The first month of playing getting to know you with our 2014 Chevrolet Malibu long-term test car proved to be a generally pleasant learning experience. Although the car was involved in a brake-related recall mere days after joining the KBB fleet, resolving that potential problem only required a quick trip to a local Chevy dealer where it took less than an hour to have the brake control module reprogrammed.
Beyond that unexpected detour, most of the early miles racked up were spent tooling around town or in extended commuting duties. Rather than take an all-new car, we opted for a veteran from Chevy's press fleet with 3,064 miles on the clock, much like you'd find if you bought a demo car from a dealer's lot under a Certified Pre-Owned program. We had the car inspected along the lines of the factory CPO program (Chevy's involves a 172-point process and includes a 12 month/12,000 limited warranty, a 5 year/100,000 powertrain warranty as well as a 24 month/24,000 mile CPO scheduled maintenance plan). As expected with the low number of miles, the car came in virtually new condition. In addition to allowing us to evaluate a car with some miles on it, our test also provides an ideal opportunity to assess just how effective Chevy's sophomore season revamps of the suspension and seats had been in elevating the 2014 Malibu's overall comfort index relative to other players in the mid-size sedan class.
It didn't take long for the Malibu to start making positive impressions on a number of levels. Even without the 2014 tweaks, the car's well-isolated cabin is one of the quietest in its segment and the subtle but effective chassis retune inspired by the 2014 Impala endows this Chevy 4-door with an even better combination of compliance and control that further enhances its generally welcoming character. Kudos also are warranted for the new start/stop system on the 2.5-liter base 4-cylinder in our LT1-spec car which remains impressively low-key when cycling. However, we're still wondering about its efficacy, as our Malibu's fuel economy to date has averaged a decidedly modest 23 mpg compared to its official 25/36/29 mpg EPA stats.
It pays to be up front
No question the choicest seats in the 2014 Malibu are its front buckets. We think they'd benefit from a bit more contouring, but the optional Premium Package on our car does add to their basic appeal by upgrading the driver's unit from manual fore/aft with power vertical adjustment to a full-power unit that also includes 4-way lumbar support. That extra touch coupled with the car's standard tilt/telescoping steering column makes it easy to dial up a proper position behind the wheel. Although relocating the passenger-side bucket is still a purely do-it-yourself exercise, it runs a respectable second when it comes to perch-priority ratings.
Back bench blues
We found the Malibu's aft quarters to be notably less accommodating. Although Chevy put a good deal of effort into bolstering the basic appeal of its 60/40 split-folding rear seat, the reality falls short of expectations. Yes, there's over an inch more knee room than in 2013 courtesy of a shortened lower seat cushion and more deeply sculpted rear backs on the front buckets. But those changes can't fully compensate for the Malibu's comparatively short 107.8-inch wheelbase, a critical dimension that leaves it at a relative disadvantage to key segment rivals like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. The situation isn't helped by a revised cushion design that's firmer, flatter, shorter and lower than before matched with an equally firm and fairly upright back. Although kids and average-size adults will fit, we have yet to hear rave reviews from either.
During the rest of this year, we'll be putting our Malibu long-termer through its paces in town and on various road trips to assess several other aspects of its personality. Check back periodically to see how well it stacks up.
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