Full 2014 Chevrolet Malibu Review
What's New for 2014
For 2014, the Chevrolet Malibu receives a variety of upgrades. Inside, you'll find added rear-seat legroom and a new center console with more storage. Outside, there's new front-end styling. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine receives various tweaks, including a stop-start system, that increase its combined fuel economy rating to match that of the mild-hybrid 2.4-liter Eco powertrain. Chevrolet will phase out the mild-hybrid Eco model early in the model year, but afterward, all Malibus with the 2.5-liter engine will wear an Eco badge. Chevy has also revised the optional turbocharged engine to produce 295 pound-feet of torque, a 35 lb-ft gain, and retuned the car's suspension for better ride and handling characteristics.
In the past, the Chevy Malibu has been stuck in the role of a second-string athlete trying to move up the depth chart. Essentially, it was a good midsize sedan competing with some truly great family cars with bigger names. Last year's redesign, however, boosted the Malibu's stats in this hugely competitive class, as it made significant strides in refinement, feature availability and fuel economy. The 2014 Chevrolet Malibu sees a few more upgrades that further its appeal, including a more distinctive front end design, increased rear-seat legroom and a more fuel-efficient mainstream engine. This year also brings a slight shuffling of trim levels and equipment.
Even if you're considering just a base-model Malibu, you won't get the feeling that you're settling. The cabin has a handsome design, good noise isolation and quality soft-touch materials. Most models also come standard with Chevy's MyLink system, which features a touchscreen interface that integrates with your smartphone to allow voice control, streaming music through Bluetooth audio and Internet radio compatibility and various hands-free text-messaging capabilities.
As far as what's under the hood, there's quite a variety, with a thrifty mild hybrid on one end and a stout turbocharged four-cylinder engine on the other. The hybrid powertrain on the Malibu Eco model earns an impressive 29 mpg EPA combined rating. However, thanks to the addition of a stop-start system and various other engine changes, Chevrolet Malibus with the mainstream, non-hybrid 2.5-liter four-cylinder (with nearly 200 horsepower) now earn the same combined mpg rating. As a result, Chevrolet decided to discontinue the more expensive mild-hybrid Eco model early in the model year.
However, all Malibus with the 2.5-liter engine also wear an Eco badge this year, so you'll want to check closely to understand whether the car you're considering is one of the small handful of 2.4-liter mild-hybrid Eco models built for 2014 or, more likely, a Malibu with the conventional 2.5-liter engine. Either the 2.5-liter or the available, 259-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged engine are solid options, as they provide strong performance and admirable fuel efficiency along with greater trunk capacity than the hybrid Malibu Eco (its trunk is smaller to accommodate an under-floor battery pack).
If you're shopping for a midsize family sedan, making a choice isn't going to be easy given the vast spread of qualified candidates. The 2014 Chevrolet Malibu should meet most of your requirements, but family cars like the dramatically styled Ford Fusion, the polished Honda Accord and the fuel-efficient Nissan Altima have more all-around appeal. The Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda 6 and Volkswagen Passat have also earned strong accolades in our testing. Although the Chevrolet Malibu doesn't have any significant advantages over these competitors, it's still a good prospect and, particularly with this year's upgrades, worth scouting during the search for your next family car.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2014 Chevrolet Malibu midsize sedan is available in four main trims: LS, LT, Eco and LTZ. The stand-alone Eco model will end production early in the 2014 model year; however, all LS, LT and LTZ trims equipped with the 2.5-liter engine will subsequently carry the Eco badge.
Standard equipment on the LS includes 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, keyless entry, full power accessories, cruise control, air-conditioning (with humidity sensor), a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a power driver-seat height adjuster, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, OnStar, Bluetooth phone connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player.
The LT actually consists of three subsets: 1LT, 2LT and 3LT. All but the 3LT are called Eco. Added perks of the 1LT over the LS include heated mirrors, upgraded upholstery, Bluetooth audio connectivity, a 7-inch touchscreen display, Chevy's MyLink electronics interface (includes voice controls, Internet radio smartphone app compatibility and voice-to-text messaging capability for certain smartphones) and an upgraded audio system with satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
Standard features for Eco models with the 2.4-liter engine and eAssist hybrid system are similar to those of the 1LT, with a few upgrades that include 17-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, remote start, dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver seat (with power lumbar) and a leather-wrapped steering wheel/shift knob.
The 2LT further adds 18-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, a compact spare tire (versus a tire repair kit), dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver seat (with power lumbar) and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The 3LT is essentially identical to the 2LT, with the addition of the turbocharged engine.
The top-of-the-line LTZ consists of two subsets: 1LZ and 2LZ. Either way, you'll get leather seating, heated front seats, an eight-way power passenger seat (with power lumbar) and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The 2LZ adds a sunroof and the turbocharged engine.
Many of the upper trims' features are available on the lower trims via various option packages. Other optional highlights (depending on trim) include the Advanced Safety package (includes forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems), xenon headlights, keyless ignition/entry, a premium nine-speaker Pioneer audio system, a 120-volt power outlet, a navigation system and a rearview camera.
