I got a chance to drive the Malibu with the all-new Direct-Injected 2.5L Ecotec motor, as well as the Camaro Convertible ZL1 around Grand Rapids this week. GM also provided some track time at the Gingerman Raceway in South Haven, MI, behind the wheel of a Chevy Camaro SS with the new 1LE Performance Package.
The exterior is unchanged from the Eco model, other than a larger selection of available wheels. In profile it looks squished in its wheelbase, with massive front and rear overhangs that upset the look of the car. The front end is a nice evolution of the current model, with sweeping headlights and the distinctive Chevy grill. The rear end’s “Camaro-Esque” styling is an improvement, but anything is an improvement over the old models’ flat, uneventful rear end. The cars overall styling is fairly conservative compared to some new competitors from Ford and Mazda.
The interior is a mixed bag. Quality is up some areas, with the door panels having higher quality plastics; but quality has gone down as well, with the chintzy silver plastic surrounding the radio stack. The faux wood trim looks cheap, and it’s everywhere from surrounding the window switches to right on the steering wheel. The trunk has benefited from the loss of the Eco’s massive battery pack, with plenty of space complimented by a large opening. Cabin volume, apparently, is also higher, up 4 cubic feet. The car feels a bit wider, but the extra width is overshadowed by the major drop in rear seat legroom. Luckily there is plenty of room for the driver with a thin center console and plenty of headroom.
Tech is your standard MyLink system, which syncs phone contacts, and plays Pandora when linked to your phone through Bluetooth. XM provides satellite radio and weather forecasts, but as of now Chevy has not combined MyLink and Navigation. Integration with Android-based phones through USB could be better, I was unable to sync music from my Galaxy S3. Lane departure warning is an available option that works well, warning you when you stray into the lane markers with the turn signals off. The collision warning system works well, giving you a clear warning both through chimes and red lights lighting up on the windshield. It helps both to avoid an impending crash, and in reminding you not to tailgate.
The new 2.5L motor is a big improvement over the Eco’s motor, with plenty of torque off the line, and power that builds in a linear fashion. It revs freely to redline, where the motor begins to sound eerily similar to a blender. Gearing is improved over the previous model, still seeking higher gears for better fuel economy, but is quick to downshift when called upon. Even with giving up start-stop, and a bit of fuel economy, the 2.5L is the better overall buy just from the boost in power and trunk volume. Were GM to pair the eAssist system to the 2.5L, I think they would see some real improvements, and would end up with a car that is much more competitive. The Malibu is a very quiet car to begin with, and whether cruising on the highway at 2000 RPM or driving through the city, the motor stays quiet in operation. Coupled with good suppression of wind noise and tire roar, the Malibu has some of the lowest NVH levels in its class.
Along country roads, the car feels very substantial, but the weight doesn’t cause the car to feel cumbersome. Steering feel from the Electric Power Steering system is numb as usual, yet still feels direct, and minor corrections do get transmitted to the wheels. The suspension is taught, but not jarring; however in high speed transitions the car can get unsettled as the front and rear begin to bounce.
For the future, Chevy will continue with this engine and the Eco model, and add the 2.0L Turbocharged Ecotec. There doesn’t seem to be much in terms of sporty options, with no real interest in paddle shifters or Hi-Per Struts. The biggest disappointment is the best fuel economy is achieved in what is the least desirable trim, yet the new 2.5 should be more than capable of obtaining the estimated 22 mpg in the city, and 34 mpg on the highway.
The new Malibu isn’t horrible, but in a highly competitive class, the Malibu is far off from being a class leader.
Photo Credit: Chevrolet