When considering summer road trips in California, the preferred routes usually hug close to the coast and are not pointed inland, where desert temperatures can routinely top 110 degrees. But, a matter in Phoenix needed some attention, and our long term 2014 Chevrolet Malibu fit the bill for a quick over and back trip in less than 24 hours.

Putting 825 miles on the odometer over that period was a good test of the car's fuel economy (which had been lagging the window sticker estimates) as well as its ability to provide a comfortable environment while traversing miles of desert. It performed well in both instances-logging 30.3 mpg over what was primarily freeway cruising in the 70-80 mph range. And for the most part, the seats were comfy and the air conditioning plenty cold-that is until the stop/start system engaged while driving around Phoenix city streets.

Warm memories

In our earlier reports, the Malibu's overall economy was clocking in somewhere in the 23 to 24 mpg range. Much of that use cycle involves stop-and-go commuting, however, usually the car doesn't come to a stop long enough for the stop/start system to engage effectively and give fuel economy a bump. On the other side of the equation, the 4-cylinder engine may be a bit overmatched by the size of the Malibu. Over the course of my trip to Phoenix, the ended freeway cruising certainly lifted the fuel economy figures somewhat, but also, when stopped at lights in city traffic, the stop/start would engage providing extra savings. The problem is that when the engine stops turning, so does the air conditioner's compressor and it doesn't take long for the cabin temperature to rise in above 100 degree temps.

Still, the Malibu, whether cruising at a steady state on the highway, or scooting around town, seems to have enough power from its 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, which is rated at 196 horsepower.

A Pause for Patton

It seemed fitting while making a lighting strike across the desert to take a rest stop at the George S. Patton Museum in Chiriaco Summit, a pass some 30 miles east of Indio at the top of a long climb out of the Coachella Valley. The modest museum commemorates the vast desert training area set up by the legendary general in 1942 to prepare troops for the first battles against the Nazi army in North Africa. The site of the museum is where Patton set up his command post over a training area that stretched from Buckeye in the east to Indio and from Needles down to Yuma, some 350 by 250 miles. There were 10 camps with nearly 200,000 troops in training. The museum has a number of displays of military equipment (including a number of tanks in an outside enclosure) and memorabilia including one-of-a-kind trench art--intricately carved brass artillery shell casings. The museum is well worth the admission price of $5 and about an hour of your time.

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While my progress across the desert was lightning quick, real lightning in Quarzite, just across the Colorado River, was something else. A sudden thunderstorm and heavy downpour dropped the ambient temperature from about 110 to 68 in mere moments. Despite the deluge, the Malibu soldiered on thanks to its precise setting and a suspension that telegraphed the car's level of grip through the puddled water. I reduced my speed to about 50 mph and drove out of the shower, but couldn't comprehend what the truckers, who kept going 70 mph, were thinking.

Swift return

The trip back was uneventful (though hot) by comparison. Leaving about 1 p.m. in light midday traffic, the Malibu effortlessly consumed miles of Interstate 10. Wind and tire noise are not an issue in the well-isolated cabin and yet, the steering and ride are communicative enough to keep you engaged even when the road is more gentle twists than challenging switchbacks.

While this was a solo trip, it would be interesting to see how well the Malibu performs over a similar distance with a full complement of passengers and luggage. The trunk seems large, the front buckets accommodating, but the rear bench looks a little pinched even though Chevy redesigned the backs of the forward seats to squeeze out a bit more legroom. Hopefully we will get another chance to put our 2014 Malibu to the test on another road trip before our time with it ends.

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