- Better handling balance
- Improved fuel economy
- MyLink's simple connectivity
- Stylish interior
- Smooth six-speed automatic
- Despite the effort, still a small back seat
- Styling still isn't dramatic
Chevy has taken a look elsewhere in its lineup, and in the market, and made the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu a stronger offering--with an emphasis on better gas mileage and more space.
The mid-size Chevrolet Malibu sedan just emerged in brand-new form for the 2013 model year, but a lot has changed 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.
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 was redesigned to fit right in alongside the Impala. Chevry added more usability to the Malibu's seating and cargo capability, but the interior design hasn't changed much.
Chevy has tried to address one of the biggest disappointments from 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.
There's no longer a battery-assisted Eco model for 2014. A new 196-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder base engine with stop-start, mated to a six-speed automatic, replaces both it and the last conventional base model mill. The turbocharged Malibu cranks output up to 259 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque this year. Unlike previous-generation Malibus, the new model handles curvy roads with aplomb with a tauter ride and this year's model improves damping performance.
Safety scores are now top-tier, with the Malibu earning Top Safety Pick+ status for 2014, as well as an overall five-star score in federal tests.
The Malibu is available in three separate trims: LS, LT, and LTZ. Turbo LT models receive equipment in addition to its upgraded turbo engine.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu
The Malibu's restyled front end is more handsome, but in all it's still rather forgettable.
The Chevy Malibu has had a tough task since it was brand-new. So many family sedans have made stunning styling a standard feature--the Fusion, the Optima, even the Sonata--that a plainer shape dribbles just dribbles into the background. It didn't help matters that the 2013 Malibu had an oddly rendered, triple-tier grille.
It's been reshaped as much as possible for the 2014 model year, and it certainly looks smoother, more cohesive. The lower, larger grille adopts a hexagonal shape that's simply everywhere in this class, but that's better than its prior treatment. Slim bands of chrome draw out a more pleasing set of lines, and the big headlamps don't look as jarringly aerodynamic as a result--you skip over them.
From the nose back it's unaltered, a little more generic than it needs to be, not uncomplimentary. It's more subtle than the Fusion's drama; by the time the sheetmetal wraps around the rear pillar, the Malibu's resemblance to the Camry is noticeable. The decklid and taillights are tiered like those on the last-generation Camry, too, but the rounded corners of the Malibu's high rear lamps bring it more in line with other current Chevys. It shies away from being recognized in the way the knockout Fusion does.
The cockpit delivers its details with more unity and more confidence. 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 that's identical to the stuff in the Volt--though the Malibu gets real buttons, not capacitive switches, to run its major functions. There's a large LCD screen front and center but also big, grabby knobs for major audio and climate functions. Designers took some visual heft out of the dash by cutting strakes across the surface and glinting it with metallic trim, but the dash itself doesn't seem thick enough to warrant the fuss. Minor taste points aside, it all feels good to the fingertips.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu
The ride's softened a bit from last year; the Malibu strikes a decent balance between Camry fluff and Fusion tough.
The 2014 Malibu drives better than the 2013 Chevy Malibu, and that's unusual. It's only been a year since the sedan was new, but with the competition sporting higher gas mileage and more taut handling, change was needed.
As a result, the Malibu drops the battery-assisted Eco drivetrain entirely, and its base four-cylinder moves into a new generation that's better than both the Eco and the former base four-cylinder. The new unit's a 2.5-liter four, just like before, but it's much more efficient, if not as quiet to wind up. It delivers 196 horsepower--about the same as the Kia Optima or Hyundai Sonata--and teams up with a six-speed automatic. With direct injection and stop/start baked in, this setup has similar acceleration compared to the 2013 model but with more ambient noise generated by the injection system. It's still smoother than the Koreans, and runs out 0-60 mph times in the 8-second range while it delivers gas mileage rated at 25/36 mpg--in the same range as those other sedans, the Fusion, and just a couple of miles per gallon lower than the best-in-class Nissan Altima.
The four-cylinder is paired to a six-speed automatic, and it's a savvy piece, with smart kickdowns and smooth upshifts. We do wish Chevy outfitted it with paddle-shift controls, not the dumb lever-mounted click switch that's all but useless at any speed.
The optional engine is a well-worthwhile turbocharged four, with 259 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque, the latter up substantially from 2013. It's also mated to the six-speed automatic, and has a 0-60 mph time of about 6.3 seconds. Straight-line performance is clearly in the right leagues, and the powertrain feels flexible across a wide range of driving scenarios--it's quiet enough in highway cruising, and the automatic's geared to accommodate some sporty driving. The turbo also lacks paddles, a maddening choice for a sedan presuming to be sporty.
More than in the past, the Malibu's handling is a reason to seek it out. In all the versions we've driven thus far, the Malibu's electric power steering has great responses and a measure of feedback that's just not found in, say, the Optima and Sonata. It doesn't feel detached--it goes where you point it, no further, no closer. It's also not overly weighted, another of the gimmicks that's worked its way back into sedans as automakers make the switch to electric steering. It's still not as precise as the Passat's hydraulic steering, but it's a big part of the reason the Malibu feels "small" to drive.
Chevy's addressed complaints about the Malibu's ride quality and handling with a revised suspension tuning for 2014. Better damping gives the Malibu a bit more of the fluid ride of competitive cars, somewhere between the softly composed Altima and the tightly wound Fusion. It lean less aggressively in corners, and in general feels more in harmony with the steering. It's no Ford, and no Nissan, and that's fine--it's more consistent in feel.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu
Comfort & Quality
Storage space is good, and the front seats are marvelous, but the Malibu's back seat isn't notably better despite some legroom tweaks.
