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The mid-size Chevrolet Malibu sedan just emerged in brand-new form for the 2013 model year, but a lot has changed in this model even going into 2014. The reason? It's a tough road in the mid-size class, with a slew of excellent vehicles rising to the top of the category, including the Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, and Honda Accord.
Those four-doors are brutal competitors, all with great performance and interior comfort and safety scores. The Malibu arrived at a disadvantage: its small rear seat and duller front-end styling were a liability. Both have changed for the better, but the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu still falls short.
The Malibu wasn't GM's best styling effort of the past few years--it wasn't even as good as the compact Cruze, and it was far off the mark set by the handsome new Impala. That's why the Malibu has been redesigned to fit right in alongside the Impala. The sharp-suited theme, with a more prominent lower grille and narrower upper grille, helps 'ground' the Malibu's design a bit better, while a few more chrome accents give the Malibu a more distinctive look than before.
Inside, although Chevy has added more usefulness in seating and storage, not much has changed with respect the design; big square-ringed gauges sit behind a thick steering wheel at a lower vantage point, and the center console gets a perimeter of glossy grey plastic. There's a large LCD screen front and center but also big, grabby knobs for major audio and climate functions.
In the 2014 Malibu, there's no more battery-assisted Eco model. A new base engine replaces both it and the last base model. Acceleration is competitive, if not overly quick, with the base 196-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder and six-speed automatic; that replaces last year's 2.4-liter, and these base versions now get engine stop-start--and a boost to an EPA 25 mpg city, 36 highway. That's good, but not at all class-leading compared to the new Nissan Altima's class-leading 38-mpg highway rating, or the likes of the Kia Optima Hybrid, Ford Fusion Hybrid, or Toyota Camry Hybrid.
The turbo Malibu spools out 259 horsepower, and torque is up to 295 pound-feet this year, which may push its 0-60 mph time close to an even six seconds. The Malibu goes down a curvy road well, with a ride that's tauter than in the past, but better damped than in 2013. Electric power steering does well in giving it a precise feel here, although dynamically it falls short of Fusion and Accord.
Chevy has tried to address one of the biggest disappointments for last year's model, rear-seat room. The Malibu gets thinner front seatbacks and a reshaped rear-seat bench to net 1.25 inches of additional rear knee room. Still, there's not ample leg room for four adults inside, and the rear seat's comfort is a wash, with lower, shorter cushioning. The Malibu's front seats are excellent, though, supportive and shaped ideally for long drives. Elsewhere inside, there's a redesigned center console with a longer armrest, a pair of cupholders, and storage for two cellphones.
Safety scores are now top-tier, with the Malibu earning Top Safety Pick+ status for 2014, as well as five stars overall in federal NCAP testing. Blind-spot monitors are a new option; rearview cameras and Bluetooth are still standard on LT and LTZ trims, but unavailable on the base Malibu LS.
The base Malibu LS comes standard with power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; an AM/FM/CD player; cruise control; keyless entry; tilt/telescope steering; steering-wheel controls; and 16-inch wheels. The LT and LTZ models get a 7.0-inch LCD touchscreen and Chevy’s new MyLink connectivity system, which allows drivers to stream Pandora internet radio and catch up with podcasts on Stitcher via Bluetooth streaming. Turbo LT models get 18-inch wheels; a power driver seat; steering-wheel audio controls; and remote start.