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It's easy to write off Chevrolet's mid-sized Malibu as just another yawn-provoking four-door sedan best suited to rental companies.
That would be a mistake. Any mid-sized-sedan buyer not giving careful consideration to the 2014 Malibu may be missing out on one of the finest offerings in the field.
Many prospective 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 your John Henry on the dotted line, stop by a Chevrolet 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 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. He said it's the quietest car ever built by Chevrolet. (It should be noted this preceded the arrival of the new Impala.)
I haven't had the opportunity to sample the Malibu with its base 2.5-litre DOHC four-cylinder engine, which uses variable valve-timing in its production of 196 horsepower and 191 pound-feet of torque. So my observations pertain to the optional engine for 2014, a turbocharged DOHC with a displacement of just 2.0L that also uses variable valve-timing, but cranks out 259 horsepower at 5,300 rpm and 295 lb-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 100 km for city and highway driving, respectively, while the larger non-turbo engine steps up with 8.0 and 5.3 L/100 km, 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.
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 "touch screen for dummies" uses large simple icons to interact with navigation and other data-driven needs.
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.
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 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 for a typical four-cylinder, mid-sized 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 tightly wound sports sedan. Rather, the Malibu is oriented toward motoring comfort and not motoring excitement. Ride quality is exceptionally absorbent, with the vehicle feeling solid and composed over the city's rough patches. I found the brake response had a 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. This domestic alternative merits attention.
-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014