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2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco/ Info on Later Engines Too
Malibu Eco Brings Flavor to Vanilla Segment," Chevrolet's press release proudly proclaims. Then, in the opening paragraph, Chevrolet calls the car's ride and handling "class-challenging." With that description, the company handed me the sum-up I'd been trying to coax out of a blank Word document for hours.
Class-challenging. That really says it all. In the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco, Chevy has delivered a car for today, a solid midsize sedan that's got a legitimate shot at the top of the pack. For now. It's good to see a new GM product not just catch the competition but surpass it, though the concern here is that the Malibu has only opened up a small lead, not a commanding one.
The irony is that Chevrolet would choose to use the phrase "class-challenging" to describe the Malibu Eco's ride and handling, the one area of the car that's clearly class-leading. On city streets and county roads in and around Austin, Texas, the Malibu Eco's solid chassis and impressive body control easily out-shone the Hyundai Sonata, Sonata Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid comparison cars Chevrolet brought along for back-to-back evaluations. Where the Camry Hybrid bounced and rolled like '98 Buick Century over bumps and around corners, the Malibu kept body roll in check and its tires firmly planted. Where the Sonata rode hard and crashed over bumps without any payoff in the corners, the Malibu Eco buffered the bad roads nicely and returned an almost-sport sedan performance around the bends despite its fuel-economy-optimized tires. Those Goodyear tires returned a surprising amount of grip right up to their limit, then quickly let go as Goodyears are wont to do.
Also class-leading are the Malibu Eco's steering and brakes. The former offers a fairly quick ratio and no on-center dead spot, responding surprisingly quickly to your inputs. For the average midsize buyer, it'll feel downright sporty and even returns a bit of road feel for those who'll appreciate it. The latter offers better brake feel than any other hybrid on the road by virtue of its mild hybrid system. Because the generator runs off the accessory belt rather than being connected directly to the transmission like full hybrids, the setup enhances rather than directly braking the car. As a result, the brakes feel like any other non-hybrid car, and once you get used to the heavy pedal, you'll find they're pretty easy to modulate.
That mild hybrid system, which GM now calls eAssist, can also claim class leadership, but mostly because it resides in a class of one. The next generation of the Belt Alternator-Starter system that attracted little attention in the old Malibu Hybrid, it's been rebranded eAssist to avoid direct comparisons to full hybrids like Camry and Sonata. The concept is the same as the first-generation system: An electric motor takes the place of the alternator and provides a power boost to the engine during acceleration and captures braking energy while slowing. It also acts as an engine starter during Automatic Start/Stop mode, instantly restarting the engine when you take your foot off the brake pedal. It's a rather clever system that actually operates more smoothly than most full hybrids as there's no awkward hand-off from full electric mode to gasoline mode. A full hybrid's electric motor is tasked with propelling the car, restarting the gasoline engine, and melding gasoline and electric power all at the same time. EAssist, on the other hand, never powers the wheels, so all it has to do is smoothly restart the engine, then feed in extra power as you accelerate. It's among the smoothest start-stop systems on the market regardless of price or class.
On the road, the electric motor imperceptibly blends in up to 15 horsepower and 79 lb-ft of torque, which, in addition to increasing accelerative power, also smoothes out power delivery and improves throttle response.
Chevrolet says the extra torque from the electric motor also reduces gear hunting on the highway, which I found to be minimal. Around town, the extra torque and low gearing made the Malibu Eco peppy and responsive and it had no trouble merging on the freeway. I did find, though, that when it came to climbing a steep hill or passing at freeway speeds, the eco-friendly gearing left the Malibu feeling a bit slow and underpowered. Mid-range power is a bit soggy, and while top-end power is better, the old 2.4-liter EcoTec gets noisy and unrefined as it nears redline. Best to keep the revs low, where the engine is surprisingly smooth and quiet.
That's also where you'll see the best fuel economy, which GM estimates at 25 mpg city, 37 mpg highway, and 29 mpg combined. While this allows GM to claim better fuel economy than any non-hybrid, non-diesel midsizer, this is where things start to unravel. Any Toyota salesman worth his salt will quickly point out to cross-shoppers that the Camry Hybrid LE returns 43 mpg city and 39 mpg highway and is $100 cheaper to start.
