2013 Chevy Malibu Eco eAssist Review
The 2013 Chevy Malibu Eco is GM’s latest update to the classic D Segment family sedan. It released first with a 2.4 liter eAssist powertrain. A common question asked is –what is eAssist and why isn’t it branded as a hybrid? eAssist is GM’s “mild hybrid system” where the alternator gets sized up – in this case to a 15 Kilowatt Motor/Generator so that it has enough power to start an engine from a dead stop and launch the vehicle into traffic without interruption. See the picture below, follow the orange high voltage cable to find the upsized alternator.
What this does is that when you have the car stopped at a light, the engine will automatically stop so that you do not burn gas while idling. That’s par for the course for any hybrid as many other hybrid designs have been doing that for over a decade.
When you are ready to go after stopping at a traffic light, the 15Kw Alternator / super-sized starter motor spins the engine to life the moment you lift your foot of the brake pedal and in addition to the engine start, the Assist motor will give the car a little push to get the car rolling as the gas engine fires up. This whole sequence is actually quite well orchestrated, while you can feel a little vibration as the car starts up, it’s barely noticeable.
Once you get going though (above 3 mph or so) the super sized starter motor gets out of the way and you are driving just like a regular gas powered car. No real hybrid experience here. Regenerative braking is used to slow down the car as typical with other hybrids this of course is used to recharge the battery powering the eAssist motor. The regenerative braking is noticeable when it kicks in and it puts a drag on the Malibu like driving a Chevy Volt in L mode, or if you have driven a stick shift, like putting the car in a lower gear to engine brake.
And that’s eAssist for the most part! Even when you start the car for the first time, you will “crank the engine” to life with a normal starter sequence. The only other time you’ll see it get involved in power delivery is during highway cruising – the motor will occasionally add power to the system to prevent the Malibu from downshifting when you need more power – although if you really step on it, the car will downshift anyways. Obviously someone found out its more efficient to put in a little extra oomph with the electric motor instead of downshifting.
What does this all get you? Well the EPA says 27 MPG in the city and 37 on the highway. This is largely accurate with my experience. While in stop and go traffic (trip avg speed of 15 mph) I got about 24 MPG. At mixed highway / city driving (avg speed of 30 mph) I got about 31 MPG and at highway only driving (avg speed of 60MPH) I got the advertised 37 MPG.
The verdict? The Malibu is a great highway cruiser – and ok in town. Clearly the highway was what they had in mind as the Malibu at times seemed even quieter than the Volt on the freeway due to great aerodynamics (including a shutter that closes on the lower grille at highway speed) and excellent sound insulation. The ride is tuned more for comfort (not as tight as the Volt) but at the same time not quite floaty or bouncy. While I think the Malibu is one of the best looking family sedans out there, don’t lets it’s Camaro like features fool you – it’s still a family sedan.
Ok – that’s nice you say, but what does this cost you? Hybrids cost more right? In the case of the Malibu, you actually get pretty decent value in terms of the gadgetry on board at $25950 base price, the overall pricing package is pretty middle of the road for family sedans – but the biggest cost is not the price premium, but the trunk space.
Strangely enough the relatively low capacity 0.5Kw-h battery takes up a sizable portion of the trunk. (This is really a testament the Chevy battery being 32x larger in capacity and staying relatively out of the way fitted in a T under the vehicle). You’ll see that there’s still plenty of usable trunk space left, but I could not fit my fencing bag (About the size of a golf bag) into the trunk.
Overall the Malibu Eco will not give you the “Experience” of owning a hybrid, much less an electric vehicle – but it has borrowed many of the efficiency learning’s and technology from the Volt. And it’s a bigger car – a legitimate 5 seater, not the largest 5 seater, but still well within the range.
Just for fun – one of the coolest design aspects that I liked about the Malibu was its interior look at night. I kind of wished the Volt had that in mind with the accent lighting!