Malibu does something right

By Peter Couture and Lyra Solochek / Tampa Bay Times

2014 Chevrolet Malibu

Base price: $22,140 (LS)

As tested: $33,355

Type: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, 6-speed automatic transmission, FWD

Mileage: 21 mpg city, 30 mpg highway

For 2014, Chevrolet has made another in its seemingly endless tweaks to the Malibu to keep it competitive in the midsize class. The Malibu suffers from somewhat of a middle-child syndrome — stuck between the compact and efficient Cruze and the redesigned and much-lauded Impala. Note to Chevy: The refinements are working.

The main change is up front, where the Malibu gets a bolder front end and hood that carry the influence of the Impala. Its chiseled chin now has more pronounced chrome, wider grille openings and swept-back headlights. The upper trims get integrated fog lamps. Our tester had the sharp Crystal Red Tintcoat paint ($395) and 19-inch aluminum wheels. In the rear, the car still carries the square-ish and somewhat boring taillights but does have a subtle integrated trunk-lid spoiler.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged 4 cylinder — available in the 3LT and 2LTZ trim — is a carryover from last year, but has been tuned for better performance with 259 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. (Most Malibus come with a 2.5-liter, 196-horsepower 4 cylinder.) The turbo has plenty of power, but the front-wheel-driver is prone to torque steer. Chevy also has upgraded the Malibu’s suspension and electronic power steering. The overall effect is a comfortable, composed ride with fun acceleration when you step on the gas. Still, don’t let the bright red “Turbo” badge fool you; the Malibu is no sports sedan. The turbo’s estimated 21 mpg in the city and 30 highway is respectable, but when you consider the non-turbo engine gets up to 36 mpg, it makes you wonder if the extra power is worth it.

The interior’s stylish and quiet. The dash has an elegant curve that seems to envelop you. The cabin benefits from acoustic laminated glass, whose benefits we’ve appreciated in other Chevy vehicles. The front seats are comfortable with 8-way adjustment, and Chevy has given the rear more knee room courtesy of a redesigned front seatback. The rear seats are 6 0/40 split-fold, which allow room for hauling long items. Our tester was loaded with tech features: Chevy’ excellent MyLink system, used with your cellphone, offers Pandora and Stitcher radio apps, Siri compatibility and text-to-voice. The 7-inch touchscreen is a bit small, but it has a nifty storage space hidden behind the screen. Push a button and the screen lifts for access. We’re not a fan of faux wood trim, but we otherwise liked the quality of the interior surfaces. Our tester also had the Electronics and Entertainment package ($1,350), which brings a Pioneer premium 9-speaker audio system, 120-volt power outlet and rearview camera. The trunk is huge for a midsize sedan. How huge? Peter’s tall teenage daughter reclined comfortably inside it at her dad’s request.

The bottom line: Lyra felt that the Malibu is still lacking the “wow” factor of some of the other midsize sedans we’ve driven, but Peter thinks its features and upgrades make it well worth your consideration.

Our three favorites

• Peter Couture: 54, city driver, 6 feet tall, married with a teenager and college student.

Trunk: It’s vacation-sized.

Turbo: The acceleration is surprisingly robust with little lag.

Dash: I’ve always liked Chevy’s curvy dual-cockpit design.

• Lyra Solochek: 48, highway commuter, 5 feet 1, married with a 10-year-old

Bluetooth: The microphone is so good, I was told I was speaking too loudly during a phone conversation.

Cool cabin: Ice Blue ambient lighting makes night driving fun.

Crash alert: Flashing red lights reflect on the windshield. Brakes work great too.