Fast, At Least On the Info Superhighway: Malibu Gets 4G LTE Connectivity For 2015

What changes will make it different?

The addition of high-speed 4G LTE connectivity and a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot will make this midsize car a mobile hub for the digitally inclined. A few new exterior color choices should round-out the short list of updates as this sedan takes a breather after two consecutive years of revisions. It was all-new for model-year ’13, then freshened inside and out for ’14 in an effort to enliven the styling and improve back-seat space.

Should I wait for the 2016 model?

If you believe Chevy will revamp it yet again as it strives to gain ground on class sales leaders Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, and Ford Fusion, all of which outsell Malibu. With its next full design likely due for model-year 2018, additional change could well be in the offing, although it’ll probably come in the form of appearance alterations and maybe some new features for the ’17 model.

Should I buy the current 2015 instead?

If you like what you see today and think it’ll serve your family-transportation needs. The 2014 quick-fix did improve this five-passenger automobile. Reshaped front seatbacks helped give it rear knee room that’s at least competitive if still not a selling point. A new center console created more small-items storage. A retuned suspension didn’t elevate road manners to Fusion, Accord, or Mazda 6 levels but did result in a better balance of ride and handling. Safety features were added. And the base engine gained power and fuel-saving stop-start technology.

Will the styling be different?

Other than new paint choices – fresh shades of red, gray and bronze are good bets – no. The ‘14 nip and tuck carries over for a look that’s unexciting but far from polarizing. The profile is squared-off and conservative. And Chevy-family design cues are evident in a front fascia like that of the larger Impala and taillights inspired by the sporty Camaro. Dimensions won’t change and are locked into a General Motors platform sized for a variety of world markets (here it’s also used for the Buick Regal). That global design has proved a compromise for American buyers because the wheelbase – the distance between the front and rear axles and vital to legroom – is the shortest in the competitive set. The lineup for 2015 will reprise base LS, volume LT, and top-line LTZ trim levels. The LT will again subdivide into 1LT, 2LT, and 3LT variants, the LTZ into 1LZ and 2LZ versions.

Any mechanical changes?

None. A front-wheel drive configuration returns, as do two engines, both with four cylinders. This is among the new-era midsize cars without an available V-6; others include the Ford, Mazda, Hyundai Sonata, and Kia Optima rivals, while the Chrysler 200, Accord, Altima, and Toyota entries continue to offer both four- and six-cylinder power. Malibu’s base 2.5-liter returns with 196 horsepower and saves gas by automatically shutting off when the vehicle is stopped and when the battery charge will allow accessories such as air conditioning to continue running. It’ll restart on its own when the driver’s foot releases the brake pedal. Available on 3LT and 2LZ editions is a turbocharged 2.0-liter with 259 horsepower. A six-speed automatic is again the sole transmission. There is no hybrid or pure-electric model.

Will fuel economy improve?

EPA fuel-economy ratings will not change. The 2.5-liter stays at 25/36/29 mpg city/highway/combined, the turbo 2.0 at 21/30/24. Those are competitive numbers for engines of this output, although the turbocharged four doesn’t have a clear advantage over the V-6s with which it’s intended to compete. And Chevy recommends that it be fueled with premium-octane gas for best performance.

Will it have new features?

The only notable addition is the enhanced connectivity. It’s an extension of and Chevy’s MyLink Bluetooth cellphone linking and streaming audio and is standard on all LT and LTZ models. The new hotspot is on whenever the car is on and comes with a three-month, three gigabyte data trial. The newest mobile data network, 4G LTE is 10 times faster than 3G and 100 times faster than the previous generation OnStar connection. In this application it provides stronger, broader coverage than smartphones on the same network. Also included is six months of OnStar Directions and Connections with automatic crash response and stolen-vehicle assistance, as well as turn-by-turn navigation. Basic OnStar is included on every Malibu and provides live-operate assistance and enables owners to remotely start the car, lock and unlock it, and sound the horn and lights from anywhere with a data connection. Among returning features, leather upholstery with heated front seats is available on 2LT and 3LT and standard on LTZ. Those models also come with dual-zone automatic climate control, a Pioneer nine-speaker stereo, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls. Pushbutton ignition is available on the LTZ, a rearview camera is available on 2LT and LTZ, and remote engine start is available on 1LT and standard on 2LT, 3LT, and LTZ. All but the LS come with a touchscreen radio faceplate that powers open to reveal a 6-inch deep storage bin. A navigation system with voice activation and a 7-inch screen is optional on 2LT, 3LT, and LTZ models. Available safety features include blind-spot, forward-collision, and lane-departure warnings, plus rear cross-traffic alert. Standard across the board are a tilt/telescoping steering column, 60/40 split/folding rear seatbacks, and 10 airbags, including knee airbags for driver and front passenger.

How will 2015 prices be different?

They increase, from about $200 for entry-level models to about $500 for LTZs with their newly standard high-speed connectivity. Base prices include the $825 destination fee and begin at $23,165 for the LS and span $24,435-$29,020 for the 2.5-liter LT and LTZ grades. With turbo power, the LT with the 3LT package starts at $27,830 and the LTZ with the 2LZ kit at $31,180. Options, of course, can push up transaction prices.

When will it come out?

Spring 2014.

Best competitors

Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry

What’s a cool feature?

If you’re a Malibu owner with an Apple iPhone 4S or later with iOS 6 or 7, you’ll be able to use your car’s Siri digital assistant in Eyes Free mode to make voice-activated phone calls, play music in your iTunes library, listen to and compose text messages to anyone in your contacts list, and create appointments in your calendar. Eyes Free works in conjunction with Chevrolet’s MyLink touchscreen infotainment system.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]