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Budget Buy: Ford Fusion vs Chevy Malibu at $15,000

We match up the Ford Fusion and Chevy Malibu and determine which is the better used sedan at $15,000.

The Virtues of Simplicity

media.chevrolet.com | netcarshow.com
media.chevrolet.com | netcarshow.com

Despite the popularity of the ubiquitous crossover among many of today’s car buyers, the charms of the basic sedan remain the same as ever: comfort, drivability, and affordability. The Chevrolet Malibu and the Ford Fusion are two standouts in the mid-size sedan segment. Each provides a range of powertrains, attractive interiors, and a Goldilocks mix of agile driving and long-haul comfort.

These two cars can provide a ton of value for the money, even at a price ceiling of $15,000. That price point places both cars around the 2017 model year. Plenty of modern tech is available, and diligent shoppers will be able to find trim levels and powertrains to easily match their wants and needs. But which of them is the better option for a used sedan? We dig into the details below.

Specs

2017 Chevrolet Malibu 1.5L I4 - carsforsale.com
2017 Chevrolet Malibu 1.5L I4 - carsforsale.com

The 2017 Chevrolet Malibu offers three powertrain options. The base 1.5L turbocharged inline-four makes 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. It comes paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and gets an impressive 27 city and 36 highway MPG. Next is the 2.0L turbo-four that puts up a stout 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. This comes with a nine-speed automatic and gets a decent 22/33 MPG. A hybrid version is also available and can be had within our $15,000 budget. It pairs 1.8L inline-four with two electric motors for 182 net horsepower and gets 49/43 MPG.

2017 Ford Fusion V6 - netcarshow.com
2017 Ford Fusion V6 - netcarshow.com

The 2017 Ford Fusion offers even more options with six total powertrains, though some will be hard to come by in our price point. A base 2.5L four-cylinder starts things out. It makes 175 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque. It returns an embarrassing 21 city and 32 highway MPG, far below the competition. A 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder makes 178 horsepower and 177 lb-ft, and while that’s not a big jump in numbers, this configuration feels much livelier and delivers 23/34 MPG. A 2.0L turbo-four offers 240 horsepower and optional all-wheel drive. There are also two hybrid options, a traditional hybrid, and a plug-in version, both are decently efficient with the latter offering 97 MPGe and 21 miles of electric only range. The range topping 2.7L twin-turbo V6 makes 325 horsepower but falls outside our $15,000 budget.

Driving & Performance

2017 Chevrolet Malibu - netcarshow.com
2017 Chevrolet Malibu - netcarshow.com

For the 2017 Malibu, the 2.0L turbo provides more than enough oomph for everyday driving and ample power for highway passing. Its nine-speed automatic is smooth and unobtrusive. Even the base 1.5L will prove more than adequate for most buyers and it stellar fuel economy helps sweeten the deal. While the hybrid might be harder to find at $15,000, it might be worth a bit extra for that 49 city MPG rating. Steering is evenly weighted and accurate in the Malibu. The suspension does well at soaking up bumps while still pleasantly nimble in cornering.

2017 Ford Fusion - netcarshow.com
2017 Ford Fusion - netcarshow.com

The 2017 Fusion’s base 2.5L is lackluster both in terms of performance and efficiency and is best avoided. The 1.5L turbo is a good deal better, however, improving on both metrics. The 2.0L EcoBoost is the real sweet spot of power and fuel economy, and it adds the option of all-wheel drive. Though you can find examples of the hybrid for under $15,000, the plug-in hybrid and 2.7L twin-turbo both exceed that ceiling. The Fusion offers a well-balanced suspension, at turns agile and forgiving. Steering is sharp and responsive, making the Fusion feel sportier than expected.

Interior & Comfort

Inside the 2017 Malibu you’ll find a spacious cabin that’s among the quietest in the segment, making it a standout for long highway driving. Though leg and elbow room are ample, headroom in the back seat is a bit limited for taller passengers. Seats are supportive and comfortable, limiting driver fatigue. The center console is functionally laid out and the infotainment system quick to respond and easy to navigate. Material quality is the Malibu’s one deficiency, with large swaths of hard plastic, though much of this is kept away from common touch points.

The 2017 Fusion’s interior is a step above that of the Malibu, especially at the higher trim levels. While it too makes use of hard plastics, the overall material quality and fit and finish are a bit higher. The Fusion is likewise a spacious sedan, though it too is lacking in rear seat headroom. The seats are decently comfortable, but not as forgiving as those of the Malibu.

Trims & Features

2017 Chevrolet Malibu Premier - netcarshow.com
2017 Chevrolet Malibu Premier - netcarshow.com

The base version (L trim) of the 2017 Malibu is a bare bones affair coming with a six-speaker stereo, Bluetooth, crise control, and push-button start. The LS adds Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a seven-inch touchscreen, rear view camera, Wi-Fi hotspot, and USB port. Higher trims features and options include heated and ventilated front seats, remote start, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, navigation, and safety features like adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, forward collision warnings, and more.

2017 Ford Fusion V6 Sport - netcarshow.com
2017 Ford Fusion V6 Sport - netcarshow.com

The Ford Fusion’s base S trim is also spartan with a rearview camera, USB port, and Ford’s SYNC infotainment software. The SE trim adds a six-speaker stereo, satellite radio, a 10-way power driver’s seat, and 17-inch wheels. Higher trims and options add features like 18-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, Ford’s SYNC 3 infotainment software (a big upgrade), and advanced safety features like lane keep assist, driver awareness monitoring, and adaptive cruise control.

Conclusions

2017 Chevrolet Malibu - netcarshow.com
2017 Chevrolet Malibu - netcarshow.com

Both the Malibu and the Fusion do a good job of covering their bases for broad appeal, but it’s the Malibu that gets our nod in this close comparison. One major factor was in comparing the base models. While both cars are rent-a-car simple, the Malibu’s base engine is vastly superior, in terms of both power and efficiency, to what’s offered in the comparable Fusion. The Ford has a nicer interior, but you really have to go above our price point of $15,000 to experience it at it’s best, the Premium trim with the twin-turbo V6. Meanwhile, the Malibu’s 2.0L turbo provides more than enough power, slightly better MPG, and will likely cost you less, or in the case of used cars, come in with fewer miles on the odometer.

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Chris Kaiser

With two decades of writing experience and five years of creating advertising materials for car dealerships across the U.S., Chris Kaiser explores and documents the car world’s latest innovations, unique subcultures, and era-defining classics. Armed with a Master's Degree in English from the University of South Dakota, Chris left an academic career to return to writing full-time. He is passionate about covering all aspects of the continuing evolution of personal transportation, but he specializes in automotive history, industry news, and car buying advice.

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