eAssist gives midsized sedan up to 37 mpg
Nina Russin, Wed, 16 May 2012 09:54:16 PDT
The Malibu has been a staple of Chevrolet's model line-up for almost 50 years, having first rolled out in 1964. Each of the sedan's eight iterations has mirrored its generation's passions and needs, from the early muscle cars to the 2013 Eco model, which combines exceptional gas mileage with a spacious five-passenger interior.
Engineers used the same eAssist system available on the Buick Regal to stretch fuel economy from the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. A lithium-ion battery pack located between the second-row seats and trunk enables reduces the amount of time the gasoline engine has to run during low load conditions such as idling, steady-state cruising and deceleration.
The battery pack recharges on the go using regenerative braking. The sedan's only down side is its reduced cargo area. In addition to having a smaller trunk, the battery's location prevented designers from extending the cargo floor with a pass-through.
A shutter system in the front grille closes when the engine doesn't need additional cooling to enhance aerodynamics under the car. Direct injection reduces parasitic fuel loss by delivering gasoline directly into the engine cylinders rather than through the valves. A power electric steering pump saves space and weight under the hood when compared with a traditional hydraulic system.
Base price for the Malibu Eco is $26,845 excluding the $760 destination charge. Leather upholstery with a power front passenger seat and front seat heaters adds $1300. The test car has two other options, special exterior paint and interior trim, which add $325 and $150 respectively. The price as tested is $29,380.
Focus on value pricing
The newest Malibu's value story doesn't end with its fuel economy. In order to compete with aggressive pricing strategies from Hyundai and Kia, Chevrolet product planners packed the newest Malibu with safety and convenience features. All models include front, side, driver's knee and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, traction and stability control.
Standard OnStar with a six-month complimentary subscription enables the driver to download directions into the vehicle. OnStar also notifies police and medical personnel in the event of a serious collision, and can help the police locate the car if it's stolen.
Comfort and convenience features include remote keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, satellite radio, MyLink infotainment system, and an eight-way power driver's seat with adjustable lumbar support.
Engineers focused on making the newest Malibu interior the quietest ever in the history of the brand by adding sound insulation in key areas, and spending time in the wind tunnel to optimize the sedan's aerodynamics. Designers utilized styling cues from the current Camaro to dress up the exterior, moving away from the plain vanilla look which hurt sales on the outgoing model.
Test drive in Phoenix
This week I put about 150 miles on the Malibu Eco on streets and highways in the Phoenix and Scottsdale metropolitan areas. Engineers delivered on every front promised, from the car's 30 mile-per-gallon gas mileage to its competent acceleration and refined suspension.
Not only is the interior devoid of wind and road noise, but of the squeaks and rattles which have plagued generations of Chevrolets. The newest Malibu looks and feels every bit as solid as its most formidable competitors from Europe and Asia. It's a car that buyers can not only afford, but also be proud to own.
Although the Malibu is a fairly heavy car, the battery assist prevents the sedan's mass from having a negative impact on performance. Zero-to-sixty acceleration is 8.7 seconds according to the manufacturer. I had no problems accelerating into highway traffic or passing other vehicles at speed. Although the gasoline engine doesn't reach peak torque till 4900 rpm, the electric motor reaches peak torque at 1000 rpm, giving the car a pleasant boost off the line.
General Motors has a reputation for making really good automatic transmissions, and the six-speed Hydra-Matic unit on the new Malibu is no exception. It progresses smoothly through the gears with minimal shift shock during normal driving conditions. There was no tendency to hunt on inclines: a common performance problem with four-cylinder cars. The driver can shift manually using the shift lever for more aggressive performance.
The power electric steering system is nicely tuned for the car, with plenty of low-speed assist and good on-center response on the highway. A 37.4 foot turning circle makes U-turns a possibility on wider suburban roads.
Standard 17-inch alloy wheels keep the chassis stable on the highway. Low rolling resistance tires extend gas mileage and provided good traction on dry pavement during the test drive. I didn't have a chance to see how they performed on rain or snow-covered roads.
A four-wheel independent suspension with stabilizer bars on both axles is compliant without feeling mushy. The chassis recovered nicely when I took a decreasing radius cloverleaf turn at speed. Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking provide good stopping power in any weather.
Visibility is pretty good around the perimeter. The Malibu has a high cowl, but the power adjustable driver's seat makes it easy for smaller drivers to maintain a clear forward view. B pillars are on the thick side, but over-the-shoulder visibility to either side is still reasonably good. A standard rearview camera projects a wide-angle view to the back when the driver shifts into reverse, making it easier to parallel park and back out of vertical parking slots.
The newest Malibu's interior is one of the biggest areas of improvement. Fit and finish is light years beyond that of earlier models.
The instrument panel wraps around the driver and front passenger bucket seats. Access and egress to the second row seats is good, despite the sedan's large wheel wells. Rear passengers have plenty of leg and hip room. The middle passenger has to straddle the floor tunnel, but the design of the seat and center console allow for adequate knee room.
The MyLink system enables the driver to pair his smart phone with the audio system and use applications such as Pandora and Stitcher. Frankly, I have mixed feelings about all of these new infotainment features. While they make the daily commute less boring, I believe that they also contribute to driver distraction. As a runner and cyclist, this is becoming a greater and greater cause for concern.
Designers did a good job of giving passengers access to cup and bottle holders. A twelve-volt power point in the center console recharges cell phones on the go, while a USB port interfaces with iPods.
The gauge cluster is easy to read, with a digital information center which gives the driver average and instant fuel economy, driving range and trip meter readings. There is no hood over the center console screen, so it can be difficult to read in bright sunlight.
Chevrolet builds the Malibu Eco at its Kansas City assembly plant.
Likes: An affordable, attractive midsized sedan with exceptional gas mileage, good power and performance. Engineers made quantum improvements to the vehicle's fit and finish, both the exterior and interior.
Dislikes: Small trunk limits the sedan's versatility for buyers with active lifestyles. Center stack screen disappears in bright sunlight.
Model: Malibu Eco
Base price: $26,845
As tested: $29,380
Horsepower: 182 Hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 172 lbs.-ft. @ 4900 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 8.7 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 25/37 mpg city/highway