R&T Overview:The Malibu is similar in size to the slightly larger Impala, but just because the two cars share the bowtie logo on their grilles doesn't mean they drive alike. The Malibu feels light on its feet, which is great for handling response, and a real trick considering the Malibu could stand to skip a few lunches. With this confident foundation, the standard stability control, traction control and 6-speed transmission programming make both the high-tech 2.4-liter four version and the roaring 3.6-liter V-6 model into “point-and-shoot” sedans. Although there is a manual-shift feature—a switch on the shift knob—the driveline works much smoother without using it. The Malibu's fastback styling intrudes slightly on rear head space, but comfort in front is top-notch.
Extensively redesigned, this is the eighth generation of Chevy's midsize sedan. The wheelbase is 4.5 in. shorter and the track over 2 in. wider, lending visual muscle to the otherwise conservative styling. Chevy claims a 20-percent chassis rigidity upgrade, as well as more room in the classy interior, despite reduced dimensions. There are three engine choices, all with direct fuel injection, led by the new 182-hp Ecotec 4-cylinder that's the heart of the eAssist Eco model. A mild gas/electric hybrid, the Eco is rated for 25 mpg city, 37 mpg highway, topping the Malibu charts. The Malibu delivers creamy ride quality with quiet operation, and a 259-bhp 2.0-liter turbo four is available to satisfy those with a need for speed.
The Ford Fiesta is a sub-compact, front-wheel drive, five-passenger car. Available in four and five-door bodystyles, the current benchmarks for the sub-compact segment are being tested by the Fiestas styling, comfort and luxury features, technology, and overall practicality.
The Fiesta is offered in three trims, S, SE, and a Titanium model. For 2014 there is the addition of the new ST trim to the hatchback lineup. Power comes from a 120-hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, mated to a five-speed manual transmission. An advanced six-speed PowerShift automatic transmission is optional. The ST gets a turbocharged, direct-injected version of the 1.6-liter that offers nearly 200-hp, mated to a six-speed manual transmission. Standard features on all models include air-conditioning, capless fuel filler system, power body-colored mirrors, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, aux audio input jack, electronic power-assisted steering and hill launch assist. Higher trim levels include cruise control, keyless entry, Ford's MyKey system, HD and satellite radio, alloy wheels, power windows, rearview camera with reverse park sensing, SYNC hands-free communications and entertainment system and SYNC with MyFord Touch. Standard safety features include AdvanceTrac electronic stability control, seven airbags including a driver knee airbag, tire pressure monitoring system, engine immobilizer and four-wheel anti-lock brakes.
For 2014, the Fiesta is a refresh with new interior and exterior styling, feature changes across the entire lineup and the addition of the ST performance hot hatch.
Unlike most car models, the Kia Forte comes in several distinct flavors. The brand’s centerpiece is the Forte sedan, offered in LX, EX and SX trim. It’s a comfortable and agreeable ride with a solid standard features package across the board. The SX trim, with its performance-tuned suspension, 17-in. wheels, bigger front brakes and 173-bhp engine is the sportiest of the lot. But if sport is what you’re after, move directly to the 2-door Forte Koup SX—not an aggressive ride, but one that will certainly put a grin on your face in the turns. Buyers who are more in a family-about-town way should give the Forte 5-Door serious consideration. The hatchback opens to provide 19.4 cu. ft. of cargo space, compounded when the second-row seats are folded. All Forte variants enjoy a robust list of standard features.
While the Impreza is great for economy-minded drivers, Subaru's WRX and STI provide an easy upgrade path to enthusiasts seeking performance nirvana. The WRX and STI may be similar in specification—they come in either 4- or 5-door body styles and feature manual transmissions and all-wheel-drive drivetrains, turbocharged flat-4 engines and sport-tuned suspension—but they are fairly different in intent. The WRX is for enthusiasts, and 265 bhp and a 5-speed manual is just what it takes to keep them happy. The STI is for the hardcore types, the ones who demand more power to the tune of 305 bhp. You also get a 6-speed manual, adjustable center differential, an even stiffer suspension setup, and a bigger and stickier tire package.