Look, I'm not going to write a whole review just to trash a car. The 2015 Chevrolet Malibu, despite vast improvements from previous models, still has a long way to go. And we'll hopefully see these in the next model! But it does have an ace with its mobile hotspot feature.
(Full disclosure: GM wanted me to drive the 2015 Chevrolet Malibu with 4G LTE so badly that they gave me one for a week. Two very helpful members of the PR team also took me out to lunch at Rose's Fine Foods, one of several new restaurants to open in Detroit last month
and didn't close down after a week despite getting a fancy-ass profile in The New York Times and demonstrated how the technology works before sending me along my way.)
Supposedly fewer people are buying sedans. I live in Fusion/Malibu/200 city, so I'd be quick to disagree, but numbers state otherwise. But because car buyers are cross-shopping across segments instead of within segments, you'd think car companies would put the best they have into each product to keep them in the showroom.
Chevy's made a few tweaks to the Malibu since it was redesigned in 2013, notably with the interior to make it more comfortable. And that's really the only selling point Chevy's got to go on right now — "we made it bigger on the inside." But is that enough?
I drove the Malibu as I imagined a typical Malibu owner would last week: Going to work, running basic errands, hauling around stuff. No hooning on back roads, no donuts in strip mall parking lots. But the difference between this and any other midsize experience was the OnStar 4G LTE. You basically tether whatever device you've got to it and let it rip.
GM says you can tether up to seven devices — anything from a phone to a laptop — to the Malibu, or whatever car has the hotspot. It's ridiculously easy to set up; there are three buttons (including the OnStar button) on the rearview mirror, one of them that looks like a wireless signal. You press that, and it's turned on. Then it's a matter of getting your phone to connect with a username and password, just like if you're at a coffeeshop with a laptop. The whole process is less than five minutes, and it's the only time you have to do it.
So is the WiFi in the car actually good for anything? I spent the better part of a week covering a murder trial, which meant I was sending a lot of emails back and forth. (I'd go as far as suggest that the Malibu might be the most affordable option for news organizations buying a fleet of cars for their staffers — anybody who's ever had to share a room with a bunch of other writers on a slow connection can testify to this.)
Normally I'd have to rely on my phone for data, but I got by just fine — and at the same speed — with the hotspot. And I did other things: Basic browsing, directions, tweeting, checking Facebook, all with no hassle.
I had my partner tether his phone while mine was tethered to do more data-burning activities (Pandora, Netflix), and it supported both our phones just fine. So no worries on that road trip with the kids in the back seat. You're still going to have to pay for it, though.
OnStar's also got a (totally optional) RemoteLink app where you can remote-start the car from your phone, check the tire pressure, oil life and fuel level. There's also a Bing-based nav system in the app. I remote-started it once from my bedroom. That was cool.
I'll also give GM credit for this: Syncing up my phone with the car was also easier. It took all of two minutes to get a Bluetooth connection because the prompts on the center touchscreen are easy enough to find. (Compare that to, say, MyFordTouch.)
There were some hiccups in the audio when I played music from my phone, and for whatever reason it always defaulted to "shuffle playlist" in the car even though I never chose it on my phone or the car, but other than that, no problem.
And that's what a car's tech is supposed to do. Be simple. Be quick. Be easy. But that's where the fun ends.
The seats are uncomfortable, the steering's dead, the brakes are touchy, and everything you touch in this LS variant has the mark of cost-cutting Cain all over it.
Yeah...agreed. Look, I don't expect a pillow-top mattress for any car seats, but the Malibu was indeed uncomfortable. Particularly in the head rest, which seemed to be misaligned with the rest of the seat (it's like my head was pushed forward while my spine was angled backward, and I could not figure out how to adjust this), and the armrest.
I know GM said they fixed the armrest. It actually felt worse. I've got long arms, and it's such that the back of my right elbow is jammed right up against the armrest (see above) when I'm gripping the wheel, or resting awkwardly on top of the armrest. This might seem minor, Mr. Regular-Length Arms Driver. But imagine driving this way for a week.
Let's talk about the stop-start.
Most of the time, coming to a halt in the 'Bu will cause the engine to fall dead and the tach needle to fall to "auto stop". So far so good and other than a discernible drop in the efficacy of the A/C there's not much about which you could complain. Release the brakes and the engine immediately spins up and delivers power, and off you go.
That's how it works in other cars.
In the Malibu it goes WHIRRRRRRRRRRRREEEEEEAAARRRRRRRRGH and the engine reluctantly coughs into life like a freakin' 1982 Citation Iron Duke and the car briefly shudders with the violence of it and THEN the car moves forward. It's easily the least confidence-inspiring powertrain I've experienced in a post-Millennium automobile.
Here's my experience with the stop-start. First off, I could never predict when it was going to engage. Stopping at a stop sign? Maybe it would. Stopping at a stop light? Almost always. Pulling in at a drive-thru? Shutdown at the order window, keeps running at the payment window. It was unpredictable and off-putting. And yeah, the A/C did drop.
But while it was a bit jarring each time the engine kicked backed in, I wouldn't say it went WHIRRRRRRRRRRRREEEEEEAAARRRRRRRRGH every time. Maybe he just had a shitty rental.
On the move, the Malibu is spectacularly gutless, digging deep into the transmission with a herk and a jerk for the mildest grades.
No disagreements here. I had to gun it a few times to merge on the freeway, and it was scary watching the needle basically stay in place while my foot was to the ground. I asked the GM guys (because some of you asked in the original comments) about the 2.0L turbo instead of the 2.5L going around for testing. I can't remember the exact figure, but they told me that roughly 90% of Malibu customers go for the 2.5L. I can understand that. No one who's buying this car is looking for performance.
But then I thought of how Ford offers the 1.6L (now the 1.5L), the 2.5L and the 2.0L in the Fusion, and how the 2.5L is likely going to fleet customers. Why not switch it up a little, Chevy?
Things don't improve once you get inside, particularly at night, where the trademark "GM Aqua LCD" color is extended to some, ahem, mood lighting. The General's managed to do something unprecedented in human history: they've managed to make a color feel cheap.
Eh... I had no complaints about the lights. I do have complaints about the gauges and the overall look and feel of the cabin. I feel like I've seen these exact gauges in every volume-model Chevy going back to my cousin's two-door Blazer from the mid-90s. The interior just feels outdated and, like I said earlier, hopefully the refresh addresses that.
Finally, the cargo and interior space.
This has to be the smallest trunk in a mid-sized car by some amount; it's significantly less useful than the cargo area in my Accord Coupe and the Altima I drove immediately after this Malibu shamed it in that regard.
I bought four wooden chairs at a used furniture store with the intent of sanding them down and re-staining them. They all fit in the trunk just fine for me. Have to disagree a bit here. But GM did keep their promise on the backseat; my knees weren't all bunched up, even with the front seat pushed back.
The Malibu isn't an interesting car. And it's not supposed to be. I sort of get adding 4G LTE to it. Maybe it's a last-second push to move some product in advance of the redesign. And to be fair, it does add value to the car.
But the whole package — meh. It'll be great for families and great for those who travel and work on the road, but man this could've been a knockout under better circumstances.