The 2014 Nissan Altima and 2014 Chevrolet Malibu are considered alternative choices for midsize sedans such as the best-selling Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry trifecta. If you're trying to decide between an Altima and a Malibu, you might be wondering which one is better in terms of the things consumers say they care about most. We'll clarify that for you, but first let's cover the changes for each car for the 2014 model year.
2014 Nissan Altima Changes
Nissan redesigned the Altima for 2013 but isn't sitting still with the 2014 Altima. Safety and infotainment technologies are available on a wider range of models this year, and the NissanConnect system is upgraded with additional features for 2014.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu Changes
Just one year after a complete redesign, the 2014 Malibu receives significant upgrades in the form of revised styling, improved fuel economy, upgraded driving dynamics, greater rear-seat room, new infotainment technologies, additional safety features and more.
It might surprise you to learn that the 2014 Chevy Malibu is expected to deliver better reliability than the 2014 Nissan Altima. Based on data from Consumer Reports and J.D. Power, the Malibu's projected dependability ratings are better. And the Malibu's quality rating is higher, according to J.D. Power.
Nissan also can't match the Malibu's longer 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, the free roadside assistance program Chevrolet supplies for that same period or the free scheduled maintenance that Malibu owners enjoy during their first two years/24,000 miles of ownership.
Combine these perks with the Chevy's more favorable reliability and quality ratings, and it looks like the 2014 Malibu is the better vehicle in this category.
If the Malibu is projected to be better in terms of reliability, the 2014 Nissan Altima delivers superior fuel economy. Both cars come standard with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. The Malibu's engine offers more power and an automatic stop/start system, but it is installed in a car that weighs more than the Altima. In combined driving, the Altima is rated to return 31 miles per gallon, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while the Malibu gets 29 mpg.
Don't think that you can choose the Malibu Eco model, which has an eAssist light-electrification hybrid powertrain, in order to improve the Chevy's gas mileage. The EPA says it does no better than the standard gasoline 4-cylinder.
Each sedan is available with a more powerful engine upgrade. Chevrolet offers a direct-injected, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine good for 259 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, which motivates a minimum of 3,635 pounds. The Altima's optional 3.5-liter V6 engine generates 270 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque -- in a car weighing almost 300 pounds less than the Chevy. Maybe that's why the Altima 3.5 models are rated to get 25 mpg in combined driving, while the Malibu Turbo is expected to return 24 mpg.
If fuel economy is important to you, the 2014 Nissan Altima delivers.
For the 2014 model year, both Chevrolet and Nissan expand the availability of safety features for the Malibu and the Altima. Chevrolet now offers Side Blind Zone Alert and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert systems on certain versions of the 2014 Malibu, along with Siri Eyes Free technology, including hands-free text messaging. Nissan expands the availability of its Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Monitoring and Moving Object Detection systems to the more popular Altima SV trim level this year.
As far as crash-testing is concerned, the Altima gets better ratings than the Malibu. It earns a 5-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Full testing isn't complete for the 2014 Malibu, which the NHTSA rates at five stars for frontal impact protection and four stars for rollover resistance. The IIHS gives the 2014 Malibu the top rating of Good in four of its five crash tests, plus a Basic rating for front crash prevention thanks to the optional Forward Collision Warning system. Because the IIHS has not assessed the 2014 Malibu's performance in the small overlap frontal impact rating, the Chevy doesn't earn a Top Safety Pick designation.
Therefore, the Altima is the safer family sedan for now.
Nissan offers a couple of thoughtful features on its more affordable Altima models in the form of passive entry with push-button starting and smart automatic headlights that automatically illuminate when the wipers are turned on. However, Nissan doesn't offer a telematics system similar to the Malibu's standard OnStar service and OnStar RemoteLink mobile app, which includes six months of free Automatic Crash Response, SOS Emergency Services, turn-by-turn navigation, Stolen Vehicle Assistance, an opt-in FamilyLink tracking feature and more. Of course, once the free subscription expires, it costs extra to keep this stuff activated -- extra to the tune of $199 annually for the most basic level of services.
All versions of the Malibu LT and LTZ get Chevrolet MyLink smartphone pairing technology with a 7-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth calling and music streaming. If the optional navigation is ordered, the Malibu includes Siri Eyes Free hands-free text messaging capability. Keyless entry with push-button starting is offered only for the most expensive Malibu LTZ model.
Nissan offers its NissanConnect system in the Altima SV and SL with a 5-in touchscreen, hands-free text messaging and NissanConnect Apps. This system is optional for the Altima S, and the screen size grows when buyers choose the optional navigation system for the SV and SL.
While these cars are generally well matched in terms of standard and optional technologies, we're giving the Malibu the nod thanks to its standard OnStar system and broader democratization of tech-related upgrades.
You're not going to pay anywhere near sticker price for an Altima or a Malibu. Both cars are regularly offered with lease, finance and rebate programs designed to drive sales, and both Chevrolet and Nissan are eager to move as many Malibus and Altimas off dealer lots as they possibly can.
With that in mind, the Altima's depreciation rating is four stars, according to ALG, compared to a 3-star rating for the Malibu. Additionally, data from TrueCar indicates that Nissan is more aggressive with pricing, as the average price paid for an Altima has been trending down while the Malibu's price has remained steady.
Combine Nissan's apparent willingness to cut prices to the bone with its more favorable depreciation rating and the Altima represents a better value, even if Chevrolet does provide free scheduled maintenance for the first couple of years of ownership.
More fuel-efficient, safer and offering a strong value proposition, the 2014 Nissan Altima makes a compelling case for itself in comparison to the 2014 Chevy Malibu. However, the Malibu is expected to perform better in terms of reliability, and offers a more sophisticated suite of technologies than does the Altima. As always, the right choice is dependent on personal preferences. For this particular contest, however, the 2014 Altima gets our vote.