2014 Chevrolet Malibu 2LT Review by Carey Russ
The 2014 Malibu is Chevrolet's best entry yet
into the popular midsize family sedan class
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
• SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyers Guide
Midsize sedans are immensely popular, but it's been a while since any from Chevrolet have made much of an impression in the marketplace. Chevrolet would like to change that, and to that end its midsize Malibu gets a makeover for 2014. Styling has been updated to the latest Chevy lines, as first seen on the current Impala. Inside, there's a new look, a bit more room, especially in the rear seat, and electronic upgrades. The new standard engine has automatic stop/start technology to improve fuel economy in city driving, and the optional turbo unit is one of the most powerful in its class.
The LS trim level is the entry, but still well-equipped with driver's seat cushion height adjustment, audio and cruise controls on the steering wheel, ten airbags, a driver information display, and more. 1LT adds ambient lighting, heated outside mirrors, and other interior and exterior upgrades. 2LT means an eight-way power driver's seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, remote start, and the availability of more upscale options. 3LT means 2LT with the turbo engine. 1LTZ is a 2LT with many options made standard, while 2LTZ means that with turbo.
No V6? The standard 2.5-liter ECOTEC® engine is a twincam four-cylinder with 196 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, as much as a V6 of not so long ago. Stop/start technology means that, as in hybrids, the engine may stop when the car sits in traffic, as at a stoplight. Remove foot from brake pedal, engine restarts. Mechanical refinements, including torque-reaction engine mounts, ensure that it's smooth and unobtrusive. Want more? The 2.0-liter turbo makes 259 hp and a healthy 295 lb-ft. You won't miss a V6 there, either…
My test car for the past week has been a Malibu in 2LT trim, with key options including the Advanced Safety Package of Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning, and Side Blind Zone Alert with Rear Cross Traffic Alert systems, the Electronics and Entertainment's Pioneer® audio system, rearview camera, and other useful items, MyLink Radio With Navigation (further audio upgrade and nav system), and leather seating. So equipped, it was far more than an average midsize sedan, but still below $30,000, if barely. On the road, it felt at least as European as American -- I have to wonder how close the chassis tuning is to the equivalent Opel -- and the drivetrain was far more than merely adequate for any task at hand. Not long ago, GM's mid-level cars could be less than stellar in interior fit and finish levels, with wide and sometimes inconsistent panel gaps. Not here -- this Malibu was as good as anything in its class, even in places you're not expected to look at. Want to see who's cutting corners where? Check out the rear seat and trunk areas. They're fine here. Add good performance, reasonable fuel economy -- about 24 mpg for my week, with mostly short trips on surface streets -- and a spacious and comfortable interior, and the Malibu is Chevrolet's best entry into the heart of the midsize sedan category in many years.
APPEARANCE: Welcome the new face of Chevrolet. It's not radically different from what came before, but the multilayered front grille is distinctive, and the conservatively-sculpted lines should wear well. Judicious use of chrome trim, around the grille and foglamps in front and around the windows on the sides -- and door handles, depending on trim level, adds brightness and a luxury looks without ostentation. It's muscular in a healthy way, and a bit sporty without being in any way a sports sedan, which should please its customer base.
COMFORT: Inside, the latest Malibu is a pleasant and comfy place in which to spend time. As mentioned, fit and finish and materials are very good, and the "twin cockpit" design works well. It's functional and stylish, with brightly-backlit main instruments and, with the MyLink and Navigation package, a large touchscreen in the center stack. Matte-finished trim around the instruments and tach and on the steering wheel adds brightness without distracting glare. The Driver Information System displays mileage and distance information between the tach and speedometer. With the nav system, directions are also conveniently displayed there. All systems operate logically and simply. The upscale Pioneer audio system has AM, FM, and SiriusXM radio capability, plays CDs, and accepts input from USB and jack inputs. There's a bit of storage behind the nav screen, plus a lit glove box, and storage and bottle holders in the door panels. Besides the usual cupholders in the console, there are two small slots that are meant for phones -- and if proper Bluetooth connections and service packages are in place, streaming audio is possible.
