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2014 Chevrolet Malibu chases mpg and space to address Achilles' heels

2014 Chevrolet Malibu chases mpg and space to address Achilles’ heels

Chevrolet is playing catch-up with its Malibu, a competent car that comes up short in the popular family sedan category, despite its comfortable ride and quiet interior. The Malibu faces strong competition from the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry, and it does so with twin Achilles heels of lackluster fuel economy and a tight back seat. Chevrolet aims to fix that for 2014.

For 2013, the Malibu was offered with three four-cylinder engines, yet none delivered great fuel economy. (Admittedly, a turbocharged powertrain targeted performance.) The base four-cylinder returned 26 mpg overall in our tests, while the mild-hybrid Eco model got a good 29 mpg. However, that Eco model commanded a price premium that wasn’t adequately compensated for in fuel saving, and it provided merely adequate acceleration and was sluggish on hills. Plus, throw around the word “hybrid” and expectations soar. For contrast, the Honda Accord four-cylinder costs less, got 30 mpg overall, and is quite roomy. I think you can sense the Malibu’s challenges…

For 2014, the Malibu 2.5-liter four-cylinder base model gains a start/stop system that GM claims boosts city fuel economy. These systems work by shutting the engine off when not needed at idle, such as at a stoplight. In addition, modifications to the valvetrain and the fitting of a new six-speed automatic transmission promise further gains.

GM estimates that the revised EPA fuel economy ratings will be 25 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, and 29 mpg overall—enough to edge out the base Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry. But not the Accord.

The new model year also brings increased space for the rear seat, with passengers gaining 1.25-inches of knee room by carving out the back of the front seats and revising the rear cushions.  Other changes include revised suspension tuning, redesigned center console, and available blind-spot detection and cross-traffic alerts.

Plus, customers who purchase certain new 2014 Chevrolet, Buick, or GMC vehicles will receive two years or 24,000 miles (whichever comes first) worth of free maintenance. The program includes an oil and filter change, tire rotation, and 27-point vehicle inspection based on the owner’s manual maintenance schedule. If you are considering a new car, the program is a nice perk, but buyers should note that the first two years of ownership is the least expensive. For the Chevrolet Malibu, we estimate the first-year costs are about $90.

Chevrolet has clearly heard the criticisms of its latest Malibu, and it is addressing some critical weaknesses. In the end, competition has pushed Chevrolet to evolve, and future customers will benefit.

Jeff Bartlett

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