2014 Chevrolet Malibu 2.0T Review
It's refreshed, but is it better?
Web2Carz Contributing Writer
Published: January 13th, 2014
Emergency refreshes seem all the rage whenever a new or redesigned model flops with the press and the public. Honda did it with the Civic compact in 2012, and now Chevrolet is following suit with the mid-size Malibu.
When the 2013 model launched, it was immediately panned for a too-small rear seat and derivative, bland styling. Chevy, knowing how important mid-size cars are, set about fixing those issues by adding 1.25 inches of rear-seat room, freshening the front fascia, and re-doing the interior, while also adding power and improving fuel-economy. The result isn't exactly more of the same, but it's far from mind-blowing.
Larger back seat, more power, more safety features - it all sounds good on paper. But can Chevy's tweak bring the Malibu closer to the top of the class?
Our tester had the higher-powered of the two available Malibu engines - a 2.0-liter turbo four (the other is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with a stop/start function) - and it showed. Acceleration wasn't chart-topping, but it was brisk enough for our urban commute.
Mid-size cars often get accused of having boring handling, but the Malibu ain't bland, thank goodness. It's not on the same level as the best-in-class sporty mid-sizers (think Ford Fusion and Mazda 6) yet it's more satisfying than a Camry. Admittedly, the steering feel is a bit light at times, nevertheless it's responsive and gives the car a little bit of personality. As for ride, the Malibu does feel stiffly sprung at times, but it stays within the acceptable range for a commuter.
The Malibu won't be the enthusiast's choice, but it's not a snooze-mobile either. It provides just enough fun to make you glad you didn't pick the Camry while still leaving you wistful for the Fusion.
We did get a brief sampling of the base engine's stop/start system as a passenger, and we found it to be impressively unintrusive in operation, although it's designed to occasionally allow the engine to idle in cold weather, which was noticeable on the day we tested it, thanks to a blast of Arctic weather.
Chevy tried to make the exterior more appealing with the refresh, they really did. But we all know about lipstick and pigs (thanks Sarah Palin!) and how that all works.
Actually, that's unfair - the previous Malibu wasn't a pig, and neither is the new one. However, refreshes can only do so much. We liked the look of the previous car well enough, as bland as it was, but it never was a head-turner, it blended too well. Same goes for the update. It's easier on the eyes, nevertheless it still disappears into suburban parking lots too easily. It doesn't have the swoopy lines of the 6 or the luxury-car derivative styling of the Fusion, both of which catch our eye. You'll never offend anyone's sensibilities in this car, but you won't wow them, either.
The other point of the update was to improve the interior, specifically the rear-seat room. Results are mixed - we sat back there, and our unscientific eyeball/and leg-stretch test seems to confirm that even if it's roomier now, space is still tight.
Otherwise, we have little beef with the cabin. Switches are where they're supposed to be, Chevy's MyLink infotainment system is easy to use, and there's hidden storage everywhere, most notably behind the infotainment screen. Design-wise, the look is conservative, but function triumphs form here, with few complaints.
The word "rental special" is an epitaph in automotive circles, but it's hard not to call the Malibu that, simply since it seems to appeal to almost everyone while offending no one (save perhaps really tall rear-seat riders). It's not plush and soft like the Camry, it strikes a nice ride/handling balance, it offers solid fuel economy (especially with the base engine), and it has an interior that offers all the expected creature comforts. Still, its conservative exterior will be off-putting to many (conservative styling does often work in this class, but mid-sizers are getting sexier by the day, it seems), refresh aside. On the other hand, lots of mid-size cars don't wear flashy suits and they still sell just fine.
If all that sounds like a long way of saying the Malibu is a middle of the pack mid-size sedan with a few pleasant surprises, well, we suppose it is. It's a pretty good car in a class where pretty good might not be good enough.
Specs, Features, & Prices
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drive Wheels: Front-wheel-drive
Fuel Economy: 21 mpg city/30 mpg highway
Base Price: $26,750 (excludes $825 destination fee)
Price As Tested: $31,830
Available Features: Forward collision alert, rear cross traffic alert, Bluetooth, Pandora, heated front seats, leather seats, land departure warning, blind-zone alert, USB port, satellite radio.
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu, click here: 2014 Chevrolet Malibu.