Editor/Reporter - CheersandGears.com
June 13, 2012
All of us have had the experience of something not meeting our expectations. Whether it’s an expensive hotel that provides the same service of a Motel6, a nice restaurant that serves the equivalent of Burger King, or a highly recommended mechanic that somehow charges $650 for an oil change.
This happened to me with the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco. When it arrived onto my driveway for a few days, I was excited at the premise of the Eco model. However when my time with the Malibu Eco was up, I was a bit deflated.
Onward to the exterior
When I first saw the new 2013 Chevrolet Malibu at the North American International Auto Show in earlier this year, I was a bit disappointed. Compared to the outgoing Malibu, the new one didn’t have the presence and the sexy curves. Instead, it went for a mishmash of Cruze and Camaro, giving it an unpleasant look. However, when you drop the bright lights of an auto show and bring it into the real world, the Malibu design begins to grow on you
Up front, there is a lot of Cruze influence. The front end juts out, putting the double grille opening with chrome accents running around the edge as the main focus. A pair of projector headlights extends up into the front fenders. The side profile shows off the Malibu’s beltline going up a slight angle. The back end features a Camaro inspired trunk lid and taillights. Also, the Malibu Eco includes a Camaro inspired narrow rear window view. Thankfully, this Malibu Eco was equipped with a rear-view camera, making it easier to back up.
Now Meet The Malibu Eco's Interior
One place where the new Malibu runs rings around the old one is in the interior. Stepping into the Malibu Eco for the first time, my jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe how much effort GM put into the Malibu’s interior design. Organic curves, HVAC vents molded into the dash, soft touch materials used throughout the cabin, and some impressive build quality.
The Malibu Eco is one the first vehicles in Chevrolet’s lineup to come equipped with the MyLink infotainment system. A five-inch touch screen radio takes center stage in the dash, providing controls and information for whatever you’re playing (AM/FM/XM/iPod/Aux). MyLink also includes Pandora and Stitcher internet radio that uses your smartphone to play though. The system had its hiccups though. From time to time when using Pandora, no sound would come out. That was remedied by unplugging and plugging my iPhone back into the system. Also, MyLink froze up on me, causing me to turn off the car and turn it back on. Now, this is a first generation product and I expected some bugs to come with it, but hopefully GM has some fixes on the way to squash them.
As for passengers, those sitting in the front won’t find much to complain about as the optional leather wrapped seats provide enough comfort and support. Passengers sitting in the back will complain about the claustrophobic feelings they’re having. Headroom and legroom is on the short end, especially when compared to other midsize sedans.
The space deficiency is even more apparent when you compare the Malibu Eco to its little brother, the Cruze.
Trunk space is also on the small size, measuring in at 14.3 cubic feet. That’s due to the Eco having a battery in its trunk. If you want more trunk space in your Malibu, you’re going have to wait till later this year when the 2.5L four comes out.
What's Under The Hood
Ride & Drive
Underneath the Malibu Eco’s hood lies GM’s eAssist mild-hybrid system. eAssist is comprised of a 2.4L Ecotec four-cylinder producing 182 HP and 172 lb-ft of torque, and a electric motor producing 15 kW and either 110 (cranking) or 79 (electric assist) lb-ft of torque hooked up to a 115V lithium-ion battery.
eAssist differs from a regular hybrid on how the electric and gas powertrains deliver their power. In a regular hybrid, the electric motor can power the vehicle alone at low speeds. eAssist cannot do that at all. Instead, eAssist uses the electric motor to help the gas engine in acceleration. Also, eAssist allows stop/start tech to be used.
Driving with the eAssist system was an interesting experience. Pulling away from a stop, it gives you the illusion of having a more powerful engine. You can thank the gas and electric motors working together. After the initial acceleration, the electric motor switches off and the 2.4L provides adequate power for most driving. If you need to make a pass, the electric motor kicks back on to provide extra power. The transition from hybrid to gas power is seamless; the only way to know when it happens is when you have the hybrid powertrain screen up.
But all is not perfect with the eAssist powertrain. Like most hybrids, the Malibu Eco’s brakes don’t give the kind of reassurance you want. Also, the stop/start system doesn’t stop all of time. At most stoplights, the system would leave the engine idling. Part of that was due to the Air Conditioning running in what is called comfort mode, which needs the engine to run. But when the Air Conditioner was off, the engine still would not turn off. I was left wondering if I was doing something wrong with braking or if this was a problem with this particular Malibu Eco.
And that leads me to the biggest disappointment of the Malibu Eco; the fuel economy. The EPA rates the Malibu Eco at 25 City/37 Highway/29 Combined. My average for the Malibu Eco was 26.5 MPG. Now, I am going to put a good amount of blame on the Stop/Start system possibly not working. But even with 29 MPG combined in the EPA cycle, cars like the Toyota Camry, Kia Optima, and Volkswagen Passat with their base engines can meet or exceed that average. It left me wondering why GM went forward with the eAssist mild hybrid and not a regular hybrid system or something else.
Those problems with the powertrain are a big shame since the Malibu’s ride shines as a long distance cruiser. The suspension does a great job of providing a very comfortable ride, soaking up many road imperfections. The steering weighted perfectly for what the Eco is built for. Also, Chevrolet must have stolen a few of Buick’s quiet tuning engineers since the Malibu Eco is very, very quiet.
And The Verdict
As my time with the Malibu Eco was coming to a close, I was getting more and more disappointed. The Malibu Eco has some very positive points: a comfortable and quiet ride, good looking exterior, impressive interior, and the new MyLink infotainment system.
But those positive points cannot hide some very glaring problems of the Malibu Eco: the smallest back seat in the class, the stop/start system that didn’t stop, and the not so impressive fuel economy of the eAssist system.
And there is one thing I haven’t brought up yet. The Malibu was originally waiting on the new 2.5L four-cylinder to go into production. However, GM CEO Dan Akerson wanted the Malibu out sooner and the decision was made to start building the Eco early since it the closest to being ready. My question is this: if GM had kept the original date, could this have made the Malibu Eco a better car?
The Malibu Eco is a car full of hopes and dreams, but sadly cannot reach all of them.
Interior and Exterior Design
MyLink Infotainment System
Non Auto Stop/Start System
Year - 2013
Make - Chevrolet
Model - Malibu
Trim - Eco
Engine - 2.4L DOHC Four-Cylinder with eAssist
Driveline - Front Wheel Drive, Six Speed Automatic
Horsepower @ RPM - 182 @ 6200
Torque @ RPM - 172 @ 4900
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 25/37/29
Curb Weight - 3620 lbs
Location of Manufacture - Kansas City, Kansas
Base Price - $26,845.00
As Tested Price - $29,380.00 (Includes $760.00 Destination Charge)