Front seat comfort is good, as is rear. Redesigned front seatbacks add rear knee room with no detriment to front room or comfort. The rear seatback folds 60/40 for oversized cargo, but the trunk is large enough that won't be a common problem. A space-saver spare tire and battery access are found under the trunk floor.
SAFETY: The 2014 Malibu meets or exceeds all current safety standards. Passengers are protected by standard dual-stage frontal, front knee, front and rear side-impact, and full-length roof rail rollover airbags, with rear-seat head and thorax airbags available. Strong four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard, as are electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and electronic stability control. Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning, and Side Blind Zone Alert with Rear Cross Traffic Alert systems are available.
RIDE AND HANDLING: If I was led, blindfolded into a new Malibu and driven down the road, I'd more likely think the car was European than American. Its fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension is tuned for comfort, but that no longer means that it's excessively soft, with poor damping leading to wallowing oscillations. Not at all - struts with internal rebound springs, originally only for the turbo models, have found their way into all Malibus now. Road irregularities are dealt with and forgotten. As in many cars, the steering is electrically-assisted. That often feels numb and more like a video game controller than a car. Not here. Variable assist means easy parking, and actual road feel at speed.
PERFORMANCE: With maximum 196 horsepower (at 6300 rpm) and 186 lb-ft of torque (at 4400 rpm) and a six-speed automatic transmission, the Malibu's standard 2.5-liter engine works well with the car's 3500-pound weight. A lightweight aluminum alloy design with dual overhead camshafts, variable phasing on both camshafts and variable lift for the intake valves plus direct fuel injection and a high 11.3:1 compression ratio makes for good power output and a broad torque curve for easy drivability. It runs on regular unleaded. Automatic engine stop/start has been implemented to improve city mileage by turning the engine off when waiting at stoplights and in similar situations where otherwise the car would be getting zero mpg. The system monitors car speed, climate system use, and other factors to determine if shutting the engine off is worthwhile, and, if so, restarts when the driver releases the brake pedal or after two minutes. It may not go into stop/start mode when crawling in stop-and-go traffic, a Good Thing for starter longevity and the driver's ability to move quickly if needed. The only transmission offered is a six-speed automatic. It's tuned for economy, so may stay is a higher gear than you might consider optimal when climbing hills. It shifts smoothly and quickly, and manual control is readily available by means of a rocker switch on the top of the shift lever. EPA mileage estimates are 25 city and 36 highway. During a short week with much city driving and minimal highway travel I got a 25 mpg average. The stop/start system is unobtrusive, and never jarring.
CONCLUSIONS: With the 2014 Malibu, Chevrolet has its best entry yet into the popular midsize family sedan class.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu 2LT
Base Price $ 26,040
Price As Tested $ 29,900
Engine Type DOHC 16-valve aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection, variable valve lift and cam phasing
Engine Size 2.5 liters / 150 cu. in.
Horsepower 196 @ 6300 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 186 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length 107.8 in. / 191.5 in.
Curb Weight 3532 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 18.0
Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane regular unleaded gasoline
Tires P235/50 R18 97H m+s Goodyear Eagle LS
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA, and ESC standard
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut/ independent multi-link
Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 25 / 36 / 25
0 to 60 mph est 8.0 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Leather Package -- includes: leather-trimmed seats, heated front cushions $ 1,000
Electronics and Entertainment Package -- includes: Pioneer® premium 9-speaker audio, universal home remote, 120VAC power outlet, rear-vision camera $ 1,175
Advanced Safety Package -- includes: Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Side Blind Zone Alert with Rear Cross Traffic Alert $ 890
Chevrolet MyLink Radio With Navigation -- includes: GPS navigation, 7" color touch-screen display, AM.FM stereo with RDS, CD player with MP3 playback capability, USB port $ 795