Best Chevy Malibu 2.0T Performance Upgrades

Austin Parsons

Meet Austin

Austin holds a technical writing degree and has 5 years of experience working as a Technical Product Specialist at BMW. He is an avid car enthusiast who is constantly watching F1, consuming automotive content, racing on his simulator, and working on his Toyota’s and BMW’s. Austin’s technical writing skills, extensive automotive knowledge, and hands-on experience make him an excellent resource for our readers.

The Chevy Malibu Turbo first arrived on the scene in 2013. The Malibu turbo sported the new 2.0 Ecotec turbo engine, which was, and still is, an extremely underrated powerhouse. With 259 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque on tap, the Malibu turbo was a zippy car straight from the factory. While the Chevy Malibu might not be the first car that comes to mind when talking about highly-modifiable performance vehicles, there is still quite a bit of performance to be gained from the 2.0 Ecotec turbo engine. In this guide, we discuss some of the best Malibu 2.0T performance upgrades to get the most out of your driving experience.

Chevy Malibu 2.0T Ecotec Engine Information

The 2.0L LTG engine that powered the 2013-2022 Chevy Malibu is part of the GM Ecotec engine family which replaced the outgoing GM Family II engine along with several other V6 and 4-cylinder engine families that powered most of the GM midsize fleet prior to 2000. All of the GM Ecotec engines are all-aluminum inline-4 engines.

The 2.0L LTG I4 was the first of the third generation of Ecotec engines which also includes the 2.0L LSY Ecotec, 2.5L LCV Ecotec, and 2.5L LKW Ecotec engines. The LTG has been used in a number of popular GM vehicles including the Cadillac ATS, Buick Regal, Chevy Camaro, and Chevy Equinox. 

The 2.0L LTG features direct injection and a twin-scroll turbocharger, increasing efficiency and providing a smooth powerband throughout the rev range. In factory form, the 2.0 Chevy Malibu turbo produced 259 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque from 2013-2015 and 250 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque from 2016-2022.


Best Chevy Malibu 2.0T Performance Upgrades

While the Chevy Malibu 2.0 Turbo might not be the most modifiable car in Chevy’s catalog, there are still some great ways to extract some additional performance. Here are our top Chevy Malibu 2.0T performance upgrades:

  • Tune
  • O2 Housing/Downpipe
  • Cold Air Intake
  • Flex Fuel/E85 Kit

1) Malibu 2.0T Tuning

A tune is unquestionably the best value modification when it comes to Malibu 2.0T performance upgrades. The objective of a 2.0 Malibu turbo tune is to optimize air, fuel, and boost parameters, extracting the maximum performance potential from the engine. Typically, this is done by a tuning company that modifies the ECU’s base file and changes individual tables to increase performance. 

A tune is a great idea for both 2.0 Malibu owners who plan on continuing to modify their car with other bolt-on upgrades and for those that just want a bit more performance from their otherwise stock vehicle. Certain plug-and-play tunes can amplify the output of a stock 2.0 Ecotec turbo engine by up to 50 horsepower and 50 lb-ft of torque. Those are baseline numbers too, as performance gains from an Ecotec tune scale with other performance mods.

While power and torque gains are unquestionably the largest benefits, Chevy Malibu turbo tunes also improve other aspects of the driving experience as well. For example, tuning experts optimize most tunes based on the transmission as well. A tune can help your Malibu’s 8 or 9-speed automatic transmission perform better during performance driving by adjusting shift points and shift firmness. Some Chevy Malibu tunes also offer ESC, or Stabilitrak, modifications to enhance the overall driving feel as well.

Best Tuner

There are a number of LTG Malibu tunes available on the market and in multiple forms. Most Malibu owners opt for a flash tune installed with a flash loader device. The Trifecta 2.0 turbo Advantage tune is unquestionably the most popular option in the community, providing gains of up to 50 horsepower and 50 lb-ft of torque on an otherwise stock vehicle.

The tune keeps all of the OEM diagnostic and ECM functionality, but makes adjustments to the factory tune for higher overall performance. In addition to the engine adjustments, the Trifecta Chevy Malibu 2.0 turbo tune also makes adjustments to either the 8 or 9-speed automatic transmission. Tunes also alter shift points and shift firmness to provide better driving performance. 

