DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: Chevy engineers and designers have to be incessantly cursing the Ford Fusion right now. After all, they've built what's undoubtedly the best midsize car Chevrolet has ever offered, only to see a 5 percent drop in year over year sales. Ford's striking, brilliantly executed Fusion is the reason why; the Malibu drives just as well as the Fusion, is competitively priced, and offers an arguably better suite of infotainment gear in MyLink, but the car looks positively dowdy beside the sleek Fusion.
If you're a Chevy die-hard, though, you're in luck: The Malibu is a quiet, comfortable midsizer with rock-solid chassis feel and a nice blend of performance and drivability from its four-cylinder/six-speed automatic combo. Chevy claims 36 mpg is possible on the highway, and the car never feels underpowered despite modest numbers -- the transmission works for a living on hard acceleration, but shifts are quick and nicely isolated.
What sells midsize sedans -- other than “the deal,” anyway -- is equipment, and our $30K Malibu tester had every feature we could reasonably request. Navigation, heated leather seating, remote start and all the electronic nannies required to sell a car these days were present and nicely integrated. More importantly, rear seat room was fine for my rapidly growing children and their booster seats.
The Chevy Malibu is simply a nice place in which to spend commuting time. What it isn't is a fashion statement -- that wasn't a problem in the midsize sedan segment until Fusion came along and let any putz with a down payment purchase a pseudo Aston Martin.
Fortunately for Chevrolet, sheetmetal is easy to change, and the Malibu's basic engineering and dynamics are excellent. Now they just have to make it pretty.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: This Malibu is a solid midsizer -- something I didn't really expect from Chevy, but probably should have after the Cruze and the Impala. It looks and feels compact; that's a positive visually, though backseat passengers may not appreciate it (despite a reworking, it remains more cramped than its competitors back there).
Andy mentions the bounty of features, and that's what I think is going to attract buyers more than looks or performance. $30,000 gets you nearly everything except an upgraded engine here. In fact, it had just about everything the loaded Buick Regal GS did on paper except AWD, and it costs about $15K less. Different end goals, different buyers, I know, but you do seem to get a fair amount for the money here.
Perhaps less important to feature-craving buyers? On-road behavior. It was hard to get a feel for all the inputs and feedbacks on wintry public streets, but everything felt a little bit dull, almost the opposite of the synthetic over-boosted-ness we're so used to today. The 2.5-liter didn't seem anemic, for example, but there was an odd resistance to the throttle and wheel that didn't sit right with me. I'd like to try the 2.0-liter turbo upgrade, which gets a healthy 63-hp boost.
Take this all with a grain of salt, though, because it might have just been traction and stability control attempting to keep me pointed straight.
All in all, I feel comfortable recommending this car over its Japanese rivals where interior layout and quality are concerned, though it's more of a wash when it comes to performance. The Germans, by which I mean VW, compete fiercely with the Passat; it isn't the most exciting car, but its 1.8-liter turbo felt more eager than the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter here, and the interior felt more open and spacious. It doesn't have all the active safety gear, though.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: The seventh-generation Chevrolet Malibu was a hit the streets in 2008. It wasn't a halo car for the company, but it had to be one of Chevy's most popular cars at least for a few years.
In 2013 Chevy redesigned the car again. Stylists massaged the front and rear bumpers, and personally I think they made the sheetmetal look worse than it did before. The utility and value, however, remained.
The 196-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder strains a bit in the 3,500-pound sedan, though I was also slogging through ice and snow, revving the engine a bit higher than I should. Even so, I thought the transmission was a little wonky and hunted for gears. I understand that it's tuned for economy, but it seemed like it needed to downshift nearly every time I came near the gas pedal.
The suspension and steering are great considering how mundane the car is, which I found during the few times when the roads allowed me to test them. The Malibu is sprung surprisingly stiffly, which makes for a slightly bouncy but satisfying ride. When I did find a dry spot, I was able to point the car where I wanted it to go, without much effort.
The interior was up to snuff for a car in the $20K-$30K range, though there was a decent amount of plastic covering. The heated seats were great in the polar weather, and the four-cylinder warmed up quickly and helped defrost my window within 10 minutes.
Even with the super-slick Ford Fusion on the streets, this is still a lot of car for the money. It'll fit a family of four, or five, without much complaint. And it will get you 36 mpg on the highway, if you're gentle. For a Chevy family, this could be their lone transportation.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: The 2014 Chevrolet Malibu 2LT has just one heck of a heater and the bun warmers are excellent. On this very cold morning, it was a homerun in my book.
It also drives well, quiet and comfortable, and I'd argue people shopping for a midsize sedan want exactly that. The Epsilon II chassis is excellent, rock solid, soaks up nasty road hazards, and the four-cylinder provides decent oomph. The turbocharged four would likely be my personal choice for better performance/mpg balance in my opinion. I also think MyLink is among the better infotainment systems on the market. The car seems competitively priced.
This particular car is equipped basically how I'd spec out one for myself (again, I'd probably opt for the turbo four) with navigation, heated seats, backup camera and remote start. The cockpit materials are as good as the competition and it all looks well screwed together. It all feels tight, rattle free, and cruises down the road quietly and comfortably.
It's tough out there in midsize-sedan land with the Honda Accord andMazda 6 and Ford Fusion all doing battle. They are excellent cars. What's the class formula? That would be value for money, comfort, quiet operation, safe/inoffensive styling and better than average road manners. By those measures the Malibu is in the game.
Is it fun to drive? Not so much. Will shoppers care? Highly doubtful. At the end of a hectic day one could do worse.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu 2LT
Base Price: $26,040
As-Tested Price: $29,900
Drivetrain: 2.5-liter I4; FWD, six-speed automatic
Output: 196 hp @ 6,300 rpm, 186 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,532 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 25/36/29 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 24.8 mpg
Options: Electronics and entertainment package including audio system, Pioneer premium nine-speaker, 250 watt amplifier, rear vision camera system, moldings, body-color bodyside, power outlet, 120 volt, universal home remote, inside rearview mirror, auto dimming, convenience net, trunk ($1,175); leather package including seat trim, leather appointed, front passenger power seat adjuster, driver and front passenger heated seats ($1,000); advance safety package including forward collision alert, lane-departure warning, side blind zone alert, rear cross traffic alert ($800) audio system with navigation, AM/FM CD player, 7-inch color touchscreen ($795)
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