Complaints about back-seat space sent the Chevy Malibu back to the drawing board for the 2014 model year, just a year after it first went on sale. The changes don't substantially fix the issue, and in a way make them worse.
The Malibu's front seats are some of the greatest thrones ever fitted to a mainstream sedan. Like it's smaller Cruze and Sonic siblings, the Malibu features deep seat pocketing, room to spare, and a wide range of adjustability. Those coming out of a previous-generation Malibu will find this model has a lower seating position, but it matches the sedan's low-cowl dash. A telescopic steering column provides additional adjustment for shorter and taller drivers.
The Malibu's active headrests get special notice, since they don't jut forward as far as those on some competitive models. It's a problem we're finding on more new vehicles as automakers seek out top crash-test ratings.
The news has never been great in back, but Chevy has retrimmed and reshaped the back bench seat to make the objective numbers stack up better against cars like the Hyundai Sonata and Ford Fusion, two top competitors. There's an additional 1.25 inches of knee room carved out of the front seatbacks and scooped out of the bench, according to Chevy. According to us, the new seat design aggravates the short-and-low feel we got from the previous take. Adult knees will be much higher than the seat itself, and will have less support under the leg, too. It's really not much larger than a Dodge Dart; both rest on the smaller end of the wheelbase race in the mid-size class, and neither has the palatial spread-out room of a Passat or an Accord.
In other small ways, the Malibu's been carefully shrunk. The center console has two cupholders and two slots for smartphones that also beautifully hold a deck of Pop Tarts. Flick the protruding niblet under the LCD touchscreen and the panel flips up, revealing a storage space--albeit one without a USB port or power point, where you might expect them. They're in the center console, which doesn't have any rear-facing air vents on its backside for back-seat passengers. Trunk space is better, with more than 16 cubic feet of storage space.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu
Improved, top-tier IIHS results, great federal scores, and an excellent list of safety equipment add up to one of the most secure affordable mid-size sedans you could choose.
The 2014 Chevy Malibu is one of the top-performing mid-size sedans for safety.
First, every Malibu comes equipped with a host of airbags as standard, 10 in all, including knee and rear-seat side airbags. Active headrests enhance passenger safety for those riding up front, while traction and stability control, anti-lock brakes provide drivers a toolkit of aids on all models to avoid accidents in the first place. Rear parking sensors and rearview camera are standard on LT and up models. You can also option your Malibu with forward collision, lane-departure warning, and blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alerts.
In the event of a crash, OnStar includes automatic crash notifications. And the Malibu performs well in crash tests, with "good" ratings in all Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash test categories, culminating in a Top Safety Pick+ designation for the sedan. Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awards the Malibu five stars overall, with five-star scores for front-impact and side-impact protection, and a four-star rating for rollover resistance.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu
You have to pay for a USB port, but the Malibu's smartphone connectivity is one of the simpler, better systems out there.
The Chevy Malibu has had some equipment adjustments to go along with its cosmetic and performance changes. It carries a slightly lower base price to bring it more into line with vehicles like the Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, and Kia Optima--but that fleet-ready version omits some formerly standard features, or doesn't include them in the base configuration as those other sedans do.
For 2014, the Malibu LS comes with standard air conditioning; power windows, locks, and mirrors; cruise control; an AM/FM/CD player; steering-wheel controls; keyless entry; tilt/telescope steering; and 16-inch wheels. Off the list are Bluetooth with audio streaming, a USB port, and satellite radio.
To get those features, you'll have to move into the LT trim level, which adds a 7.0-inch LCD touchscreen and Chevy's new MyLink connectivity system. MyLink connects to the driver's smartphone, allowing them access to mobile apps like Pandora streaming audio or Stitcher podcast streaming. This year, the system also adds Siri Eyes Free mode, for Apple iPhone users, and text-to-voice translation.
Turbo LT models get 18-inch wheels; a power driver seat; steering-wheel audio controls; and remote start. The Malibu LTZ stickers for $28,590 with the base engine or $30,925 for the turbo model before options, but offers the most extensive feature set from the get go: 18-inch alloy wheels, LED taillamps, fog lights, leather seating featuring heat and power with lumbar adjustment up front, sunroof, and remote start.
Options on the LT and LTZ models include a safety package with forward-collision alerts and lane-departure warnings, and this year, blind-spot monitors. Malibu LT sedans can be ordered with leather-trimmed seats and heated front seats. The Malibu LTZ can be ordered with keyless entry and pushbutton start, HID headlamps, memory front seats, and 19-inch wheels.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu
The Malibu Eco is gone from the lineup, but the excellent base four-cylinder now comes with stop/start.
For the 2014 model year, the Chevy Malibu loses what had been its most fuel-efficient "Eco" powertrain--but in its place, a revamped four-cylinder almost equals the Eco for real-world mileage.
The outgoing mild-hybrid Eco delivered 25 miles per gallon city, 37 mpg highway. Chevy also had a standard four-cylinder that delivered 22/34 mpg.
The new 2.5-liter four-cylinder in the base 2014 Malibu--it replaces both of those powertrains--is rated at 25/36 mpg, or 29 mpg combined. It reaches those figures through direct injection and stop/start control. Other gas-saving features, like aerodynamic front-end shutters and lower-rolling-resistance tires, are carried over.
The Malibu with the turbocharged 2.0-liter four is rated by the EPA at 21 miles per gallon city, 30 miles per gallon highway, or 24 miles per gallon combined.