The ZZ Performance PCM tune is another popular option for the Chevy Malibu 2.0 Turbo as well. The ZZ Performance tune functions similarly to the Trifecta tune but is a bit more involved. In a way, ZZ Performance’s offering is more like a custom tune, as you have to send in your Malibu’s base file as a starting point for them to make custom adjustments. They can also ship you a pre-tuned PCM, allowing you to swap back to your stock PCM if need be. Since the ZZ Performance tune is based on your individual car, it is the better option if you already have performance modifications installed. 

2) O2 Housing/Downpipe Upgrade

As with every turbocharged engine, the 2.0 LTG’s downpipe is the most important part of the exhaust system in terms of performance. Since the downpipe is the first component that comes after the turbocharger, it plays a vital role in exhaust flow. In all-wheel and rear-wheel drive LTG models, the catalytic converter is built into the downpipe itself, causing a restriction. However, the factory FWD LTG downpipe isn’t the restrictive component when it comes to flow. The truly restrictive portion of the Malibu’s exhaust is the O2 section of pipe that connects the turbo outlet to the downpipe. 

The biggest issue with the Malibu’s factory O2 housing is the inbuilt catalytic converter. The stock catalytic converter hampers exhaust flow and creates backpressure directly after the turbo. For that reason, a replacement O2 housing with a high-flow catalytic converter is one of the most popular Malibu 2.0T performance upgrades. In addition to the benefit of a high-flow catalytic converter, most upgraded Malibu O2 housings also feature a wider diameter than the factory piping. That also allows for more exhaust gas to escape the turbo.

Best Downpipe/O2 Housing Upgrade

Ultimately, there aren’t many options on the market regarding downpipe upgrades for the 2.0L LTG I4. In fact, no upgrade options are available for larger-diameter downpipes for the 2.0L Malibu. However, ZZ Performance does supply an upgraded LTG O2 housing for FWD 2.0L LTG models. 

The ZZPerformance LTG O2 housing replaces the factory catalytic converter with a 400-cell high-flow unit, reducing backpressure by a significant amount. The upgraded housing is also 3” in diameter which helps improve exhaust flow into the rest of the exhaust system. The upgraded O2 housing is a direct replacement for the factory one and comes with all of the necessary hardware to install it. 

Overall, you can expect a 5-10 horsepower gain from upgrading to the ZZPerformance Malibu O2 housing when paired with a tune. In addition to the power gains, there are some other benefits to upgrading the housing as well. One of the most pronounced improvements is the increased turbo response. Due to there being less backpressure after the turbo, the upgraded housing allows the turbo to operate more efficiently, resulting in faster turbo spool and better throttle response overall.

It might not be the most significant Malibu 2.0T performance upgrade in terms of power gains, but it is one that will make your everyday driving experience much more enjoyable. 

3) Cold Air Intake

Upgraded intakes are one of the most common starter modifications for pretty much every vehicle under the sun, including the Malibu 2.0T. The primary purpose of a cold air intake is to improve the amount of air entering the engine, optimally at a lower temperature than the factory intake system can manage. While air intake temperature isn’t as important on turbocharged engines due to the fact that the air is cooled by the intercooler, any improvement to flow or reduction to IATs helps the 2.0 Ecotec turbo perform at a higher level.

Most upgraded intakes are designed with larger diameter piping that was designed to provide a more even flow. There are a few benefits to upgrading to a Malibu 2.0T cold air intake. For one, you’ll pick up a couple of horsepower. However, don’t expect an extremely noticeable gain. Typically, an intake will garner 2-5 horsepower. Its effect on throttle response is certainly more pronounced, though. That is especially true when paired with a tune.

Another one of the most significant benefits, which is really more of a convenience, is that most aftermarket LTG intakes come with a larger, reusable intake filter. The larger filter not only allows for more air to enter the engine itself, but also extends the replacement interval. Lastly, upgraded 2.0 Malibu intakes sound really cool. Due to the more exposed entry point of the air, induction sounds are far more pronounced with an upgraded Chevy Malibu cold air intake.

Best Malibu 2.0T Cold Air Intake

Unlike some of the other LTG Malibu modifications on this list, there are actually a number of intakes available for the 2.0 Malibu turbo. Contrary to the factory closed-airbox design, all of the aftermarket intakes available for the Chevy Malibu are open-air intakes. That means that the air filter is exposed to the inside of the engine bay. Typically that results in higher intake air temperatures, but all of the aftermarket options also come with heat shields. While open-air designs typically hurt IATs, they are also more efficient at sucking a higher volume of air into the engine.

