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Stop, Stop, Stop All the Engines

Some new automobile technologies I could do without. Such as built-in navigation systems selling for two grand when a really good GPS can be bought for less than 200 bucks. Or security systems which aggravatingly beep your horn when activated.

One new technology I do like is the Malibu’s eAssist system, which is one of the reasons this comfortable, family-sized car is EPA-rated at 25/37 miles per gallon city/highway. The eAssist system is much more than having the engine shut off under certain deceleration and/or stopped conditions (like at an intersection). When it’s stopped running, electrical functions of the car are carried on by a lithium-ion battery located behind the rear seat, which is kept charged via regenerative braking. There is also a host of clever aerodynamics going on with the Malibu Eco that help improve airflow and save fuel, such as closing the top portion of the grille to improve airflow over the hood; four underbody panels to smooth the undercarriage; and specially designed outside mirrors.

These all work in cahoots with Chevy’s Ecotec 2.4-liter direct injection four-cylinder engine, which is connected to a six-speed automatic transmission. The eAssist system also uses the lithium-ion battery to add a power boost during certain driving conditions to optimize the powertrain operation. And this is all done effortlessly, so as to make the driver (in this case, me) oblivious to the fact that anything unusual is going on.

In other words, driving the Malibu Eco won’t weird you out. There isn’t a panel of fancy gauges parked in front of you to constantly remind you, or impress your friends, that you’re driving a highly technological fuel-saving car. What you will notice, however, is that you’re driving a highly comfortable, quiet car (especially at those intersections where the engine shuts off—it can be eerily quiet if you’re alone and the radio’s off). I took the Malibu Eco last Saturday morning on a drive to Youngstown and Old Fort Niagara. Leaving Ki-Po Chevrolet in Ransomville, where sales consultant Greg Taylor handed over the keys, I was able to drive over a variety of roads. Smooth two-laners, somewhat rickety back roads, and the Robert Moses Parkway—a 55 mile per hour collection of just about every road surface you can think of, from smooth, to pot-holed, to cracks so wide there are plants growing out of them. The Malibu Eco was a pleasant drive the whole way there and back.

The interior was roomy front and rear, although, like most new cars, the slope of the roof makes it a bit of a chore climbing into the back if you’re tall. The trunk is also roomy, but the lithium-ion battery does take up a bit of room on the passenger side. Controls are easy to reach, but once again I was faced with a touch-screen radio, which I’m not fond of. I did like the steering wheel-mounted cruise control which even I had no problem figuring out how to use. And the tilt-and-telescoping wheel helped find a comfortable driving position. They say style is a personal preference, but I like what they’ve done to the rear lamps, which kind of evoke the Camaro’s derriere.

The test car, which has a starting sticker of $25,235, also has an extra-cost paint color (Crystal Red Tintcoat) and a power sunroof, which brought the total to $28,930 including destination. Some of the standard features included: remote starter; 250-watt Pioneer nine-speaker audio system with CD/MP3 player, AUX input, and USB port; eight-way power driver seat with power recline and lumbar; and four-way manual passenger seat with power vertical adjustor.

All in all, I think Chevy has taken their popular Malibu and made it even better. Non-Eco Malibus should arrive at dealerships later this year.

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Read more of Jim Corbran's You Auto Know every other week in Artvoice, and more frequently on Artvoice Daily.

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