Whisper quiet with plenty of pep, too

It’s easy to writeoff Chevy’s mid-size Malibu as just another yawn-provoking four-door sedan best suited to rental companies. But that would be a mistake. Any mid-size sedan buyer not giving careful consideration to the 2014 Malibu may be missing out on one of the finest offerings in the field.

The 2014 Chevy Malibu is an exceptionally quiet, well refined alternative to the mid-size Toyota Camry and Honda Accord sedans, and merits a closer look by prospective sedan buyers.

The 2014 Chevy Malibu is an exceptionally quiet, well refined alternative to the mid-size Toyota Camry and Honda Accord sedans, and merits a closer look by prospective sedan buyers.
Rob Rothwell/For the Province,

The Honda/Toyota alternative

Many prospective sedan buyers head to Honda and Toyota showrooms with Accord and Camry fever, and little is going to distract them from their mission. To them, I say go for it. Check out the stalwarts from Japan, but before placing a John Henry on the dotted line, stop by a Chevy showroom and drive a Malibu.

GM knew the Malibu had to be good — perhaps even better — to compete in the popular mid-level sedan segment. My eyes were opened to this reality back in October 2012 when I jumped into the latest generation Malibu and scooted back to the hotel during the 2012 AJAC Test Fest in Ontario’s Niagara-on-the-Lake region. I was immediately — and most pleasantly — surprised by the polished performance of the new Malibu. I mentioned to George Saratlic, product communications manager for GM, that I was astonished by how quiet the Malibu was. George said it is the quietest car ever built by Chevrolet. (It should be noted that this preceded the arrival of the new Impala.)

Soft LED lighting gives the spacious cabin of the Malibu a sophisticated ambience that feels quite upscale.

Soft LED lighting gives the spacious cabin of the Malibu a sophisticated ambience that feels quite upscale.
Rob Rothwell/For the Province,

Optional turbocharged power

I haven’t had the opportunity to sample the Malibu with its base 2.5-litre DOHC four-cylinder engine, which utilizes variable valve-timing in its production of 196 horsepower and 191 lbs.-ft of torque, as such my observations pertain to the optional engine for 2014. The turbocharged DOHC alternative has a displacement of just 2.0-litres and also utilizes variable valve-timing, but cranks out 259 horsepower @ 5,300 rpm and 295 lbs-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm.

From my perspective, the powerful turbo mill is the engine of choice despite its greater appetite for fuel. The turbocharged power plant is rated at 10.1 and 6.6 litres per 100km city and highway driving. while the larger non-turbo engine steps up with 8.0 and 5.3 litres respectively. Additional expense is found in the recommendation to use premium fuel in the turbocharged power plant.
Both engines are fused to the same six-speed automatic transmission with an electronic manual mode.

Upscale and straightforward defines the cabin

Automotive cabins have evolved to become repositories of complexity. We now routinely find multiple screens, interface controllers, and layered programming, all of which may be cutting-edge but not necessarily user-friendly. Such is not the case with the Malibu. The centre-stack arrangement is one of the most straightforward, intuitive setups I have encountered for some time.

Clearly marked and logically-placed buttons and dials allow direct access to HVAC and audio settings while a “touchscreen for dummies” uses large simple icons to interact with navigation and other data-driven needs.

Design-wise the cabin is modern-looking, using the latest in passive LED lighting to add interest and sophistication. The only noteworthy improvement I could offer is that of adding greater thigh support to the front-seat cushions and increasing the degree of side bolstering. Nonetheless, the Malibu’s cabin is comfortable over the long haul.

With its smooth ride and refined operation, the new Malibu is setting benchmarks in the GM stable.

With its smooth ride and refined operation, the new Malibu is setting benchmarks in the GM stable.
Rob Rothwell/For the Province,

Behind the wheel

I’ve mentioned the exceptionally quiet operation of this vehicle, and it’s worth further emphasis. The Malibu equipped with the optional turbocharged engine is a lesson for other manufacturers on how to properly refine and polish the operation of a four-cylinder engine.
Not only is the car delightfully muted, its turbocharged engine is wonderfully smooth and unobtrusive in every phase of operation. My ear can always discern a four-banger regardless of how well it’s masked, but I have to admit, the Malibu had me flummoxed during that first drive in 2012; the refinement was that good.

Dropping the hammer on the forced-fed mill nets a response that is highly out of character with a typical four-cylinder mid-size sedan. With this engine, the Malibu delivers a premium driving experience underpinned by plenty of passing-lane authority and unexpected zeal off the line.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a tautly wound sports sedan. Rather, the Malibu is oriented toward motoring comfort not motoring excitement. Ride quality is exceptionally absorbent with the vehicle feeling solid and composed over the city’s rough patches. I found brake response to be slightly mushy-feeling though.

My loaded Malibu tester’s MSRP of $37,370 is similar to that of top tier Camrys and Accords. The base 2014 Malibu LS starts at a reasonable $24,995, which is again competitive with Camry and Accord. The domestic alternative merits attention.

About Rob Rothwell