2014 Chevrolet Malibu Long-Term Update: Details make the difference
During the course of its extended stay as part of the KBB long-term test fleet, we've amassed a good deal of quality time in our Malibu and gotten a better feel for its basics as well as for some of the car's more subtle nuances. Not surprisingly, most of our initial impressions regarding Chevy's midsize 4-door were duly reinforced. However, a few new facets of its personality have come into sharper focus, for better and for worse.
Quiet, competent, and confident
As for our top-line dynamic assessment, we're still pretty stoked on the overall Malibu driving experience. The 2013 model year remake netted a stiffer, stronger core structure that's complemented by a wider track and an impressive retune of the Malibu's MacPherson-front/multilink-rear suspension. Collectively, they make it feel more sure-footed when cornering and impart a Euro-flavored ride/handling balance that impressively melds comfort and control. While you won't mistake the Malibu's electrically boosted power steering for a C7 Corvette's, it delivers commendably decent feel and feedback, as do the car's ABS disc brakes.
While we're handing out kudos, more are due for Chevy's efforts in trimming cabin noise levels in the 2014 Malibu. It's one of the quietest mainstream mid-size sedans around, especially in freeway cruise mode. Although not the plushest in its segment, the Malibu's passenger compartment also deserves praise for being well finished and for the most part, intelligently designed. The controls are straightforward, main instruments readable and the buttons and knobs clearly marked and scaled to human hands. Night driving also highlights the fact that every bit of switchgear is effectively illuminated making it easy to locate and adjust various functions with minimal distraction.
Some user-friendliness issues remain
We don't find quite as much to praise about the Chevrolet MyLink system. Its user interface isn't in the same league as Toyota Entune or Chrysler Uconnect and while the 7.0-inch display earns high marks for general legibility, the lack of a proper shade does leave it susceptible to typical SoCal sun-wash issues. Although Chevy also touts a hidden cubby that resides behind its flip-up screen, we'd happily trade that space for a significantly larger covered center stow bin and an extra USB port. Another swap we'd favor would be to add guidelines to the car's backup camera display in return for eliminating MyLink's insistence on keeping us duly warned about high surf warnings in the next county or severe winds in a city 300 miles away.
The Malibu's seating accommodations also continue to get a split vote from the staff. We still give the front buckets a favorable shout out for their solid combination of comfort and support. It's a different story in the aft quarters, where the rear bench remains a sore point on multiple levels. A recent encounter fully reinforced the fact that, factory specs notwithstanding, a short lower cushion and lack of usable rear legroom still makes this area far better suited to kids than adults. And despite its above-average 16.3 cu-ft capacity, the Malibu's narrow decklid cutout and relatively high liftover compromises the overall trunk utility.
The underhood enigma
Arguably the biggest love-hate element in the Malibu is its 2.5-liter/196-horsepower 4-cylinder engine. Yes, it's certainly capable - think 0-60 mph in roughly 8.0+ seconds - and definitely popular, as over 90 percent of owners choose this base motivator instead of the optional 259-hp/2.0-liter turbo. Save for an occasional hiccup, the standard start/stop system is mostly well mannered and we've even come to accept the low-grade buzz that occurs as the revs move past the 4K mark. But fuel economy remains an issue. After another 1,000+ miles on the odometer, our tester continues to fall short of its promise and now averages 26.2 mpg against an EPA combined figure of 29 mpg. Save for a pair of 31.0-mpg tanks on a road-trip back in July, we've yet to see another 30+ mpg tally. And with its stint with us near an end, time is running out for our Malibu to change its ways.
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