2014 Chevrolet Malibu Midsize Sedan Road Test and Review: Introduction
With the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu, General Motors is attempting to press the re-set button and to re-launch its midsize family sedan just one year after a completely redesigned version debuted for 2013. The reasons for this vary depending on whom you talk to, but my opinion is that Chevy tried to fix what wasn’t broken, and then fumbled the car’s launch by revealing the redesign too early and getting the most popular engine choices into showrooms too late.
It sure didn’t help that the new Malibu went on sale at about the same time as the beautifully styled 2013 Ford Fusion, the impeccably engineered 2013 Honda Accord, and the dramatically improved 2013 Nissan Altima, all closely followed by the fantastic new 2014 Mazda 6. Indeed, the midsize sedan segment is populated by seriously capable machinery, and this quartet, accompanied by the car that everyone things they should buy, the Toyota Camry, and the aging but still impressive Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima, made the new Chevrolet Malibu an also-ran in its freshman year.
This year Chevy has made numerous changes designed to address this situation. From styling to dynamic tuning to interior comfort, the 2014 Malibu is substantially improved over last year’s model. But do the changes go far enough in terms of making the Malibu worthy of consideration? I borrowed a 2014 Malibu 2LT to find out.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu Midsize Sedan Road Test and Review: Models and Prices
Before we get to my opinions of the Malibu, let’s set the stage. Buyers can choose between LS, 1LT, 2LT, 3LT, 1LTZ, and 2LTZ trim levels, and prices range from just over $22,000 for the Malibu LS to just over $36,000 for a loaded 3LTZ with all of the options.
Most people will want one of the LT models. They include better headlights, heated side mirrors, a nicer interior with ambient lighting, and a MyLink color touchscreen radio with Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, a USB port, and more. The Malibu 2LT and 3LT add 18-inch aluminum wheels, fog lights, remote engine starting, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power driver’s seat, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Additionally, the Malibu 3LT features a more powerful turbocharged 4-cylinder engine.
Choose the Malibu 1LTZ for leather upholstery, a power front passenger’s seat, heated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and more. This model wears machined-face aluminum wheels, and if you upgrade to the 2LTZ model for its turbocharged engine Chevy also tosses in bigger front brakes and a power sunroof.
Highlights from the optional equipment list include rear parking assist sensors, a reversing camera, a premium sound system, and a navigation system. An Advanced Safety Package is also available at a relative bargain, installing a Forward Collision Alert system, a Lane Departure Warning system, a Side Blind Zone Alert system, and a Rear Cross-Traffic Alert system. Features offered exclusively for the Malibu 1LTZ and 2LTZ include a passive keyless entry system with push-button starting, a driver-preference memory system, and HID headlights. If you want a set of snazzy 19-inch aluminum wheels, you’ve gotta get the Malibu 2LTZ.
My test car is the most popular version of the 2014 Malibu equipped with the most popular engine and wearing a price tag of $30,000 even. In addition to standard equipment, my Malibu had an Electronics and Entertainment Package ($1,175 – premium speakers, reversing camera, auto-dimming rearview mirror, universal garage door opener), a Leather Package ($1,000 – leather and heated front seats), an Advanced Safety Package ($890 – see description above), and a navigation system ($795).
2014 Chevrolet Malibu Midsize Sedan Road Test and Review: Design
- Restyled front end
- New wheel designs
- Upgraded interior trim
When I first laid eyes on the redesigned 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, I figured the car would be a huge hit. Remember, Chevy debuted the Malibu not long after the new, and utterly boring, Camry went on sale, and compared to that appliance on wheels the Malibu exhibited real style. But then, the new Ford Fusion and Mazda 6 showed up to the party, demonstrating just how stylish a mainstream family sedan can be.
For 2014, Chevy has redesigned the Malibu’s front end for two reasons. First, the revamped look better aligns with other cars in the company’s lineup. Second, it is a visual cue referencing the automaker’s desire to press the re-set button for the Malibu.
Personally, I like the new look, which makes the Malibu’s prominent nose appear more aggressive and lower to the ground. My test car’s appealing Atlantis Blue paint and handsome 18-inch aluminum wheels also helped my Malibu to put its best styling foot forward, but when viewing the car in profile the overhangs still look too big and the greenhouse still looks too small, creating a lack of cohesiveness. As a result, my preference remains the 2008-2012 Malibu, which didn’t possess quite as much flair as the newer model but definitely displayed better-balanced proportions.