Then the Malibu's weak points begin to creep in. The interior is a mish-mash of high and low points. The standard MyLink touch-screen infotainment system looks good and is easy to use, and the Pandora and Stitcher functions are handy for people who get all their entertainment from the Internet. The overall design of the interior is fairly mundane as befits the segment, but the materials are mostly better quality than rivals (lose the chromed plastic already). On the other hand, there are some issues with grain and gloss matching between neighboring components and some fitment issues with dash pieces. The seats, while offering more than ample head-, hip-, shoulder-, and kneeroom in all positions, are hard and flat, offering good lumbar support and little else.
There's also the matter of the ventilation system for the 0.5 kW-hr lithium-ion battery pack in the trunk. It draws air from the passenger compartment through a vent in the shelf behind the rear seats, which is fine until you lay into the gas pedal. The harder you accelerate, it seems, the harder the ventilation fan works, and despite what Chevrolet described as exhaustive acoustic tuning work, it sounds like someone's let a vacuum cleaner hose loose behind your head. The good news is that you can't really hear it from the front seat, so only the kids will have to deal with it. The cabin is otherwise surprisingly quiet at all speeds owing to acoustic glass and other tricks borrowed in part from Buick.
As a whole, the Malibu is a strong entry into the midsize segment as it exists today. The trouble is, the segment won't stay this way for long. An all-new Ford Fusion will be out in months, followed closely by an all-new Honda Accord and Mazda6. Toyota's Camry is due for a full redo in the middle of the Malibu's lifecycle and the Hyundai Sonata and Volkswagen Passat will be looking at updates around that time. If the Malibu isn't a clear class leader now, where will it be this time next year? A new, unassisted four-cylinder is on the way this summer, and a turbo four arrives late in 2012. They'll be welcome updates, but there are other issues to address. Chevrolet accelerated the Malibu program to beat Fusion to the market, and the worst thing it can do now is take its foot off the (eAssisted) gas.
Malibu's Future: Is the Best Yet to Come?
To meet or beat the rival Ford Fusion to the market, Chevrolet moved up the 2013 Malibu's timetable by six months. It may not sound like much, but it meant the new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine wouldn't be ready at launch. Instead, Malibu leads off with the Eco model that features the latest version of GM's Belt Alternator Starter mild hybrid system, now called eAssist. For now, it uses the old 2.4-liter four-cylinder capable of 182 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque assisted by an electric motor that can add an extra 15 horsepower and 79 lb-ft of torque to the mix. eAssist will be upgraded to the new 2.5-liter engine in the future. In the meantime, here's what's on the docket for 2012:
Malibu LS, LT, and LTZ
Non-hybrid Malibus will debut in the summer of 2012 with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, the first of a new family of inline-fours from GM. Based loosely on the existing 2.4-liter engine, the new mill will also feature direct injection and variable valve timing, as well as a variable-displacement oil pump, a two-stage thermostat, and a new combustion chamber design. GM estimates it will be rated at 190 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque, an improvement of 8 horsepower and 8 lb-ft of torque. Great attention has been paid to engine noise, vibration, and friction in order to make it quieter, smoother, and more efficient than the old 2.4-liter, which was routinely dinged on those accounts.
arriving late in 2012 will be a Malibu sport model powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Chevrolet already has such an engine that dates back to the old Cobalt SS and can now be found in the Buick Regal Turbo and Regal GS, providing 220 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque for the former and 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft for the latter, not to mention a 6.3-second 0-to-60 time. Rumor has it, though, that the next-generation 2.0-liter turbo, which also produces in the neighborhood of 270 horsepower and is debuting in the Cadillac ATS, may find its way under the Malibu's hood. No word yet on what they'll call it, but don't rule out an SS badge.
Read more: http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/...#ixzz1gdsJ0C63
Read more: http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/...#ixzz1gdsEvUyh