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Test drive: 2014 Chevrolet Malibu gets more refined

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Today we get a good look at the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu which received a number of key changes just one year after its 2013 model launch to strengthen its appeal in the fiercely competitive mid-size sedan segment.

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The first thing you notice is that Chevrolet redesigned the grille which is now a bold chrome bar that spans headlight to headlight. There’s a larger lower opening framed with a more substantial ring of chrome as well. HID projector headlamps get a fresh look which aims to give a more upscale appearance.

The side profile remains largely the same as before for this mid-size Chevrolet. A look at the rear shows hints of the Camaro’s double square tail lamp theme. And like a lot of the newest cars, the exhaust outlets once highlighted by large chrome tips are now hidden in hopes of putting on a more environmentally friendly appearance.

The interior already had a design and flair which is far less appliance like than its peers from Japan. The instrument cluster shares a sporting dual square theme again from the Camaro. A large center stack has a vertical appearance with lots of space for all its switch gear.

The center console was re-designed to accommodate two slots for smart phones and cup holders. There is a neat storage bin hidden behind the touch-screen audio system too. In addition to the spot behind the touch screen, there is a second glove box on the driver side as well as generous space in the center console.

Our 2LT trim grade came optioned with the Electronics & Entertainment Package which is comprised of a 9 speaker Pioneer audio system with touch screen and navigation system. Its sound was good but not as premium as the $1175 package price might suggest.

We liked the ease of use for HVAC and Audio controls using the touch-screen and center stack. It has all the same high-tech functionality of systems like Ford’s MyFord Touch but without the distracting aggravation.

Optioned in our tester was the Advanced Safety Package also gave us driver aids like forward collision alert, lane departure warning, blind spot alert and rear cross traffic alert. We tested each of these and found them to work as advertised, and best of all you can turn them off.

We had the optioned heated leather seats which we found very comfortable on long drives. Both front seats could be easily adjusted to a comfortable spot, the driver with power, passenger manual. The steering column tilts and telescopes manually.

The rear seat was redesigned with new padding as well as the back-side of the front seats. The changes afford better comfort and 1.25” of knee room. Head room is also generous. And for those needing trunk space, the Malibu will not disappoint.

Under the hood is a 196 horsepower 2.5 liter EcoTec four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing and an auto stop-start system. This engine mated to a standard six-speed automatic transmission is rated by the EPA at 25 mpg city and 36 mpg highway.

The engine’s fuel saving start-stop system is designed to shut the engine off when you come to a stop in traffic while in gear. When you lift off the brake the engines fires up instantly before you have the time to roll into the accelerator.

We achieved in our testing 29 mpg combined city and highway which is exactly what the window sticker promises. This included a generous balance toward freeway driving and a light foot in city driving.

Under power the engine provides adequate acceleration but can be raucous when driven briskly. This is a side effect to modern technologies like variable valve timing, lift and direct fuel injection. It’s over the top however, just one of the trade-offs for high efficiency engines of late.

On the road the handling of the Malibu is best described as benign. This is to say it is neither sporty in its feel, nor mushy. It has a taut chassis and steering has a light but direct feel. It can corner with some poise, but do not expect it reward enthusiastic driving on a tight windy mountain road.

While the name Malibu often equals rental car to many, this latest creation shows that Chevrolet has heard this. There is a bit more style, more attention to details and an obvious effort made to raise the bar for this mid-sized entry.

The 2014 Chevrolet Malibu credibly rises to a level of refinement and value that now tops some competitors. Its flavor however remains distinctly American which means some buyers may still perceive it as a rental grade whether that’s a fair assessment or not.

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