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DRIVEN: 2019 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT 1.5 with CVT

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DRIVEN: 2019 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT 1.5 with CVT, cloth, MSRP just a little over 29,000

my previous review of current gen Malibus are here, where I cover a lot of the highs and lows.


Also in reader rides is a link for my lease experience with a 2016 Malibu LT 1.5 to date (now pushing about 40,000 miles). Therefore, I will try to address what is fresh / different on the 2019 car, most specifically the odd decision to swap out the 6 speed traditional automatic for an all new, in house, GM designed CVT transmission.


-Revised new front end clip is a legitimate style enhancement from the 2016-2018.  It may look like a bigger gaping fish mouth, but it every line about it fits well with the design of the vehicle.  Also, in RS trim, when blacked out, looks more like it means business too.

-Available RS appearance trim package (more on this later).

-Dual zone climate control now standard on LT model.  Too add to that, heated seats with cloth are standard on LT as well, now.  (to see what you lose off LT standard equipment, read below)

-If you have to put a CVT in a car these days, this CVT actually seems to do a good job in comparison to past CVT's I have driven and other CVT's currently out there.  It has the simulated stepped gear effect that most have adopted now, and it responds about as quick as most CVT's are wont to do these days.  It doesn't have so much of the rubber band or catch up effect as older CVT's.  I think it is just the state of the breed these days that some of the real performance agitators from the older CVT's keep getting lessened all the time.  The fact that this is an in-house GM designed and manufactured unit is even more impressive, especially considering the disaster in the mid 2000's with Saturn's CVT's the first time around. So despite all of this..... (read below).


-This all starts with the absolute tool move by Mary Barra and GM to fix or replace what was not broken.  The 6 speed automatic was a great match to the 1.5t motor, and together the engine and transmission made the most of not a lot of power in the small displacement motor.  The transmission was never a reason to consider the car less than capable, or loud, or unrefined.  The 6 speed, despite only having 6 speeds, got the most performance and refinement it could out of that fuel economy conscious powertrain.  The powertrain was not a source of excess noise or unwanted refinement.  The Malibu WAS a fairly quiet car for its price and class.  So the new CVT by my sampling should be among the good CVT's out there today.  BUT IT STILL RUINS / CHANGES THE CAR.  Roll on acceleration at speed is still responsive and good.  But starts and stops, yes, now you have the loud drone.  And you really gotta pound the gas to get the turbo kick, where with the six speed it is nice easy throttle foot.  Even the lesser doses of all the traits that make CVT's annoying still tend to be highly annoying.  When you step on it with the 6 speed, the car kicks down and it doesn't DRONE the same as the CVT does.  And it really is just less refined, and MORE LOUD CABIN NOISE.  To the point that it changes the car and I think many people will not be on board with it.  I am sure more miles with it may help the uncaring get used to it, but to buyers on a 4 mile test drive, this doesn't bode well for GM to stoop to other carmakers level here.

-LT cloth trim (most popular trim) of Malibu gains dual climate, and heated cloth, but now Chevy takes away your standard leather wrap wheel.  BUT WAIT, you get a leather wrap wheel on the RS (but you don't get remote start, heated cloth or dual zone on the RS).  WTF Chevy.  And, no moonroof available with RS. WTF.  An RS with dual zone, remote start, heated cloth, audio upgrade, moonroof (and no CVT, why not the higher HP 1.5 and regular 9 speed from the Terrain too?)...wtf Chevy that would sell to the young buyers you want to court here.  You probably spent more than 200 bucks on that tacked on trunklid RS spoiler you can't delete, and many wouldn't want with the lines of this car.  OR, hey, why not a 2.0 engine option on the RS?

-Still no shut off for autostop.

-still hard to get Chevy to move away from these drab, all black, everything black interior trimmings.  Mix in more lighter tones in contrast please!

-The salesguy made a great point.  Unprompted he talked about how if Chevy had an all wheel drive option for the Malibu it would help it to not lose sales to CUV's or other sedans.  I had noted even the Altima had AWD now and that's when he said people look at the Malibu and when they find out the Malibu doesn't have AWD option, they immediately turn and move on to something else.  So the Malibu is getting interest and maybe it's time to think about that AWD option.  (Right now Ford has a Fusion SE AWD package with a big discount for the 2.0 and AWD that you can spec out one for about the same price as this Malibu 1.5's MSRP).


Well, a CVT is something a person can always get used to.  But here, Mary Barra and GM and their beancounters did something that they didn't need to do, and shouldn't have.  They tried to change what was working and in the name of what?  Virtually no change in EPA ratings.  So what, then?  Well, I believe i read somewhere and I will have to dig this up where it said that by using the CVT in lieu of the regular automatic, that GM was saving 200 bucks per car by switching to the CVT (which is made in Mexico).  This was a matter of fact change that in this article even, no one from GM could seem to endorse why.