There’s no argument to be made against the 2014 Malibu’s interior in comparison to the previous-generation model. It represents a big improvement. Still, Chevy could probably improve the cabin by replacing all the shiny silver plastic trim because it looks exactly like shiny plastic trim, giving the interior an inexpensive look. My test car’s tendency to rattle didn’t help improve matters. I do, however, like the ice-blue control illumination and ambient dashboard lighting after the sun goes down.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu Midsize Sedan Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
- Revised rear seating to improve space and comfort
In response to criticism of last year’s Malibu, one of the changes Chevy made for the 2014 model is improved back seat room and comfort. That’s a good thing, because even after the modifications, this midsize sedan’s rear accommodations remain snug. Comfort is decent, and the front seatbacks are softly padded in order to make them friendlier to knees and shins, but you’re not going to be stretching out in this car. It’s also harder to get into and out the back seat than it probably ought to be.
For the record, I installed a forward-facing child seat and a booster seat into the Malibu, and my kids didn’t kick the seats much. But they could have, and easily, had they elected to.
Adults are going to be happier in the Malibu’s front seats. My test car included an optional 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel wrapped in smooth leather, and in combination with the plush armrests and soft upper door panel materials, I found the Malibu to be plenty comfortable. The steering wheel is a little bit small, though, forcing me to hold my arms closer together while driving than I might in other midsize sedans.
Trunk space is no problem, as the Malibu provides 16.3 cubic-feet of usefully shaped space. Full-size suitcases tuck right in, and I was able to fit my compact stroller inside wheels first. The trunk hinges are enclosed to make sure they don’t crush cargo, and if you need more space the 60/40-split rear seat folds down to accommodate more of your stuff. There’s also a grab handle to help close the trunk and keep your hands clean if the car is dirty.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu Midsize Sedan Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- Siri Eyes Free technology is available
- Hands-free texting technology is available
All versions of the 2014 Malibu except for the base LS model are equipped with a touchscreen MyLink infotainment system that can be upgraded with premium Pioneer speakers, a navigation system, Siri Eyes Free technology for iPhone users, and hands-free texting capability. In the Malibu, the MyLink screen’s main menu selections are rendered as touch-sensitive virtual buttons arrayed on a gloss-black screen surround. Conventional stereo and climate controls are located beneath the MyLink system, and when used the driver needs to reference the MyLink screen for corresponding data.
Most of the Malibu’s controls are really easy to understand and use, though it did take me a minute or two to figure out how to cycle between the trip computer menu choices. The least appealing aspects of the Malibu’s control layout pertain to the how the stereo’s tuning knob and the transmission’s gear selector work. Y’know, things you don’t touch very often.
Let’s say you’re listening to CNN on satellite radio, and the commercials start. You might want to switch to Fox or MSNBC to hear what the extremists from either political party are discussing. Fox is one channel down from CNN, and MSNBC is two channels up.
In most cars, you would grab the tuning knob and twist it once or twice to head up or down to either station. In the Malibu, twisting the tuning knob once basically pulls up the radio station screen. Twist again to move to the new station. Now push on the tuning knob to tell the radio that you actually want to select that station. Basically, the Malibu requires a minimum of three separate instructions and two separate actions just to tune from SiriusXM 115 to SiriusXM 114. Seriously?
Now let’s say, for whatever reason, you’re inspired to manually shift your Malibu’s 4-cylinder engine. Pull the lever down into M, for Manual, and now shift by pushing on the silly rocker switch that sits atop what otherwise could be an aesthetically appealing shifter. You guessed it. That’s not terribly satisfying.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu Midsize Sedan Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- Optional Side Blind Zone Alert
- Optional Rear Cross-Traffic Alert
Another reason that last year’s Malibu might have hit the market with a thud could have been its lack of a blind-spot information system. Of modern safety technologies, this one is my favorite, the one I find most useful. The good news is that the 2014 Malibu does provide this, along with a new Rear Cross-Traffic Alert that is also really helpful in crowded parking lots.
They join a Forward Collision Warning system and a Lane Departure Warning system that carry over from last year, all four technologies bundled into a remarkably affordable option package. I would encourage you to buy this, but you need to know that the Forward Collision Warning system is irritatingly sensitive if you spend lots of time in city traffic, delivers a greater number or real or imagined warnings than you might like.
