Chevy steps things up with the 2014 Malibu

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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"Tis a lesson you should heed: If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again." So were the wise words of British writer William Edward (W. E.) Hickson. It's certainly a lesson learned by Chevrolet and every other carmaker, albeit is not too often a brand completely remakes a model after only one year of production.

"The 2014 Chevrolet Malibu builds on the strengths established by the all-new 2013 Malibu to make it a stronger choice for customers," said Mark Reuss, president, General Motors North America. "The midsize sedan segment is the most contested in the industry and we're not sitting still with the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu."

It's true, in the U.S. there is no more competitive vehicle segment than the midsize sedan while the vehicle class is critically important to sales and profits in Canada too, but the 2013 Malibu didn't respond as well in either market as Chevy had hoped so therefore numerous changes have been made to the 2014 model.

The most obvious modifications include a revised frontal design featuring a more assertive grille and updated headlamps. Better? You be the judge. While the outgoing grille was sometimes criticized for being a bit bland, most negative comments were heaped on the car's Camaro-esque taillight design, which hasn't been changed. Still, the 2014 Malibu's new frontal styling pulls the car more in line with the new Impala thanks to a hood that now extends "down and over the leading edge of a narrower upper grille," says GM. The grille openings are wider and rimmed in chrome while filled with black inserts.

Chevrolet had already updated the interior with soft-touch surfaces, nice detailing and no shortage of features throughout the Malibu's trim range, so there was no need to address any criticism here, although a redesigned centre console increases the length of the armrest for greater comfort and includes a pair of cupholders plus dedicated storage for two cell phones, whereas new seats make all occupants more comfortable. Chevy also added to rear seat knee room by 31.7 millimetres (1.25 inches) through shaping the front seatbacks. They also improved the seatback material quality. New cushion sculpturing and updated materials allow rear passengers to sit deeper in their seats too, reducing pressure and the backs of passengers' legs and therefore aiding comfort.

The 2013 Malibu wasn't lacking for power, but the bowtie gang decided to up performance of the optional turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder anyway. Horsepower remains the same at 259, but torque increases by almost 14-percent from 260 lb-ft to a best-in-class 295 lb-ft (even better than its V6-powered rivals).

The base Ecotec direct-injected 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine hasn't been forgotten either, now making one less pony at 196-horsepower and five fewer lb-ft of torque at 186 compared to 191, but more capable of using more of its torque lower in the rev range thanks to variable valve lift control (iVLC – which also reduces emissions) and more fuel-efficiency due to start/stop technology; the latter that will shut off the engine automatically at traffic lights or when the car would otherwise been idling, and then restart it when the brake pedal is lifted. This is the first time GM has used start/stop technology in a non-hybrid model, and claims five-percent better city mileage and a three-percent improvement on the highway for a metric-converted EPA rating of 10.2 L/100km city and 6.7 highway (Canadian ratings will be unrealistically lower, but useful for comparison purposes).

The revised six-speed automatic helps eke out more efficiency too, although the changes are focused more on performance feel, with new shift points and quicker shifting to "enhance the feeling of performance – while delivering greater refinement," says GM.

"We made changes within 18 months, demonstrating an unprecedented commitment to make the Malibu the best car it can be," said Ken Kelzer, executive chief engineer, global full-size and midsize cars. "The 2014 Malibu has been engineered to deliver more precise ride and handling that is on par with more expensive sports sedans."

Chevy says the car's chassis and suspension have been tweaked to refine the driving experience all-round, pulling lessons learned from the new 2014 Impala such as rebound springs that are internal to the struts, which offer a "more refined calibration of the dampers for a smoother overall ride, while also improving body roll control and weight transfer during acceleration or turning." What's more, electric rack-and-pinion variable-effort power steering is now standard across the 2014 Malibu line, for "nearly effortless low-speed maneuvers and a higher degree of steering feel at higher speeds." The automaker adds that "revised, higher-effort calibrations for 2014 were engineered to improve the overall steering feel," while the braking system has been updated to "provide a more confident feel."

On the chassis control safety front, the 2014 Malibu includes four-channel ABS brakes, full-function traction control, four-corner electronic stability control, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, corner brake control, hydraulic brake fade assist and drag torque control, while Side Blind Zone Alert and Rear Cross Traffic Alert are now available. Last year's Malibu already earned a 5-Star Overall Vehicle Score in the New Car Assessment Program from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a 2013 Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), both being the highest ratings possible. Of course, its 10 standard airbags helped in crash tests, while its available rearview camera makes backing up safer.

Will all these improvements be enough to bring more midsize buyers back to Chevy dealerships? GM is betting on it. Certainly the changes are significant, giving good reason for current Malibu owners to trade up and more reasons not to look elsewhere.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Chevrolet, 2014, Malibu, $20,000 - $29,999, $30,000 - $39,999, Midsize,

Organizations: Malibu

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