The VT40 does on occasion cause the Malibu’s engine to drone, especially during lighter acceleration. It is still a CVT, after all. More frustrating is that the car’s throttle response is as soft as a throw pillow, and the accelerator has an initial dead spot that discourages spirited driving. This calibration may save more fuel for some Malibu drivers than the transmission does. If you want a Malibu that’s more fun to drive, you should be buying the turbocharged 2.0-liter model that comes with a nine-speed automatic anyway.


Maybe this helps explain why Chevrolet representatives had little to say about the new transmission, even as they handed us the keys to drive a Malibu RS fitted with one.



Under heavy load, though, the engine becomes buzzy as the CVT holds the small-displacement engine high in its rev band. 

It really is about the money, and just wanting to force a new tranny into use that they may need for future models....except into an existing model that worked well enough, and better! with what it has.  There is no improvement and in fact it hurts the car.  An absolute tool move by GM.  They will need to put more than that 200 dollars a car in extra incentives to try to keep a buyer interested after they hear the drone of that CVT.....especially GM fans who are among the most CVT averse buyers in the industry.

In the showroom was a new 2018 with the leather and moonroof and the 1.5 with the six speed automatic. If you want one of those, get it before it's gone!

Edited by regfootball
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and a much higher price tag.  make the 2.0 and 9 speed a standalone option for the RS and LT trim then that is a legit question.

the 2018 has a 27/30/36 EPA. new one is 29/32/36.  The city and combined are improved, but that could honestly be more throttle programming than the fact it has a CVT.  And the highway rating is not improved, which is baffling.  The real world highway fuel economy of the six speed is amazing.  And considering how much you have to lay into it with the CVT, at the end of the day it's likely to be a wash in the real world.  So CVT's may do better on the EPA cycle.  Again, GM caving to CAFE, and trying to save a few bucks (which they will end up giving back in more incentive money).  To make the car less appealing.  Why not put a CVT in a Cadillac then also?  Hey if it's about saving money......

I wonder how cheap those CVT warranty claims will be......

Edited by regfootball
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19 minutes ago, Drew Dowdell said:

They don't want you to buy a Malibu anyway. They want you to pony up an extra $5k to get into a Blazer or loaded 'Nox

DING DING DING!  You are correct sir, that is the ultimate goal.  SUV's = more $$$$

If that car doesn't sell, they can shut down the US plant.  Also, they think they can survive as a company selling all higher priced stuff.  

Next recession, plus higher gas prices, it's always around the corner.  Then you've got nothing on the lot to sell to the people who are buying.  I get it, bigger prices and profits make more money and keep the company in business.  But there is still a market share component to remaining a big player.  Look at how GM gets caught with pants down when they dive into the SUV's and then there is a quick market shift.

Auto loan defaults are currently a bubble waiting to ruin the market again.


It's still a good idea to keep competitive, not only cost wise but also driving quality wise in the lesser price segments.

I think eventually we'll see Hyundai keep pushing the easy credit and more and more models and they will cut into GM and Ford's business more and more.  GM and Ford still have to be players in market volume, despite what they believe.  If GM and Ford lose mainstream status, they'll be done.  They'll lose to Japan and Germany in near lux and lux perception market all the time.

Another strategy here would be to at least offer the powertrain upgrade then.  Make the CVT standard on the LS and LT but give a powertrain upgrade option for the 9 speed plus higher hp 1.5.  Bring the 2.0 option to the LT and RS also.

Even though its sinfully ugly, I think I will be forced to take an Accord 1.5 and Sport 2.0 out for a spin now just to compare.


Edited by regfootball
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The more Hyundai/KIA push easy credit to sell their vehicles, the more often people are upside down on their car loans because the residual values hit the skids early and often. 

Yes, GM and Ford should keep a few sedan models around, but sedans do not sell at the numbers like they used to.  GM should simply sell the best sedans given the segment that currently exists.  Since Buick may no longer sell sedans in the USA anymore, Chevy should make and sell the BEST Malibu and the BEST Cruze possible and take the fight to Civic/Corolla and Camry/Accord.

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  • 7 months later...

Car and Driver updated their Malibu CVT test drive article with real test times and they rewrote part of the article to give it some actual honest to goodness praise.  And they did not trash the CVT, they seem to be ok with it.


On 2/17/2019 at 1:07 PM, Drew Dowdell said:

They don't want you to buy a Malibu anyway. They want you to pony up an extra $5k to get into a Blazer or loaded 'Nox

extra 10k-15k-20k

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  • 3 months later...

I haven't had the chance to rent/drive a CVT equipped one but, after two rentals on high mileage units with a probable rear hub bearing going bad (on both of them), I got a quiet one. The car was used to go to see fall colors last year in a slightly mountainous zone with a lot of 2 lane roads. 

That's where the car is at its best.  It's not on the highway and it's not in stop and go driving.  It's about 35 to 45 mph on these rural and curving 2 lane roads where the steering is nimble and nicely weighted.  I was sort of impressed, even though I cringe whenever I see the "mistake" in the kink in the rear quarter panel window.

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