ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: It's tough out there in the midsize sedan segment. Just ask Chevrolet who have had a really solid entry with its Malibu for the past couple of years. With an interior that's built with impressively high quality materials and a drive character that was on par for the class, you would think Chevy would do rather well. But if you compare the Malibu's sales figures through April to Toyota's king of the hillCamry, you'll see that Chevrolet is still a fair bit behind. There were 68,080 Malibus that found new homes during the first four months of 2014, while 132,292 Camrys rolled off Toyota lots during the same period. And what has been the biggest knock against the Malibu? Funny enough, it's been that it looks too drab and boring. I know what you're thinking: And the Camry isn't boring?! It still is, but to my eye it isn't as boring as the Malibu from 2012 and 2013.
Chevy did try to improve the Malibu's appearance a bit for the 2014 model year with a massaged front end sporting a bigger grille, which I think is an improvement, for a slightly sleeker look compared to the previous blockier design. There's 1.25 inches more rear knee room thanks to reshaped front seatbacks, and different seat sculpting allows occupants to sit deeper in the rear seats. The center console now has a longer armrest and two storage compartments to hold things like cell phones and MP3 players.
The range-topping 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which our 2LTZ test car is equipped with, also gets a nice boost in torque to 295 lb-ft which is up from 260 with the help of revised engine calibrations. Horsepower doesn't change and is still rated at 259. Tuning of the electric power steering is updated for more feel and heft, while Chevy says the brakes were also revised to provide a more confident feel.
What stuck out the most to me after a couple of nights with our 2014 Chevrolet Malibu 2LTZ tester? It had to be the 295 lb-ft of torque, which is class-leading even when you take into account the V6 engines found in the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Camry. It gets off the line well enough, but when the tach needle sweeps through the middle of the rev band, things pick up quickly. There's torque steer, but it's manageable. Transmission shifts are on the leisurely side, but fine for a high-volume midsize sedan.
The improved brake pedal feel is also welcome. GM struggled from squishy-feeling brake pedals in the past, but this Malibu feels much firmer with more bite coming at the top of the pedal stroke. Steering feels accurate and weighty, which is also appreciated.
Chassis behavior is in the middle of the spectrum. It's not trying to be real sporty like the Mazda 6 or the Kia Optima, but it's not overly cushy like the Nissan Altima. The Malibu responds respectably when tossed around with noticeable roll through corners, but it's far from sloppy. For normal driving, it's a comfortable ride with the suspension smoothing things out well, which should appeal to the vast majority of people shopping this segment.
Inside, the cabin is well isolated from road and wind noise. The high-quality materials remain, with all major surfaces constructed from soft-touch materials. I'm glad Chevy still relies on hard buttons on the center stack to control and audio controls, too. The blue ambient lighting along the dash that reflects off the tasteful amount of chrome trim at night is also slick.
Overall, the 2014 update that Chevy gave the Malibu is an improvement. The front end does look better, and you can't complain about the added twist the 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 got. Is it enough to draw a bunch of people away from their Camrys, Accords and Altimas? Probably not, but the Malibu is a strong enough car to attract some. At the very least, people looking in this segment owe the Malibu a test drive.
SENIOR ROAD TEST EDITOR NATALIE NEFF: This 2014 Chevrolet Malibu 2LTZ is one of those cars that, while far from thrilling, just works. It does everything well for which it's designed and leaves me wanting for little. Except for my never-ending desire for cargo space (my mother calls Home Depot my second home), I could totally live with this car and be happy. Of course, I wouldn't turn my nose up at a little more style, and a Harold-esque wagon transformation would make for Malibu perfection.
It certainly helps that this is a full-zoot example, the meaty 2.0-liter turbo engine underhood pushing out a compelling 295 horses while $5,000's worth of goodies ensures your must needs list bring nothing to the table. It's like an island resort all-inclusive experience, only in family-friendly midsize sedan form.
I've only recently come to truly appreciate this sort of Bluetooth hands-free, satellite radio, GPS, rearview camera, push-button start type of driving experience. OK, perhaps “appreciate” isn't exactly right. “Expect” is more accurate, so the fact that Chevrolet offers up such a solidly built car with all those features (not to mention the latest and greatest in safety tech) at a price point that is only a couple bills above the national new-car average (about $32K) makes for the most compelling argument in the Malibu's favor.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: The only thing I'm not sold on with this 2014 Chevy Malibu is the sheetmetal. I don't like the front end with the gentle redesign. Otherwise, this car does everything right.
The turbo motor is great; it makes this car way more fun to drive than it is with the standard four banger. There isn't much lag to speak of and it'll pull nearly to redline. Once the turbo kicks in, power delivery and shifting from the six-speed are smooth.
The Malibu has a surprisingly stiff chassis for this sort of car. It's not a scalpel, but any car in this category that has even a modicum of enthusiasm is a happy surprise. You can feel bumps in the cabin, and hear them a little, but overall it's a smooth ride.
I like to complain about how expensive cars are these days -- my friends bought $14K pickup trucks when we were 16 -- but you get a lot more now. Like Natalie said, all of those options, all of that safety, all of that space, for $30-ish-K? That's a good deal.
I'd personally take the Ford Fusion over this. It's near the same price, and that new sheetmetal is great. But they're both great cars. The turbo motor doesn't become available until you upgrade to the 3LT trim, but it's completely worth it. That is unless you really want a stripper model, which are $23K and not a bad deal, either.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu 2LTZ
Base Price: $30,675
As-Tested Price: $35,575
Drivetrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged I4; FWD, six-speed automatic
Output: 259 hp @ 5,300 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 3,000-4,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,660 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 21/30/24 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 23.4 mpg
Options: Electronics and entertainment package including 19-inch aluminum wheels, premium pioneer audio system including nine speakers, 250 watt amplifier, rear vision camera system, 120-volt power outlet, universal home remote ($1,350); LTZ premium package including high intensity headlamps, keyless push button start, EZ key passive entry system, driver seat/mirror memory settings ($1,000); advance safety package including forward collision alert, lane departure warning, side blind zone alert, rear cross traffic alert ($890); audio system including navigation, AM/FM CD player with 7-inch color touchscreen ($795); dealer installed ambient lighting ($500); black exterior paint ($225); all-weather floor mats ($140)
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