2014 Chevrolet Malibu long-term update: Powertrain/driveability
The past month with our 2014 Chevrolet Malibu long-termer has proven to be a fairly uneventful one that saw action largely confined to daily commuting duties. However, the time and miles did provide an excellent opportunity to further focus on matters relating to overall driveability.
Making the clear choice
In choosing our Malibu, we specifically requested the highest-volume trim level and powertrain combination. As it turned out, that's the mid-line 1LT with the new 2.5-liter naturally aspirated/direct-injected Ecotec 4-cylinder that features variable valve timing and econo-enhancing start/stop technology. According to Chevy, the engine - which is standard issue in the Malibu LS/1LT/2LT and de facto replacement for the earlier eAssist four -- is currently found in 97 percent of all 2014/2015 Malibus on the road.
Initially, we wondered if the 2.0-liter/259-horsepower turbocharged four fitted to Malibu 3LT and LTZ models might have been a wiser pick for coping with the rigors of SoCal traffic than this more frugal alternative that makes 196-horses and 186 lb-ft of torque. But save for a bit of mid-range drone that turns up around 4,000 rpm, we've been pleasantly surprised with the 2.5-liter's ability to handle stoplight-to-stoplight demands as well as its basic freeway skills. We've also been impressed with the relatively seamless operation of its start/stop system which gets a fairly regular workout during the car's frequent rush-hour(s) travel up and down the busy 405 freeway.
The same holds true for the Malibu's standard 6-speed Hydra-Matic transmission. Left in Drive, its cycles though the gears with minimal hunting and seeking. While cog changes made using the Tap-shift "+/-" rocker switch atop the shift knob aren't exactly Corvette-like in nature, they're still commendably quick and positive of kind while providing rev-matching - or shift-denying - action on down-gear requests.
Gas pains persist
One area that still remains in question is fuel economy. Matt DeLorenzo's recent 825-mile road trip from LA to Phoenix and back that netted a 30.3-mpg average was far and away the highest figure we've recorded to date. It handily eclipsed an earlier 220-mile excursion to Santa Barbara and back that returned only 28.8 mpg. We recently saw one freeway tank peak at a 32.8-mpg interval and are regularly finding 30+ mpg partial averages, so perhaps our Malibu's rather disappointing early economy figures were more related to an issue of engine break-in rather than being somewhat overmatched for this application. That said, it's a long way from any of those numbers to the car's official 36-mpg EPA highway rating. And with 5,000 evaluation miles on the odo, our Malibu's total overall figure to date is still only 26.2 mpg, which is 1.8 mpg below the car's EPA city stat. We'll have to see where it ultimately goes from here.
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