2014 Chevrolet Malibu
The revised Chevrolet Malibu is now better positioned to compete in the hyper-competitive mid-size sedan arena with a restyled nose, refreshed engine choices and a bump in performance for the Malibu Turbo.
The advertising spend for the launch of the 2008 Malibu was the largest in General Motors’ history, and even today, the memories remain of that cherry red Malibu plastered on every billboard, print and broadcast media outlet. A critical mistake when launching the 2013 model was a press car painted the same red color. The color and ultra-subtle styling evolution meant consumers simply didn’t notice the change and flocked to more distinctive competitors like the new Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata and a broad range of crossover SUV models.
The Chevy Malibu also faced stiff competition on dealer lots from the previous model that was now packing huge discounts in order to clear inventory. For buyers contemplating a new Malibu, the larger back seat of the previous model and a pile of cash on the hood were enough to convince them to go for the older, nearly identically styled model.
Fighting to re-gain attention, the 2014 Malibu packs real interior and exterior updates into the long-running ‘Bu nameplate. The nose marks out the biggest change and shows a new take on the split-bar grille appearance of Chevy sedans. Perhaps most critically, Chevy’s press images show a car in dark grey metallic paint that significantly enhances the perceived value of the car. Anything but cherry red, right?
So how does the revised 2014 Malibu lineup compare with the top sedans in the segment for value, comfort, performance and style? Offered in standard, Eco and Turbo trims, the Malibu is finally out of the fleet-sales doldrums and firmly a contender for the top domestic midsize sedan.
Click past the jump for the full review and image gallery.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu
Horsepower @ RPM:196
Torque @ RPM:186
0-60 time:8.3 sec. (Est.)
Top Speed:130 mph
The new ‘Bu has a reshaped nose that softens the old look, changes the grille design and adds more chrome accents to mark it apart from some of the blander Japanese entries, like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. The look also expresses Chevy’s new nose style as seen on the latest Impala and SS models, among others. The language consists of a heavy-handed application of shapes and flowing creases in the bumper plastic, as well as projector-beam headlights in the absolute top corners of the nose for a wider stance on the road.
Instead of equally emphasizing the grilles above and below the bowtie badge, the new model adds chrome trim to just the lower grille, which is now rounder and deeper than on previous Chevrolets. The hood crests more sharply and extends further forward to give a modern, clean appearance that the previous cars lacked. The effect is successful overall, but may still be too similar to the original 2008 Malibu’s appearance for some tastes.
The sides of the car are unchanged and still feature a nice rising swage line from the front bumper that flows through the now-chrome door handles. The exterior mirrors now have turn signal repeaters in their outer edges, something that helps mark out premium cars and a feature that also has real-life active safety benefits of making the car more visible to others when turning or changing lanes.
From the profile, the rear end vaguely recalls the 2005 BMW 5-series around the carved-out trunk line and the shape of the rear lights from the side. From the rear view, however, this is clearly no BMW. A four-pack of ’squircle’ LED brake lights try too hard to recall Chevrolet’s performance models, but do offer a nice light signature at night under braking.
The Malibu’s rear end is much nicer than the bland tail of the latest Impala. As ever, GM style comes in two flavors: boring or hideous.
The front is missing the must-have LED day-time running lights that new car shoppers like, but forthcoming Eco and Turbo variants may address this missing feature.
The interior of the Malibu keeps the style and design of the older model, while updating some of its tech packages, offering new color combos and introducing better materials. Overall, the interior - in the photos - seems very narrow, something us Americans certainly don’t like. The packed console is a good example of the pinched dimensions – the cup holders are small and there’s no room for two together so one lives way back behind the clunky shifter. Showing some touch with reality, the console does pack two cubbies that are perfect for smartphones and deep enough to keep things from flying around the cabin.
The center stack looks ultra-cheap in its rounded, silver plastic trim, but the controls within seem logical with large buttons that are flush to the smooth surface and paired with five knobs to make easy adjustments to the basics. Front and center, and framed in a piano black shroud that looks decent, is Chevy’s latest MyLink touchscreen to control infotainment.
The big question mark is the double rainbow dashboard that has faux vents across its full width, ribbed to match the actual air vents at the edges. It’s one of those design touches that probably seemed like a cool idea to a design student on his computer, but in real life it just looks like there’s a giant gap between the top and lower halves of the dashboard.
The new Malibu has more than 1 inch of extra rear legroom versus last year, but is still down more than 4 inches versus the larger 2008 model.
Ambient interior lighting creates a quasi-premium indigo light effect on the inside of the car at night. Interesting surfaces and new faux-wood designs are also in the cards for 2014, but only previous GM drivers will feel like this is a truly classy or premium cockpit.
Drivetrain, Suspension and Brakes
The 2013 Malibu might be considered a big fail based on the depth of the changes to how the 2014 model drives. In the mechanical rendering above, Chevy highlights its new engine, newly refined throttle response, new suspension settings, new brake settings, transmission settings and improved steering feel. For those keeping track, that is the car’s entire driver package re-developed after just one year.