All Malibus have a standard OnStar telematics system, which includes a 6-month subscription to services. Thereafter, owners must pay a monthly or annual subscription fee. That’s probably worthwhile, as the system includes Automatic Crash Response, which automatically notifies authorities of a collision when the Malibu’s airbags deploy, helping to rush rescuers to the exact location of the crash. If you’ve got young drivers in the household, OnStar offers an opt-in FamilyLink service that can help parents keep a remote eye on the car’s whereabouts from the comfort of home.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu Crash-Test Ratings
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the 2014 Malibu a 5-star overall crash-test rating, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates the Malibu as “Good” in all assessments for which the car has been tested. The IIHS has not evaluated the 2014 Malibu in its small overlap frontal-impact test.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu Midsize Sedan Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- New 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine
- New automatic stop/start system
- Improved fuel economy ratings
- More powerful turbocharged engine option
- Revised suspension tuning
All automakers are scrambling to improve fuel efficiency, and Chevrolet is no different. This year, the 2014 Malibu gets a new direct-injected 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine equipped with an automatic stop/start system that shuts the engine off when the car is idling in traffic or at an intersection. The engine makes 196 horsepower, fed to the front wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Optionally, by choosing the Malibu 3LT or 3LTZ, buyers can install a more satisfying turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that generates 259 horsepower. This year, Chevy bumps the torque rating on this engine, raising it to 295 lb.-ft. of twist peaking between 3,000 rpm and 4,000 rpm. In combined driving, the EPA says this engine should produce 24 mpg, and while Chevrolet recommends premium fuel for this engine, it says regular works, too.
As for my test car and its new, more fuel-efficient 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, the EPA thinks I should have gotten 29 mpg. I wish. Instead, I got 23.4 mpg with half of my mileage consisting of highway cruising. There’s plenty of real estate between those two numbers, and I didn’t even hit the city rating of 25 mpg, so it would appear that the official EPA number is a figment of someone’s imagination.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu Midsize Sedan Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
While the Malibu’s new 4-cylinder engine doesn’t come close to achieving its fuel economy targets, it does provide decent power, is reasonably refined, and is well isolated from the car’s cabin. The engine does lack zing, though, revving reluctantly rather than willingly. The 6-speed automatic transmission also sometimes clunks between gears, seemingly confused about what it should be doing. On a positive note, the automatic stop/start technology operates in barely noticeable fashion. BMW could certainly take a lesson here.
Aside from the lackluster powertrain, the Malibu’s dynamic tuning is appealing. The revised suspension provides a taut, controlled ride that doesn’t beat you up over bumps, and thanks to impressive roll control this sedan is able to carry plenty of speed through corners – if you’re inclined to drive in such fashion. Plus, the car’s structure feels remarkably rigid, helping the Malibu glide over a particularly bad stretch of freeway pavement near my house. Cruise down any stretch of highway, and you’ll be amazed by how quiet the Malibu is.
The car’s electric steering is light years ahead of the very first GM attempts at such technology, though it seems awkwardly weighted just off center. The brake pedal is also easy to modulate and provides good feedback, but sits a little high in comparison to the accelerator pedal, making braking a more deliberate exercise.
My test car has the optional Advanced Safety Package, which includes a blind spot information system, a lane departure warning system, and a forward collision alert system. It works pretty well, though the forward collision alert system seems to be a little too sensitive for L.A. traffic.
Though the Malibu is dynamically capable, it isn’t particularly satisfying to drive. My bet is that the optional turbocharged engine injects plenty of personality into this car, and takes best advantage of the suspension, steering, and braking. So don’t judge the Malibu too harshly based on the last rental car you got at the airport.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu Midsize Sedan Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
The midsize family sedan segment is loaded with excellent choices, and while the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu is a fundamentally decent car, it continues to trail its primary competitors in many respects. The main areas requiring improvement, based on my examination of the car, are related to fuel economy and rear seat passenger space. But the interior could also use further polishing in terms of materials and how the controls operate, and it’s officially strange that a $30,000 sedan still comes with a key that needs to be twisted in an ignition cylinder lock.
When Chevy redesigned the Malibu for 2013, I thought the move was premature. The previous model needed little more than nicer interior materials, upgraded technology, and powertrain massaging in the form of a mid-life refresh. Now, I’m thinking that the Malibu’s next redesign can’t arrive soon enough.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu Midsize Sedan Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Optional turbocharged engine
- Rock-solid body architecture
- Terrific suspension tuning
- Comfortable driver’s seat
- MyLink and OnStar technologies
- Affordable safety systems
- Impressive crash-test ratings
- Cramped back seat
- Disappointing fuel economy
- Funky body proportions in profile
- Odd control markings and operation
- Interior requires further refinement
Chevrolet supplied the 2014 Malibu for this review
2014 Chevrolet Malibu 2LT photos by Christian Wardlaw