After a slightly abbreviated tour of duty in KBB's long-term fleet, we recently bid farewell to our 2014 Chevrolet Malibu. On loan to us for half a year plus a few bonus weeks, Chevy's midsize 4-door ultimately proved to be a bit of an enigma. This midsize 4-door definitely offered a good deal to like but not all that much to really rave about.

Comprehensively redesigned for 2013, the Malibu's was transformed into a far more contemporary and sophisticated vehicle. However, the remake did little to raise the car's competitive profile in a high-volume segment dominated by the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Hoping to rectify that situation, Chevrolet gave the Malibu a booster shot for 2014, highlighted by upgrades focused on further sharpening its presence and handling prowess, expanding rear-seat legroom and raising the base Malibu's fuel economy numbers by adding a standard start/stop system to its 196-horsepower/2.4-liter naturally aspirated Ecotec 4-cylinder engine. We wanted to see for ourselves how those tweaks would impact the car's appeal. 

Keeping the new deal real 

To maximize its relevance, we requested the most popular version of the 2014 Malibu, which turned out to be a 1LT variant - in this case, an example also fitted with the optional Premium Package that added things like a power driver's seat, rearview camera, power sunroof, remote start, auto-dimming mirror and 17-inch alloy wheels. In a break with our normal convention, we opted for a vehicle that had started life as a press car and then been put through the automaker's Certified Pre-Owned regimen. That placed it in our hands with just over 3,000 miles on the odometer but otherwise in virtually as-new condition.

Our semi-long-term Malibu got its baptism by fire right out of the box, being tossed into a midsize sedan roundup mere days after its arrival. Rolling off in a head-to-head run up the California coast from Los Angeles to Morro Bay and back accompanied by seven prime rivals, several things quickly became apparent. The most notable upsides was that the 2014 redo really had made it a better-handling piece that remained impressively quiet, largely user-friendly with plenty comfort for the front-seat occupants. On the downside, it was clear the rear-seat accommodations were still far from class-leading and that the trunk cutout/liftover height did little to promote easy loading/unloading, two critical touchpoints for on family sedan. We also got our first inkling that the Malibu's 2.4-liter engine might have difficulty living up to its enhanced fuel economy ratings. 

Also: The Class of 2015 -- New Vehicles Ready to Roll

Shortly after its return, our car became the subject of a precautionary voluntary recall for a potential problem that few people - including us -- ever encountered. Performed in less than an hour at our local Chevy dealer, it involved re-flashing the control software on the Malibu's Electronic Brake Control module to prevent a possible loss of hydraulic pressure when the engine cycled via the new start/stop system. 

Always reliable, often inscrutable 

During the next couple of months, the Malibu racked up most of its miles in daily commuter duty. Despite a steady diet of either fairly open or dismally congested freeway work - the latter bringing regular engagements of its commendably refined start/stop system - the fuel economy question remained. In July, Matt DeLorenzo took our Malibu on another road trip, this one to Phoenix, Arizona, which happened to be in the midst of a typical summer heatwave. While the excursion yielded best-ever 31.0-mpg tank averages on a virtually pure freeway run, that was still just two mpg beyond the car's combined mark and five below its 36-mpg EPA highway rating. The journey also revealed one additional issue regarding the new start/stop system, as Matt noted. "When the engine stops turning, so does the air conditioner's compressor and it doesn't take long for the cabin temperature to rise in above 100-degree temps." Similar triple-digit days in LA led others to make the same observation. 

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2015

In the time since its last update, our Malibu's activity was largely confined to SoCal touring. That final 1,100-mile stint - also in max-commuting mode -- did nothing to help its overall econo stat, which finished up at 25.7 mpg over the course of 7,497 total miles with KBB. Arguably far more telling than any anecdotal observations we might make, Chevy watched sales of the re-remade 2014 Malibu dip by seven percent compared to those of its 2013 counterpart. Worse yet, the Malibu was the only one of the eight highest-volume midsize sedans to experience a numbers drop. The upside is that potential buyers who find the Malibu really does fit their particular needs should find deals and incentives attractive. As for what lies ahead, GM execs are promising the next-gen Malibu due out in a year or so will feature "groundbreaking" design and technology. We hope that proves to be the case - and that the recasting process also brings more spacious aft quarters and better actual fuel economy. 

Updates:

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Road Trip

 

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