SAME HOUSEHOLD NAME, NEW AGE APPEAL
The midsize segment is perhaps the most competitive segment in which automakers cannot afford to get wrong. A slight change can make a company reap in the profits or make them close their doors for good. With automakers trying to appeal to the masses by making unoffensive yet capable all-rounders, there are those of us who prefer something that isn’t so forgetful. Enter the Malibu Eco, Chevrolet’s answer to the crowded midsize segment.
The outgoing Malibu was quite an attractive car and outdoing that can be a difficult task. The 2012 Malibu has a strong chiseled look with the fascia sporting big halogen equipped headlights and fog lights with subtle chrome trim surrounding both them and the grille. The car continues its bold husky appearance down the sides of the car with subtle lines. Our tester came with the $195 optional Black Granite Metallic exterior paint color, which took away from the lines of the car but made the grille and the 17” wheels stand out. The rear of the car is the only drawback to the exterior. The Camaro-esque tail lights look out of place with the rest of the style of the car. With the front looking so muscular and athletic, the rear looks weaker and somewhat of an afterthought, which left me wanting more. The 2012 Chevrolet Malibu is more of a refresh as opposed to a complete redesign. The dimensions remain the same as the outgoing model with a length of 191.8”, width of 70.3”, height of 57.1” as well as the wheelbase of 112.3”.
Chevrolet designed the car with a very simple layout. With easy to read gauges and a center console that features easy to read buttons that require very little to no fumbling. The steering wheel is equipped with audio controls for bluetooth and radio, as well as buttons for cruise control. The interior styling is reminiscent of the Camaro with its dual recessed gauge approach. The tachometer is to the left with a small “Eco” gauge which shows how fuel efficient your driving is. Keep the needle in the solid green bar in the center, and you are getting the best fuel economy. The speedometer is to the right with the fuel gauge below it. In between the two gauges is an LCD screen that will display anything and everything you wish to know about the car. It has a few sub menus that will show you everything from individual tire pressures, E-Assist usage and fuel economy. The buttons that control the screen are on the signal stalk. Its not very intuitive to get at and you are better off cycling through the menus when you’re at a stop. The Malibu Eco comes standard with OnStar as well as MyLink Touch Radio, Chevrolet’s all-new infotainment system. It comes equipped with a 7” high resolution touch screen and a dizzying array of voice commands to control everything from your MP3 source to your phone. To pair a phone, just press the voice recognition icon on the steering wheel, when the system prompts just say “pair” and follow the directions. Its very easy to use and straightforward to make phone calls. Using the touchscreen can be a hassle, depending on how sensitive the touchscreen decides to be. It will either have a delay when you touch an icon, requiring you to either wait or you will press it once again to let it know that is what you want, or it will work flawlessly and go to the menu you desired. It is a little slow, however, as it is GM’s first foray into high tech infotainment systems, it is a big step in the proper direction.
The Jet Black Leather interior in our tester had high grade material and the seats were incredibly comfortable, especially on long trips. The front seats are heated in both the bottom and the lower back. Lumbar support is excellent and the seats are wide, accommodating for a wide range of drivers. Aiding to the comfort, the steering wheel tilts and telescopes giving the driver the perfect position upon request. The Malibu’s interior isn’t very much different than its little brother, the Cruze. This isn’t to say that the Malibu is small by mid-size standards but rather the Cruze is big by compact standards. They are within a couple tenths of an inch to each other as far as interior volume goes, so it really makes me wonder as to what the benefits really are going to the bigger exterior dimensioned Malibu over the Cruze. Driving the Eco at night is a real treat. The cool blue illumination of the controls and the dials as well as the entire dash trim is just visually perfect. I personally would have liked to seen a wood trim on the dash instead of the chrome stripe separating the plastic wraparound trim to give it an upscale look, but that is being picky. Speaking of chrome, the shift plate is covered in it and can be obnoxious when it deflects sunlight directly into your eyes, which it did quite often. The dash and door panels in the front are covered with soft touch materials everywhere. The rear doors forgo the padded materials that the front doors are adorned with and replace them with high grade plastics. I would have liked to seen the padded material see its way to the rear as well.
To sum it up real simple to save you some reading, the car is hampered by a lackluster powertrain in an otherwise excellent chassis. The electronic steering system is weighty and delivers a sporty feedback, which is unusual for this class of car. Chevrolet employs a MacPherson strut setup in the front and a multi-link out back. What does that mean? It keeps the car firmly planted and gives it a very comfortable and isolated ride while inspiring confidence when the road bends and twists. The aforementioned powertrain is the only downside. The Malibu Eco is powered by a 2.4L direct injected four cylinder with a rating of 182 horsepower at 6200 RPM with 171 lb-ft of twist at 4900rpms. The rated fuel efficiency is at 25 MPG in the city with a lofty 37 MPG on the highway for a combined 29 MPG. To help the 2.4L, Chevy added in a 15kW electric motor backed by a 115V Li-Ion battery.
To help the Eco get such good numbers, it is accompanied by a variety of fuel efficient technologies, such as regenerative brakes, active grille shutters, and Chevy’s new Start/Stop system that will turn the engine off when the car comes to a complete stop. Simply keep your foot on the brake while you are waiting for the light to turn green and the engine shuts off, assuming there is enough charge in the Li-ion battery from your frugal driving methods. Let your foot off the brake and the engine turns back on quietly and seamlessly. There is a slight lag and it is unwise to immediately get on the accelerator while the car is trying to turn back on. It takes a brief second to get up and go and while it is such a quick moment, the car snaps forward if you do not wait. I imagine that can’t be good for it in the long run. The accessories will run off the battery when in Start/Stop, including the A/C, so you don’t have to worry about sweating in the hot summer sun. When going up hills or getting up to highway speed from an on ramp, the 2.4L and the electric motor work overtime to get it to accelerate and is gasping for air. It never sounds harsh, but it does get a bit louder in an otherwise incredibly quiet cabin. The transmission is as smooth as butter on up shift and down shift, and with six cogs, keeping the engine speed down on the freeway is easy and thus giving you better fuel economy. When the power flow display was on it didn’t seem as if the electric motor aided the car much, except in dire straits. Overall it makes me wonder if the entire complex system really was necessary.
With four people in the car, luggage and with the A/C on medium, I was able to eek out 31.1 mpg keeping up with and passing highway travelers –all using regular gasoline. I received the car with a full tank of gas and returned it drained after my week was up. I never even had to stop to put a drop of gas in it. Around the ribbon bending roads of rural Connecticut, the car had excellent cornering manners and was eager to be tossed, but will under-steer as the low rolling resistance tires fight for grip. The brake feel is progressive and solid but the wait for the car to get to the next transition from the last one can be rather yawn inducing. This chassis begs for a better power train and I can’t wait for the 3.6L V6 to sit between the muscular front fenders. I don’t expect this car to be driven hard by its intended owners but a little gusto would be welcomed.
Our tester, with an as tested price of $29,100.00, is a great frugal and tech filled alternative to the ho hum midsize family sedans out on the market. It is great for those who want the green appeal of a true hybrid, minus the expensive price point, and along with all the new school technology any one can ask for. The only drawback being the aforementioned engine option that is currently the only option available for the refreshed Malibu. After seeing the Cruze and comparing the dimensions to the Malibu, one has to wonder if the extra coin for the Malibu is really worth spending. The Cruze, while being smaller exterior wise, gives the same amount of interior space and can deliver up to 42 mpg in the Eco model, besting the Malibu Eco’s 37 mpg. Style being subjective but to many, this may not be a hard choice.
Photo Credit: Copyright 2012 Garry Gulledge / Car Fanatics Blog