2014 Chevrolet Malibu. Photo copyright GM.

2014 Chevrolet Malibu. Photo copyright GM.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has named the 2014 model-year Chevrolet Malibu a Top Safety Pick+ – the group's highest overall safety rating.

In announcing the vehicle’s score, IIHS cited the Malibu’s structural changes that improved its performance in the challenging small overlap front crash test.

In addition to scoring a “good” rating in the small overlap test, the Malibu also drew “good” ratings for moderate overlap front protection, side protection, roof strength, and head restraints and seats. The vehicle’s optional forward collision warning system earned it a “basic” rating for front crash prevention.

In assessing crashworthiness, IIHS rates vehicles “good,” “acceptable,” “marginal” or “poor,” based on performance in the five crash tests. 

For models with available front crash prevention systems, IIHS also assigns a rating of “basic,” “advanced” or “superior,” based on the type of system and performance in track tests. This score reflects the vehicle’s ability to prevent or mitigate crashes.

For the 2014 model year, Chevrolet modified the Malibu's front structure and door sill to improve small overlap performance. The 2013 Malibu rated “marginal” in the test. But in the latest small overlap test, the driver's space was maintained well, and injury measures recorded on the driver dummy indicated low risk of any significant injuries in a crash of this severity, IIHS said.

“The dummy's head made good contact with the front airbag, which stayed in position during the crash, and the side curtain airbag deployed to protect the head from contact with side structures,” IIHS noted.

IIHS added the small overlap evaluation to its testing lineup in 2012. In the crash, 25 percent of a vehicle's front end on the driver side strikes a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier at 40 mph. This test replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle strikes another vehicle or an object like a tree or a utility pole.

The Chevrolet Malibu has been a Top Safety Pick for the past four years, but 2014 is the first time it is a Top Safety Pick+. It is the second Chevrolet car to receive the Top Safety Pick+ rating, following the Spark subcompact.