By David Colman
Hypes: Stellar Rear Seat, Huge Trunk, Build Quality Abounds
Gripes: Driver’s Seatbelt Requires Gorilla Pull, Tapshift Button Too Petite
After introducing a completely new Malibu for 2013, Chevrolet has made understandably few changes for model year 2014. Visually, the most noticeable alteration eliminates the large upper grill opening in favor of a small slot across the nose of the hood. Thus, the already streamlined shape of the Malibu looks just a little cleaner than before. Rear seat legroom has been enhanced for 2014 thanks to indentations in the front seat backs to better accommodate gangly knees. In fact, the rear seat of this sedan is a particularly happy place to sit because there’s lots of side glass for spectating, a drop down armrest with indentations for two beverages as well as a shallow lidded compartment, and intelligent door pockets designed to store slightly inclined water bottles.
With indentations scooped for passengers’ backs and buns, the rear seats offer better side support than the fronts, which are too flat and hard to stabilize you during hard cornering. For an extra $1,000, Chevy will heat the front seats and finish them in leather, with seams stitched in contrasting thread color. The effect looks expensive. In fact the entire interior belies the bargain price of the Malibu (base: $25,215). The stalks sprouting from the steering column feel so solid you’d swear you were driving a Mercedes. Chevy uses a striated plastic insert on the center console and door panels that mimics the look of drift wood. Slightly off putting are the five ridge horizontal ridges that sweep across the entire dash face. These extrusions incorporate air vents, but present lots of surface area to accumulate dirt. Think of the ribs as brave new worlds to conquer when you prepare your 2LT for concourse events.
The Malibu is the only car in this price range that offers standard Auto Stop technology. When you’ve selected the “D” range on the 6-speed automatic gearbox, the car shuts itself off automatically when stopped for more than a few seconds, then re-fires as soon as you remove your foot from the brake. The transition from run to stop to run is seamless, and much more successfully handled than current BMW products. If you slot the gearbox into its “M” or manual mode, the Auto Stop feature is eliminated. In M mode, you can manually up shift and down shift through the entire gear range, but you must use a tiny button atop the shift knob to accomplish the task. Chevy calls this feature “Tapshift.” With the exception of one clunker of a down shift this arrangement worked well. But it’s hard to locate the button atop the knob, and even more difficult to figure out which half to depress when you need to snag the right gear. Paddles would be much appreciated next to the steering wheel spokes.
Chevy has selected a very tall differential ratio of 2.89:1 to enable the Malibu to record 29 MPG in overall driving. But this tall rear gear lets the 2.5 liter Ecotec engine fall flat on its face if you just trundle along in “D” range without manually selecting the appropriate gear for each situation. The Ecotec motor is plenty powerful, but it makes its horsepower so high in the rev range (196hp@6,300rpm) that you really need to supervise its behavior closely using the Tapshift routine. Once out on the open highway, the Malibu is a silent, comfortable runner, with excellent cruise control apparatus, clear speed readouts on the central information screen, and a plush ride quality that will keep your passengers enthralled. On twisty sections, the fat, top line Goodyear LS2 Eagles (235/50R18) show their mettle with excellent, squeal-free adhesion.
The optional 9 speaker Pioneer audio system costs an extra $1,175, and justifies its expense by providing 250 scintillating Watts of output. New for 2014 is an Advanced Safety Package ($795 extra) which includes Forward Collision Alert, Side Blind Zone Alert, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Unless you’re planning to text while driving (!), I wouldn’t recommend springing for this pricey and annoying option group.
All in all, the Malibu 2LT is a sweet, engaging design that caters more to comfort than performance. Its exceptional level of fit and finish proves conclusively that home-grown products like this Malibu (built in Kansas City, KS) are every bit the equal of cars coming from Japan, Korea and even Germany.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu 2LT
- Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC Inline 4
- Horsepower: 196hp@6300rpm
- Torque: 186lb.-ft.@4400rpm
- Fuel Consumption: 25 MPG City/36 MPG Highway
- Price as Tested: $30,125
- Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars