2014 Chevrolet Malibu
Chevrolet had high hopes when it introduced the redesigned 2013 Malibu at the 2011 New York auto show. On point for GM’s charge into the competitive mid-size sedan segment, the General was counting on the new bow-tie sedan to inflict some serious sales damage on opponents with names like Camry, Accord, and Fusion.
But the 2013 Malibu, the planning for which was completed during the dark days leading up to the General’s 2009 bankruptcy, was flawed from the start. The car was heavier than GM intended, which made attaining good EPA numbers problematic. Worsening matters, the Malibu’s rear-seat room was dictated by the shorter-wheelbase Epsilon II platform used, and it was also saddled with stubby styling unloved even within the ranks of GM itself. Still, with the previous-gen Malibu aging quickly, and the mild hybrid eAssist drivetrain available from the Buick Regal and LaCrosse, the Malibu Eco model with eAssist was rushed to market in the hopes its slightly better EPA fuel-economy estimates would lure buyers with high gas prices looming. Prospective buyers looking for a more traditional powertrain had to wait months to get their hands on a Malibu powered by either the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter or 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine.
In a C/D comparison test with five other mid-size sedans, the all-new 2013 Eco got hammered, coming in dead last, and the market agreed. The Malibu managed to post what at first glance appeared to be respectable sales numbers, selling 70,913 units in the first four months of 2013. (The introduction of the 2013 Malibu was staggered throughout 2012, and dealers still had previous-generation cars on their lots until November of that year. Results for the 2012 sales year are therefore inconclusive.) But tally the competitors’ sales for the same period and the reason for the Malibu’s emergency 2014 refresh becomes clear: The Ford Fusion posted sales of 107,780 units; the Nissan Altima 108,943; the Honda Accord 121,965; and the king of the sales heap, the Toyota Camry, nearly doubled the Malibu at 132,540 units sold.
Changing From the Inside Out
The 2013 Malibu was wider, quieter, and more opulent inside than the previous model, including the use of upgraded soft-touch materials. But it was also a whopping four inches shorter, and one of our primary complaints about the car involved its deficient rear legroom. At least a few people at Chevrolet shared our pain, as the brand has taken a few strides to alleviate the issue. New seat-cushion sculpting allows passengers to sit deeper in the seats. Approximately half an inch was shaved from the leading edge of rear seat cushion to reposition passenger legs and deliver the impression of more space. To give knees a little breathing room, the rears of the front seatbacks have been scalloped to find another 1.3 inches of knee room.
Chevy made some minor changes to the center console to deliver a longer, ostensibly more comfortable armrest, and it also replaced the former covered storage area with a pair of cup holders and two cell-phone bins. But the glut of discordant interior textures, hues, and finishes appears to have survived the makeover unscathed. We counted no less than eight different interior materials and textures in our test of the 2013 Malibu 2.5, and frankly we were hoping Chevy would take this opportunity to give the interior color and material wheel another spin.
As for the Malibu’s overwrought maw, Chevy designers took inspiration from the newish Impala and brought the smaller car in line with the rest of the Chevrolet sedan lineup. The lower grille has been emphasized, and the hood extends down and over the leading edge of a narrower upper grille. The grille openings themselves are wider and accented with chrome.
Both the standard, naturally aspirated, direct-injected 2.5-liter engine and the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine have been tweaked for this year. (Chevrolet hasn’t yet mentioned whether the Eco powertrain will be revised for 2014.) The 2.5 still features variable valve timing, but for 2014 adds Intake Valve Lift Control (iVLC), a feature said to enhance low-end torque while lowering emissions by varying the amount of intake-valve lift. Simply put, the iVLC setup operates in two lift modes: low and high. At lower speeds and loads, the engine remains in low-lift mode, the engine pumping only the air it needs to meet the driver’s demand. During high-speed or -load situations it switches to high-lift mode, providing the full output capability of the engine. Despite the new tech, the engine is down one horsepower to 196 and five lb-ft of torque to 186 in comparison to the 2013 car. We expect the changes to deliver increased refinement. Those interested in a boost in power will want to select the available 2.0-liter turbo engine. Although its horsepower rating stays the same at 259, torque is up by a meaty 35 lb-ft to 295.
For the first time in a non-hybrid GM vehicle, an engine stop/start system will be standard with the 2.5-liter engine. Chevy expects the EPA fuel-economy estimates to come in at 23/35 mpg city/highway, up slightly from the 2013 model’s 22/34. With the start/stop system, an additional trunk-mounted battery powers accessories when the engine is stopped. Shift points for the six-speed automatic transmission have been adjusted, and the unit has been massaged to deliver quicker shifts and better manners.
To dial in a more refined driving experience, Chevy engineers again looked to the 2014 Impala, this time for some basic chassis and suspension updates. The automaker claims rebound springs internal to the struts allow for more refined calibration of the dampers, while also improving body roll control and weight transfer during acceleration or cornering.
Variable-effort electric power rack-and-pinion power steering is still standard, but higher-effort calibrations engineered to more closely mimic the feel of hydraulic systems were implemented for 2014. Chevrolet tells us the brake system has also been revised for better feel but refrained from offering any specifics.
The question: Can a few adjustments turn Chevrolet’s Malibu sedan into a corporate profit machine on par with Camry and Accord? And can the changes lift the ’Bu from the comparison-test basement? We can’t say for sure until we drive the revised car, but points to Chevy for moving quickly to address the car’s shortcomings.
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