Words & Photos: Kevin C. Limjoco
It’s been less than a year and a half since we tested the last Chevrolet Malibu in ECO trim, and we raved about the promise of what it could do for our market back then after Chevrolet had freshly reinvented the model. A year later, Chevrolet Philippines took up the challenge and upped the ante by silently introducing the newly updated model with an even better looking face, a better engine, more standard equipment, and a bit more space at the rear where it got the most criticism from both the media and consumers.
It is startling how soon Chevrolet adapted to the complaints and suggestions. I know I shouldn’t be too surprised since Chevrolet did upgrade the new Trailblazer even sooner within a shorter period, but the changes were mostly skin deep. Virtually the only external change was labeling; changing the moniker on the front doors from “Trailblazer” to “Duramax” signifying the huge engine and transmission upgrades, and removing the redundant Duramax tag on the rear hatch. With the Malibu mid-size saloon, it also got a full facelift that included new bumpers, front grill, and headlights. The interior cabin got a bit more polished too, and Chevy created more vital rear space (rear knee room increased by a tangible 1.25 inches) by scalloping the front seats to make them thinner while maintaining comfort and support.
The 2013 Malibu ECO was already an excellent daily commuter vehicle that was exceptionally fuel-efficient and boasted the very best transition, from full engine stop to electric then to either combined power units when required, to full on gas-only. The transitions were so seamless and silky smooth that the European brands looked honestly crude and pathetic in comparison. The Malibu was not a pretender or a poser. It was simply a solid product that was seemingly inoffensive to everyone and impressed with real-world results.
For 2014, Chevrolet actually dropped the ECO model with the e-Assist mild hybrid system but introduced a sporty 260 bhp 2.0-liter direct injection turbo model that produces the most torque (295 lb ft) in its class. Chevy reckon that their new direct injection 196 bhp 2.5-liter mated to a recalibrated more lively 6-speed automatic transmission on our Malibu 2LT test car is the very best combination of practical performance and fuel efficiency. Chevy may have killed the hybrid ECO model but it applied it’s less expensive engine stop-start system that when the time of rest/idle are frequent, the system can yield a 14 % improvement in fuel economy. The system cannot be switched off, however, unlike with the competition that uses similar fuel saving measures.
Immediately felt as I pulled away from the lot was a more energetic and refined Malibu especially compared to its fairly recent predecessors beginning with the 5th generation models in 1997. The 2014 Malibu is nothing like its iconic V8 musclecar forefathers in the 60’s, though, so do not expect the sensations and the explosion of power and presence that the Chrysler 300C HEMI generated when it was reborn. Instead, think of it as the best of the new front-wheel drive Malibu breed that competes against the Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, Mazda 6 Skyactiv, Nissan Altima, and Honda Accord.
Once I was cruising around, it was obvious that the updated Malibu got retuned suspension and steering too, which complimented the new powertrain nicely. It drove with more balanced and even plush handling that bests the ride of the current Toyota Camry, which is a huge achievement, but there some issues. Its strongest feature is definitely its looks, however, it looks rough compared to the Mazda6. Next, dynamically better than last year but it is still slower than and not as athletic as its competition. It looks like it is the largest car in its class, looking almost as large as the Ford Taurus but it still has the most cramped cabin. The new engine sounds and feels labored at full throttle when you push it as well, which is a pity because when you drive it more leisurely, in a more realistic pace, the Malibu drives really well. So if you want a very well built mid-size sedan that looks great, does everything you want reasonably well and is certainly uncommon, then the Malibu may be for you; it may not be spectacular, but as solid products go, you wouldn’t regret the decision.
Engine: Inline-4, 2499 cc, dohc 16V, Direct Injection, 6-speed AT
Max power: 196 bhp @ 6300 rpm
Max torque: 191 lb ft @ 4400 rpm
0-100 km/h (0-62mph): 8.4 sec.
Top Speed: 218 km/h (136 mph)
Fuel Mileage: 25 mpg City & 36 mpg Highway
Price as tested: US$ 26,315.00
+Impressive exterior design, long list of updated equipment, very smooth, frugal
-Rear seats still not as spacious as the competition, no HID, lethargic
C! Editor’s Rating: 9.5/10