Detroit -- We now have all the details on the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu. Less than two years removed from a full redesign, the midsize sedan is receiving a significant refresh. Mark Reuss, president of GM North America, explains: "We're not going to stand around and be complacent, especially in the competitive midsize segment."
The 2013 Malibu looked like an old car because it was -- the design dates back to around 2009 but was delayed due to GM’s bankruptcy. For the 2014 Malibu, Chevy designers attempt to rectify this with a new front clip that looks a lot like the one on the handsome 2014 Impala. We're not sure the new look goes far enough. Chevrolet did not change the hard points -- the hood and headlamps -- so the look isn't nearly as cohesive as on the Impala.
The Malibu’s late arrival hurt more than its styling. The midsize segment evolves so quickly with every new introduction that the Chevy, though by no means an awful car, already trailed competitors in critical areas like fuel economy and four-cylinder power. For 2014, Chevrolet has tweaked the bread-and-butter 2.5-liter four, adding variable valve timing to the intake side and incorporating stop-start technology. These changes improve fuel economy slightly to 23/35 mpg city/highway. Those numbers still trail class leaders like the Mazda 6, which gets 38 mpg on the highway. They also put the underwhelming Malibu Eco in an awkward position. The mild hybrid receives no powertrain changes and promises a meager 2-mpg advantage in the city and highway compared to the cheaper, more powerful 2.5-liter model. At the other end of the spectrum, the 2.0-liter turbo is now the same hi-output version that’s found under the hood of the Buick Regal GS. That amounts to a 35 lb-ft increase in torque, good for an impressive 295 lb-ft overall.
The 2013 Malibu’s other significant issue was rear-seat room. GM opted to put the car on the short-wheelbase version of its Epsilon platform to create separation with the long-wheelbase Impala. But that decision left the Malibu with a rear bench that isn’t much better than a compact car like the Chevy Cruze, let alone a spacious midsize car like the Honda Accord. Chevrolet obviously couldn’t do anything to increase the wheelbase in so little time, so it resorts to smaller yet effect measures to carve out some rear seat space. A half-inch was scooped from the back of the front seats, and the rear bench itself sits a bit lower.
We didn’t have any complaints about the way the 2013 Malibu drove, even if it’s not quite as engaging as an Accord or 6. Chevrolet says it’s improved both ride and handling by retrofitting the twin-tube dampers from the Impala. It has also retuned the electric power steering with the aim of improving steering feel. Finally, the Malibu now offers two important safety features -- blind spot warning and cross traffic alert.
We’ll need a turn behind the wheel to determine whether all these tweaks bring the Malibu up to speed with the best in this tough segment. We're already encouraged, though, that GM has acted so decisively to fix shortcomings in one of its most important cars.