Used Vehicle Review: Chevrolet Malibu, 2013-2015

Vehicle Type

Sedan

The Malibu is a car that’s hardly stood still for the past few years.

History/Description

For model year 2013, Chevrolet moved its popular family sedan, the Malibu, onto its Epsilon platform, and then quickly added new engines, new technologies and new features over this generation’s relatively-short life cycle to help keep it at or near the top of the pack. The Malibu is a car that’s hardly stood still for the past few years, with heavy updates applied in rapid succession towards nearly constant evolution. Now, an all-new Malibu has launched for model year 2016, meaning the last-generation Malibu has moved fully into used car territory.

Feature content included navigation, heated leather, OnStar, premium audio, a sunroof, and advanced safety features including Side Blind Zone Alert and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

Note that 2014, just one year into the life cycle, saw this generation Malibu updated with a new standard engine with more power and easier fuel mileage, as well as numerous chassis refinements to improve ride quality, steering response and handling. Idle-slashing AutoStop technology was added for 2014 as well. If your budget allows it, a 2014 or newer Malibu is ideal.

Engines/Trim

In 2013, Malibu’s standard engine was a 2.4 litre four-cylinder, running 182-horsepower. It was replaced in 2014 by a new 2.5 litre ECOTEC four-cylinder, providing 196 horsepower and a slew of new internal, fuel-saving systems, including a new variable valve lift control system for maximum engine breathing. Malibu’s new engine could now control both valve timing and valve lift—moving engine breathing management and fuel efficiency into the next generation.

Need more power? Malibu Turbo packed a 2-litre turbocharged ECOTEC engine with 259 horsepower. A 2.4-litre eAssist engine could also be specified, amounting to a low-cost, light-hybrid setup that provided a reduction in fuel use and a slight power boost.

All models got an automatic transmission.

What Owners Like

Owners frequently praise Malibu’s smooth and adequate performance, the potent and quiet punch from the turbo engine, good fuel mileage, a nicely-trimmed cabin, a well-sorted ride and handling equation, plenty of on-board storage, and adequate room in most directions in both seating rows. The Pioneer stereo system is a common praise point, too, as is the quiet ride.

What Owners Dislike

Common gripes include a surprisingly large turning circle, dull engine noises, and rear-seat headroom that’s good, not great. Some drivers also wish for more precise brake pedal feel.

Here are some owner reviews.

The Test Drive

Finding a Malibu from this generation with plenty of remaining warranty shouldn’t be a problem—so buying confidently is largely a function of finding a used model at the right price, ideally from a Chevrolet Dealer as part of a Certified Pre-Owned Program.

Still, standard checks apply, as do some Malibu-specific ones.

Approach the car you’re considering assuming it will need new tires and brakes, even at relatively low mileage, until you confirm otherwise. As it tends to go with new cars, numerous owners have complained of excessive wear of factory-installed tires and brake parts. Look at the brake rotors for signs of rust or grooves, and ‘feel’ the pedal for a firm bite. If the pedal is soggy or mushy, or if light to moderate brake activation causes a ‘shimmy’ from the Malibu’s front end, you’ll likely need a new set of brakes.

The Malibu is fitted with a variety of high-tech connectivity features, including OnStar and Bluetooth. Confirm both are working properly, pairing your phone and placing a call to confirm proper operation, and accessing the OnStar via the blue button. Ask the OnStar advisor to confirm that they can ‘ping’ the car via GPS. If unable, the integrated GPS module may need to be replaced. Bad GPS modules are relatively uncommon, but worth checking into.

Here’s a lengthy discussion about premature wheel-bearing failure at low miles, which seems common enough to warrant investigation. Have a mechanic assess the condition of the wheel bearings on the Malibu you’re considering, especially if a drone or roar-like sound is detected at highway speeds. In most cases, owners have been successful at having worn wheel bearings replaced under warranty.

If the used Malibu you’re considering has a leather interior, inspect all leather panels for signs or ripping, cracking or wear, calling any you note into pricing negotiations. Regular use of a leather cleaner or conditioner on the seats is also advised. Here’s some more information.

On models with the AutoStop system, issues with slow restarting, or momentary power accessory loss upon engine restart, have been reported by some owners. If you detect these issues on a test-drive, or later during ownership, note that many owners have had the issues remedied with replacement battery cables.

Here’s another discussion relating to modern engines consuming oil, in which owners debate how much oil consumption is considered normal. Some owners of Malibu models with the turbo engine report excessive oil consumption, and others report none at all. To some degree, oil consumption in a modern, high-efficiency engine is considered normal—though shoppers are advised to check the oil level on a test-drive, and monitor it religiously during ownership, noting any excessive consumption and having it documented by their dealer service advisor for possible future warranty claims. Note that part of the issue may relate to oil blowing past turbo seals, a normal characteristic of turbocharged engines, though not in excessive amounts. Have a GM mechanic check the charge pipes on the turbo engine for signs of excessive oil. Any turbo engine will coat its charge-pipes with a film of oil, though pooling is typically considered an issue.

Other possible issues include latch-related rattles from the rear seats over bumps, freezing and crashing of the MyLink infotainment system (more reading here) and the presence of a coolant smell (sweet, sugary and slightly burned) detected in the car. The latter issue may be the result of a leaky heater core, or a bad thermostat, and should be investigated ahead of purchase.

Finally, note that a notchiness, lumpiness or sticking sensation from the steering is likely caused by a bad or dying battery, though any detected issues related to steering feel or operation should be checked out by a mechanic.

Note that Malibu was affected by a lengthy list of recalls, which should be addressed by your local Chevrolet service centre.

The Verdict

Malibu seems to be a much-loved family sedan where comfort, practicality and value are concerned—and most of the likely issues shoppers may face should be easy to spot on a test-drive, and easy for a mechanic to address.

Crash Test Results

IIHS: Top Safety Pick (2015)
NHTSA: 5/5 Stars

For model year 2013, Chevrolet moved its popular family sedan, the Malibu, onto its Epsilon platform, and then quickly added new engines... 4/14/2016 10:28:20 AM