu’s rear step up height is 1.2 inches lower than the Optima’s (14.1” vs. 15.3”).


The Malibu has a 1000 lbs. towing capacity. The Optima has no towing capacity.


The Malibu (except L) offers a remote vehicle starting system, so the vehicle can be started from inside the driver's house. This allows the driver to comfortably warm up the engine before going out to the vehicle. The climate system will also automatically heat or cool the interior. The Optima doesn’t offer a remote starting system.

The Malibu’s instruments include an oil pressure gauge and a temperature gauge - which could save your engine! Often ‘idiot lights’ don’t warn you until damage has been done. The Optima does not have an oil pressure gauge.

The Malibu’s standard front and rear power windows all lower with one touch of the switches, making it more convenient at drive-up windows and toll booths, or when talking with someone outside of the car. The Optima’s standard power windows’ passenger windows don’t open automatically. The Optima S/EX/SX’s rear power window switches have to be held the entire time to lower them fully.

Consumer Reports rated the Malibu’s headlight performance “Very Good,” a higher rating than the Optima’s headlights, which were rated “Fair.”

The Malibu Premier has a 115-volt a/c outlet on the center console, allowing you to recharge a laptop or run small household appliances without special adapters that can break or get misplaced. The Optima doesn’t offer a house-current electrical outlet.

The Malibu Premier’s optional Automatic Parking Assist can parallel park or back into a parking spot by itself, with the driver only controlling speed with the brake pedal. The Optima doesn’t offer an automated parking system.

Economic Advantages

Insurance will cost less for the Malibu owner. The Complete Car Cost Guide estimates that insurance for the Malibu will cost $990 less than the Optima over a five-year period.

According to The Car Book by Jack Gillis, the Malibu is less expensive to operate than the Optima because it costs $155 less to do the manufacturer’s suggested maintenance for 50,000 miles. Typical repairs cost less on the Malibu than the Optima, including $67 less for a timing belt/chain and $132 less for a power steering pump.


The Chevrolet Malibu outsold the Kia Optima by 42% during 2018.

© 1991-2018 Advanta-STAR Automotive Research. All rights reserved.

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