Serviceability Report: Chevrolet MalibuPosted 6/1/2008
By Craig Van Batenburg, AAM
I visit a few auto shows each year for press day events, so I traveled to Boston recently to see the latest offerings. Many noteworthy cars were on display, so I opened hoods, sat behind the wheels and looked underneath to see what was new. A shiny Malibu hybrid caught my eye, and I spent some time poring over this car. I was impressed with the package.
The name Malibu brings a lot of us older techs back to a time in the ’60s that was more “car” based and less about the world impact of so many vehicles. My dad drove a 1967 Malibu 307 two-door hardtop, blue with a white vinyl roof, that I borrowed for my first date. Oh, the memories; simpler times for sure.
We will focus on the 2008 Chevy Malibu 2.4 four-door sedan (not the hybrid model). As I have said many times, I will not let my bias change the real story. I grew up in northern Utah as a son of a mechanic. My dad loved Fords but a Chevy was allowed from time to time. There were only American cars in my life. Times have changed. When I was born, General Motors Corp. had more than 50 percent of the market share. Now GM holds less than 25 percent. Will they get that market share back? What has the largest car company in the world done to its popular sedan? Is the 2008 Malibu getting better for techs to work on?
The Chevrolet Malibu was completely reinvented for 2008. With dramatic changes in style, refinement and performance, this midsize family sedan is now much more than a status quo American automobile. Its huge improvements now allow it to compete in a segment full of heavyweights, most of which are Asian imports. And to move into a greener direction, Chevy now adds a hybrid version of the Malibu to its model line.
A note about the hybrid version. It is powered by the GM hybrid propulsion electric system combined with the ecotec 2.4L DOHC four-cylinder hybrid engine with variable valve timing (VVT) and a four-speed automatic hybrid transmission. It has a 36-volt nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery pack in the rear powering a 36-volt electric motor/generator; the Malibu hybrid produces a respectable 164 horsepower and 159 pound-feet of torque. This is the same mild-hybrid belt alternator starter (BAS) system found in the Saturn hybrids, Vue and Aura. Fuel economy rates at an efficient 24 city/32 highway, but that is only two miles per gallon better than the gas-powered four-cylinder Malibu. Perhaps this hybrid engine is simply getting people ready for the 2 mode, a more advanced hybrid system on its way.
On the road, this BAS hybrid moves along just fine. It has plenty of power for high-speed driving and handling is responsive. Ride quality is much better than before, and that makes the Malibu Hybrid a great commuter car.
One look under the hood of the 2008 Malibu shows that little has changed over the years, and indeed little has. GM’s 2.4 has been getting better over the years. The ecotec, as it is called, has been around more than a decade. It is not real exciting but it is good. The techs who work on these all day long just go about their work. Service is real easy on the 2008. GM gives you a simple cover to remove and underneath is a 12-volt battery with top posts and a trick cable latching system. No more side terminals. After someone had overtightened the cable bolts on the old battery, a simple job got out of control. Not anymore. So do we praise GM for this new battery or complain that it took too long to fix? Your call. Relays and fuses are housed in a box next to the battery. So is the powertrain control module (PCM). The coil-on-plug ignition system is in the open after you remove the big black plastic engine cover. Opening the hood is not scary at all, as the ease of service might just be the best I have ever reported on.
The interior is not typical for GM. I found it exciting, beautiful and well built. The outward appearance is much better. The car rides much better than before. But more than anything else, I think it is the timing of this new product. It is a great car coming at a time when I believe we need to preserve every job in America, look hard at global warming and the cost of fuel. At 30 mpg highway this Chevy is double what a lot of GM customers get right now. And at $23,000, it is affordable.
Let’s compare a ’99 Malibu 2.4 to a new 2008 Malibu 2.4 (non-hybrid). In 1999, the 2.4 motor was trouble. Headgaskets and water pump issues were a technician’s nightmare. Timing chain noise after the timing chain or water pump replacement was common, ignition coil housing crossfire within the coil housing itself caused a misfire on cylinders 1 and 3, and the lock cylinder housing and the rotating lock cylinder were often defective, affecting the fuel enable circuit in the computer, causing a no-start and trouble code P1632. The list goes on.
As the car aged it just got worse. Customers lost confidence, and making money doing preventive maintenance was next to impossible. In model year (MY) 2000 the 2.4 was dropped and poor mileage V6 engines were used until 2004 when the 2.4 was brought back. During this five-year absence, GM lost a lot of ground to good four-cylinder sedans. While the Malibu suffered with only a V6, five hybrids were introduced by the competition. Timing is everything. When the 2.4 engine came back it went into a very boring body, in my opinion, but GM got the 2008 Malibu right. Is it too late?
Overall this entire car is a good design. It is the easiest car to work on in the areas I list above of any car, truck, SUV and mini van I have reviewed to date. GM deserves a pat on the back from all the techs out there. How will it age? I sure hope the answer will be positive.
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