In reality, the 2013 Malibu was a half-baked effort designed during a time of deep turmoil for the auto giant. If anything, the 2014 changes show there’s a new handling and driving satisfaction goal within Chevy’s latest models. Ford of Europe is endlessly lauded for its highly refined chassis tuning, but that finesse doesn’t happen overnight. There needs to be an overarching philosophy for how the cars drive and laborious software tweaking; something Chevy is doing much better with its latest releases.
The big news for the volume model is an all-new 2.5-liter four-cylinder that packs automatic stop/start in traffic, still-impressive (but slightly lower) horsepower and torque figures as well as fuel economy that gets close to last year’s dedicated Eco model.
The new 2.5-liter engine is pretty sophisticated with direct injection, dual overhead camshafts and a new-to-GM iVLC two-step variable valvetrain technology. All models are paired with a six-speed automatic with gearstick buttons for manual override. Performance is expected to match the previous model’s 8.3-second 0-to-60 mph time before topping out at a limited 130 mph max speed.
The enthusiast’s choice is the 2.0-liter turbocharged four, which packs 14 percent more torque lower in the rev range. The Turbo makes 259 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, despite a re-tune for slightly more efficient running at highway speeds.
The new Malibu is well-equipped in both active and passive safety features. On the active, or
“prevent the crash,” front, the ‘Bu packs all the latest electronics to keep the car under control in even the worst conditions. In addition to the required ABS, ESP, and EBD, the Malibu also includes:
- Brake Assist: helps apply the right brake pressure to stop the vehicle even if a driver hasn’t hit the brakes hard enough
- Corner Brake Control: a form of always-on stability control that distributes brake force differently to the front and rear, as well as left to right, wheels under braking in a corner.
- Hydraulic Brake Fade assist: Helps limit the effect of brake fade by applying extra pressure to squeeze the brakes and stop the car.
- Drag Torque Control: doesn’t let the wheels lose grip even when engine braking on a slippery surface
- Optional - Side Blind Zone Alert and Rear Cross Traffic Alert: radar-based systems to alert drivers to other cars they didn’t or couldn’t see from the driver’s seat
- Optional – backup camera
From these German-style safety features, it seems Chevy is finally getting seriously competitive. On the passive safety front (protection in an accident), the ‘Bu is highly rated with 10 airbags and a five-star overall score from the NHTSA and Top Safety Pick status from IIHS.
The revised 2014 Malibu arrives late summer 2013 at Chevrolet dealer lots nationwide. Here’s hoping these dealers can clear the inventory of existing Malibus before then, or a repeat of last year’s botched launch is certainly in the cards. No 2013 Malibu’s have been made since December 2012.
Pricing is expected to stay consistent with the previous model’s low $23,000 base price, increasing to $34,000 with every option on the 2LT Turbo. This starting price point marks the Malibu apart from smaller rivals that cost the same money, namely the Ford Focus.
Recalls and Reliability
The Malibu is too new to have any recalls, but the 2013 Eco model with the eAssist mild hybrid setup was recalled for faulty “Generator Control Modules” that caused a loss of charge and had the rare possibility of starting a fire near the batteries in the trunk.
Overall reliability and residuals for the Malibu are worse-than-average, with resale value a particular low point for Chevy sedans.
The new Fusion packs a striking design, a longer and lower profile, and many premium interior features that the Chevy lacks. All the good Fusion bits (besides its shapely curves and cool nose) are pricey options, but it does have a full Hybrid model available and is also a candidate for the ST treatment in 2014.
The under-rated Mazda6 is totally redesigned for 2014 with tasteful, premium bodywork, a much lower hood and roof line, and a longer hood that imparts a premium feel. Despite the corporate split from Ford, the Mazda6 and Fusion are close siblings underneath. The Mazda sells in smaller numbers but will soon offer their excellent SkyActiv diesel engine in the United States for the first time. The Mazda’s interior is its biggest demerit.
The Malibu remains a popular choice among cost-conscious buyers, particularly people who want a brand-new car, don’t like compacts and prefer domestic vehicles. In terms of delivering a real competitive advantage, the Malibu falters. Overall, however, the ‘Bu is the second-best mid-size domestic sedan that often costs around $5,000 less than the Ford Fusion.
The stylish Fusion is a real thorn in the Malibu’s side. Both the Ford and the Chevy are light-years better than the lame-duck Chrysler 200, but is that a real achievement? The Malibu loses style points to the Koreans, the back-seat-space battle to the Japanese, and fails on all-weather ability versus the flood of mini crossovers reaching the market.
The new GM seems like it might have its head on straight with the new Malibu. The changes for 2014 effectively re-launch the car in the polished form it should’ve had from day one.
|Driving||B||Much-Improved Driving Experience|
|Performance||C||Tepid Acceleration Expected In Base Model But Higher Outputs for quick Malibu Turbo|
|Look||C||Still Unimpressive Style Compared With Best-Looking Rivals|
|Value||B+||Well-Judged Base Price Is Below Competition|
|Overall||B||The First Truly Competitive Malibu In A Long Time|