All of the main players in the Chevy Malibu cold air intake game are well-known in the industry at large. The most popular intakes include the K&N Malibu performance air intake system, Injen 13 Chevy Malibu 2.0T tuned air intake, and AEM Chevy Malibu cold air intake. All three options feature a similar open-air, conical filter design with an included heat shield. They also come with all of the necessary hardware to install them. 

While all of the Malibu cold air intake systems are similar, they do differ in a few ways. For example, both the K&N and AEM intakes feature HDPE roto-molded intake tubing, whereas the Injen’s intake tubing is aluminum. That accounts for the Injen intake’s higher price and potentially better thermal efficiency. However, all of them will perform their job well.

4) Flex Fuel Kit

To round off our best Malibu 2.0T performance upgrades list, we have a modification that has a number of important benefits. There is a misconception that the 2.0 Ecotec LTG is a flex-fuel-capable engine from the factory, but that isn’t the case. From the factory, the LTG Malibu is capable of running 93-octane fuel with no more than a 10% ethanol blend. However, there are Chevy Malibu flex fuel kits available for the 2.0L LTG engine that will allow you to run a higher ethanol blend. 

If you aren’t familiar with E85, it is essentially a blend of traditional gasoline and ethanol, which is essentially a renewable fuel made from various grains. Ethanol is a good fuel additive due to its high thermal efficiency and its lower combustion temperature. Those two attributes have a number of performance and safety benefits. E85 registers close to 105 octane, making it the highest octane option from the pump in the US. As a result, it combusts more completely, creating more power. E85 also creates less heat in the combustion chamber as it burns, reducing the risk for detonation and internal engine damage. Oh yeah, and it’s usually less expensive than traditional gasoline. As you can see, the list of notable benefits to running an E85 blend in your Chevy Malibu is extensive. 

Best Flex Fuel Kit

Ultimately, the ZZP LTG E85 Flex Fuel kit is the only true option on the market made specifically for the Chevy LTG Ecotec. That makes sense, as ZZ Performance is the leading name in performance parts for the LTG I4 and many other Chevy engines. Their Ecotec Flex Fuel kit comes with all of the hardware necessary to convert your 2.0L inline-4 to a Flex Fuel capable engine utilizing the factory direct injection fuel system. 

The kit connects in line with the factory fuel line and monitors the ethanol/octane content of the fuel and reports it to the ECU. That allows you to run any mix of ethanol/high octane gas with the PCM adjusting the fueling, timing, and boost specifically for it. It is important to note that you will have to have a corresponding tune to be able to run the E85 kit. ZZ Performance recommends their own PCM tune, which supports E85 right out of the box. ZZP also mentions that their LTG E85 kit was designed around RWD LTG Chevy models, but it will also work with FWD models with some light modifications.

Chevy Malibu 2.0T Performance Upgrades FAQ

How much horsepower does the Chevy Malibu 2.0T have?

The 2013-2022 Chevy Malibu makes between 250 and 259 horsepower. 2013-2016 models with the earlier LTG 2.0l inline-4 made a few more horsepower than current models due to changes in emissions requirements. The Chevy Malibu 2.0 turbo also makes less power than other AWD and RWD 2.0L LTG-powered Chevys including the Cadillac ATS and Chevy Camaro. However, with the performance modifications listed here, it is possible to get your Chevy Malibu 2.0 turbo to a similar output as the 275-horsepower LTG Camaro. 

What are the best Chevy Malibu 2.0T performance upgrades?

Some of the most popular modificaitons for the Chevy Malibu 2.0 turbo include a PCM tune, an upgraded O2 housing/downpipe, a cold air intake, and a flex fuel kit. In combination, those modificaitons can add around 50-65 horsepower to a 2.0L Malibu.

How much boost does a 2.0 Malibu make?

The 2.0 Ecotec is equipped with a single twin-scroll turbocharger that generates up to 20psi of boost. The LTG Ecotec 2.0L’s turbo is split into two scrolls and fed by separate exhaust passages. That decreases turbo lag and creates a smoother driving experience overall.

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