A quick makeover for Malibu

The 2014 Chevrolet Malibus redesigned center console has a longer armrest, providing greater comfort and storage room for two cell phones and a pair of cup holders.
The 2014 Chevrolet Malibus redesigned center console has a longer armrest, providing greater comfort and storage room for two cell phones and a pair of cup holders.
Posted: January 19, 2014

It looks as if the Malibu, Chevrolet's midsize sedan, has been "Civicked."

When the redesigned 2012 Honda Civic was roughly received by the automotive press, Honda didn't wait around several years for the usual mid-cycle refresh. It immediately went to work addressing the shortcomings and came out with a significantly revised version of its compact sedan the very next model year.

Chevy has done the same thing with the Malibu it had redesigned for the 2013 model year after journalistic disappointment and disappointing sales left the GM division's marketeers feeling faint and nauseous.

Indeed, its reception (Motor Trend called it "a consistent disappointment") was at dramatic variance to the rave reviews its bigger brother, the Impala, received.

The refreshed 2014 Malibu seeks to solve the perceived problems, and has been fairly successful. The new car has a prettier nose, more rear-seat leg room, better mileage, and, in the case of the turbocharged engine, more power. The six-speed automatic transmission has been tweaked, as have the steering and suspension.

The 2013's grille, which I didn't find as lacking as some of my colleagues did, has been replaced by an Impala-inspired design that is more pleasing. The most important interior change was to increase rear-seat leg room, which had become rather marginal in the 2013 because of the employment of GM's shorter wheelbase Epsilon 11 platform. This 1.25-inch increase was accomplished largely by making the rear backrest thinner and by sculpting cavities in the backs of the front seats to increase knee room.

Thanks to a new engine stop-start system and the use of variable valve lift technology, the EPA gas mileage rating of the standard 2.5-liter, 196-horsepower engine is up 1 m.p.g. city and highway - to 23 and 35. The mileage of the 2-liter, turbo model I tested (which didn't have stop-start) remains the same - 21 and 30. While the engine's horsepower, 259, also remains the same, a software tweak has pumped up the torque rating to a hefty 295 pounds-feet. That translates into a slightly better 0-to-60 time of just over 6 seconds.

Armed with that turbo engine, the Malibu combines business and pleasure. It lets you drop off the kids at school and then take advantage of an engine that gets out of the chute hastily and takes you on up to a factory-claimed 155 m.p.h. That's a rather spicy top end for a popularly priced family sedan. It certainly justifies you wearing your Dale Earnhardt Jr. flame-retardant driving suit.

When it comes to performance, I believe that the Malibu Turbo's engine power trumps its handling. While the turbo certainly handles well enough, its suspension is somewhat comfort-biased to serve its primary role as family transit.

Like virtually all electric power steering systems, the Malibu's isn't particularly generous with road feel, despite the engineers' efforts to mimic the more feedback-prone hydraulic systems (which are being replaced by the electrics to save fuel).

Braking on this car was excellent.

The Malibu starts at $22,140 for the base car and goes on up to $29,850 for the top-of-the-line LTZ turbo model I drove. The tester had a standard equipment litany worthy of a luxury car. The extras, which, with shipping, raised the finish price to $35,105, ranged from special red paint to safety gear such as forward-collision alert, lane-departure warning, blind-spot alert, and rear-cross-traffic alert.

The Malibu's federal crash ratings are incomplete, so there is no overall score. Its frontal crash ratings are a maximum five stars for the driver and four for the passenger. The rollover rating is also a four.


2014 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ Turbo

Model starting price: $29,850.

As tested: $35,105 (including shipping).

Standard equipment: 2-liter turbo engine, six-speed automatic transmission, front-drive, and an extensive amenity menu ranging from leather- trimmed seats (heat and power for the front ones) to remote vehicle start.

Options: Include premium sound and navigation linked to a

seven-inch color touch screen, and a battery of electronic safety aids.

Fuel economy: 21 m.p.g. city and 30 highway. (Premium fuel recommended.)

Engine power: Excellent.

Handling: Quite adequate.

Styling: Improved.

Ride comfort: Fine.

Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper.

The Ben key: four Bens, excellent; three Bens, good; two Bens, fair; one Ben, poor.


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