Powertrains and Performance
Most 2014 Chevrolet Malibus come with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 196 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic driving the front wheels is standard, as is an automatic stop-start feature that shuts off the engine when you're stopped to save fuel. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 29 mpg combined (25 mpg city/36 mpg highway): good numbers for a four-cylinder midsize sedan.
The mild-hybrid Malibu Eco model comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder paired to a small electric motor. It produces 182 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque. Unlike a full hybrid, the mild-hybrid Malibu Eco cannot propel itself using electricity alone. Instead, the electric motor modestly aids acceleration and powers vehicle accessories. The Eco model also features a six-speed automatic transmission and an automatic stop-start system. EPA-estimated fuel economy is the same as the 2.5-liter engine, at 29 mpg combined (25 mpg city/36 mpg highway). These numbers are considerably less than what you'd get from a full hybrid sedan.
Note that Chevrolet will phase out the 2.4-liter Eco model early in the 2014 model year. Subsequently, all Malibus with the 2.5-liter engine will wear Eco badges. If you're looking at a 2014 Chevy Malibu with Eco badging, you'll want to confirm exactly which engine is under the hood.
Meanwhile, the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is only offered on the 3LT and 2LZ trims. It produces 259 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, and uses the six-speed automatic. Fuel economy registers an EPA-estimated 24 mpg combined (21 mpg city/30 mpg highway).
In Edmunds performance testing, the 2.4-liter Malibu Eco went from zero to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds -- an average time for a four-cylinder family sedan.
The 2014 Chevy Malibu comes standard with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front knee airbags, front side airbags, rear side airbags and side curtain airbags. Also standard is the OnStar telematics system, which includes automatic crash notification, on-demand roadside assistance, remote door unlocking and stolen vehicle assistance. A rearview camera is available, as is a safety package with forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Malibu Eco stopped from 60 mph in 119 feet, which is a few feet better than average.
In government crash testing, last year's similar Malibu earned five out of five stars for overall crash protection, with five stars for total frontal impact protection and five stars for total side impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Malibu its highest possible rating of "Good" in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side impact and roof strength tests. It was also rated Good for its seat/head restraint design in rear-impact testing. In the Institute's new small-overlap frontal-offset test, the Malibu scored a second-lowest "Marginal" rating, though in fairness not many cars have done well in this relatively new test.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2014 Chevrolet Malibu stands out from the crowd with a cabin that, from a design standpoint, verges on entry-level luxury car territory. The look is attractive, and there is an abundance of soft-touch materials, although some basic controls don't feel as substantial as you might think given the upscale ambience.
The center stack's control layout might seem a bit complicated at first, but it's easy to get the hang of it once you've logged some miles in the car. The MyLink touchscreen interface features an intuitive menu structure and allows control of smartphone radio apps such as Pandora and Stitcher. Unfortunately, the interface can prove frustrating to use at times, as reactions to touch inputs are occasionally slow or missed entirely.
Your comfort level in the Malibu has a lot to do with where you end up sitting. The front seats are comfortable, and the available power driver seat provides a wide range of adjustability for tall drivers. In back, the Malibu provides competitive shoulder and hiproom, but the shorter wheelbase compared to most rivals means less legroom, despite incremental increases due to thinner front seatbacks in 2014 models. In spite of this change, taller drivers will still have to scoot their seat up a bit to make room for rear passengers -- not something you'd have to do in most other midsize sedans, which have more rear legroom.
All Malibus but the 2.4-liter Eco boast a 16.3-cubic-foot trunk, which is slightly above average for a midsize sedan. The Eco model's trunk measures just 14.3 cubic feet. Although 14 cubes is still decent capacity, the trunk's space is oddly shaped, as the rear of the trunk is taken up by the hybrid car's compact lithium-ion battery. Also, while the Eco still provides a pass-through into the interior, the pass-through is small and located in the upper left corner of the trunk.
The 2014 Chevrolet Malibu's base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine offers plenty of power to move with traffic, in both suburban driving and at highway speeds. Together with various other engine changes, the new-for-2014 stop-start system significantly improves fuel economy, and it works so seamlessly and quietly that most drivers will scarcely notice its presence.
The available turbocharged 2.0-liter engine brings an entirely different level of performance, allowing the Malibu to bolt away from stoplights like a true sport sedan and pass effortlessly on two-lane roads. The trade-off is mediocre city fuel economy, but if you value V6-like acceleration, this engine won't disappoint.
The 2.4-liter Eco model's mild-hybrid system operates seamlessly, seldom reminding the driver of its existence. Unfortunately, the 2.4-liter four-cylinder that provides the majority of the motivation on the Eco model sounds unrefined and feels sluggish in real-world driving, despite respectable acceleration numbers for the class. The culprit is the automatic transmission, which is overeager to shift into top gear and reluctant to kick down when needed.
Chevrolet put a lot of effort into giving the Malibu a supremely quiet cabin, and we consider it a successful mission. This on-road serenity is particularly noteworthy on the highway, where the Malibu offers a well-composed ride that smooths out bumps without making you feel isolated from the driving experience. Handling is about what you'd expect for a family sedan: confidence-inspiring, but we wouldn't call it fun. The steering is responsive enough and offers an appropriate amount of weighting, but provides little driver engagement in the way it feels.