“After 18 months, we took a very good vehicle and made it better,” said Chris Perry, vice president, Chevrolet Marketing, of the 2014 Malibu. That statement, of course, is the sort of thing that one might expect from the guy who is in charge of communicating the value of a particular product to the market. But what is worth noting about it is the 18 months, because General Motors has taken a car that is in the incredibly important midsize market. Perry said that if you combine midsize, small car and small crossover—in his case Malibu, Cruze and Equinox—you have about 48% of industry sales. Through from January to September 2013, Malibu sales are down 13.7%, while Cruze and Equinox sales are up 8.4% and 11.1%, respectively. Evidently, something needed to be done, and they’ve done it.
They’ve made changes in three areas. One is in technology, as in infotainment technology. Pair your iPhone with the 2014 Malibu, and you get to talk with Siri. This, Perry said, is unique to GM. (There is also text-to-speech capability now offered through MyLink, which is useful but not exclusive.)
The other change is in design, primarily the front fascia, which now resembles the 2014 Impala. The lower grille is more prominent, and both the upper and lower are wider, have a black texture inside and are accented in chrome. The hood extends down and over the leading edge of the upper grille, which is narrower. (Interesting thing about the front end design. When the 2008 Malibu was launched—the seventh-generation car that was transformative and created a design that is the basis for the current, eight-gen car—it was the car that carried the “new face of Chevrolet.” Now with the 10th-generation 2014 Impala, a radically redesigned car (it is to its previous generation what the seventh-generation Malibu was to the sixth), it takes on the mantle, or face, of the brand. There are also design modifications on the inside of the car, such as a new center console with a longer armrest, and revised seatbacks and foam on the rear seat cushion to provide 1.2 in. additional space for the rear passengers.
The biggest change of the three is found under the hood of the 2014 Malibu, as the base engine is now a 196-hp, 186 lb-ft of torque all-new Ecotec 2.5L Intake Valve Lift Control (iVLC) DOHC four-cylinder engine with direct injection. This engine provides 25 mpg city, 36 mpg highway. And those best-in-class numbers* are predicated, said Todd Pawlik, Malibu chief engineer—who also happens to be the chief engineer for the Impala—on three things: the iVLC system, enhancements to the six-speed transmission, and a start-stop system.
The iVLC system was first launched on . . . the Impala. The engine features a rocker arm that switches between low- and high-lift intake cam profiles. Actuation is via an oil control valve through a dual-feed stationary hydraulic lash adjuster. The engine control module determines the optimal lift profile (low: 4.0 mm; high: 10.5 mm), based on parameters including engine speed and load. This benefits fuel economy in both city and highway driving.
The Hydra-Matic 6T45 electronically controlled six-speed automatic transmission has had both hardware and software modifications. Fundamental to the changes are the ability to achieve both quicker upshifts and downshifts, so as to help achieve the best fuel efficiency performance in city and highway driving.
And then there’s the start-stop system. This, of course, if beneficial for city driving, where there are frequent stops. Pawlik pointed out, however, that they’ve engineered the system so that after the initial start-stop sequence, the vehicle must travel at least 6 mph before another stopping sequence will be initiated: this is to prevent a tedious start-stop regime during inching along in rush hour traffic.
The system uses an upsized 12-volt absorbent glass mat (AGM) battery in the engine compartment, a compact 12-volt AGM battery (Pawlik: “It’s a motorcycle battery”) housed in the trunk, and a dual-battery isolation module in the engine compartment. There are also a start-stop generator and a tandem starter.
The auxiliary battery is used to make sure that there isn’t a voltage fluctuation during start-stop events. The isolation module makes sure that each of the batteries does what it is supposed to do during vehicle operation. The tandem starter is a clever device in that rather than having one solenoid as conventional starters do, it has two. One spins the pinion up to match the speed of the ring gear in circumstances where the engine speed isn’t at zero and the driver decides that he’s not going to fully come to a stop and so hits the accelerator; the second solenoid then slides the pinion forward to engage the ring gear in a seamless manner.
Overall, the powertrain improvements to the Malibu results in a 14% increase in city and 6% highway fuel efficiency.
*The class considered includes the Ford Fusion and the Toyota Camry. Here’s how it breaks out: