Refreshed 2019 Malibu Gets A CVT: Feature Spotlight37
As you may have heard, the 2019 Malibu receives a mid-cycle refresh that delivers updates to exterior, interior, technology and powertrain. The updates to the powertrain comes in one form – the replacement of the conventional 6-speed automatic transmission with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
All 2019 Malibu models with the base 1.5L LFV four-cylinder turbo engine swap the outgoing 6-speed auto for the CVT. That means that all models get the continuously variable unit, including the L, LS, LT and the new Malibu RS. Curiously, the CVT has a final drive ratio of 5.10.
The only exceptions to the Malibu Hybrid, which continues with its automatic two-motor drive unit, and the range-topping Malibu Premier, which continues to mate its standard 2.0L LTG four-cylinder turbo engine with the new GM 9-speed automatic transmission.
How It Works
A continuously variable transmission (CVT), also known as a stepless transmisison, single-speed transmission or pulley transmission, is a kind of automatic transmission that can seamlessly change through a continuous (and theoretically-unlimited) range of effective gear ratios. This is notably different from other mechanical transmissions, which offer a fixed and limited number of gear ratios. The biggest draw of a CVT from an engineering standpoint is that, when set up correctly, it may allow the input shaft to maintain a constant angular velocity even as the output speed varies.
Whereas a conventional automatic transmission utilizes a series of gears to send the engine’s power to the wheels, a CVT has no gears whatsoever. Instead, it uses two variable-width pulleys connected by a belt. One of the two pulleys connects to the engine (called the input pulley), while the other (the output pulley) sends power to the wheels. The width of the pulleys changes according to how much power is required, with one pulley getting larger while the other getting smaller. This ongoing adjustment in sizes puts the “continuously variable” into Continuously Variable Transmission. In theory, this constant adjusting enables a CVT to deliver strong and seamless acceleration at lower vehicle speeds, while enabling the engine to operate with more efficiency at higher speeds. There is another, less common CVT design that uses a series of discs and rollers, but we won’t get into that here – since that’s not what’s being used in the 2019 Malibu.
For a better understanding of how continuously variable transmissions operate, we recommend watching the video below, which goes over the innards of a CVT unit while also explaining how the two pulleys inside allow for continuously variable ratios.
CVT Pros And Cons
There are various advantages as well as a few drawbacks to CVTs.
- Extracting maximum power out of a small engine for quicker and more responsive acceleration
- Delivering seamless acceleration without gear shift interruptions
- Eliminating abrupt downshifting when additional power is needed, such as for passing or climbing hills
- Operating smoothly when climbing hills and avoiding the “gear hunting” effect in conventional automatic transmissions
- Improving a vehicle’s power efficiency and fuel economy due to being lighter than a conventional automatic transmission
- Giving some drivers an unnerving feeling due to the sensation of a continuous acceleration with no upshift points (addressed in some CVTs)
- Increasing a vehicle’s NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) levels since a CVT forces the engine to run at high RPM as it gets up to speed
- Having a rather unpleasant feel/driving experience described as “rubbery and disconnected”
Automakers That Make CVTs Work
CVTs are rather new for General Motors and Chevrolet vehicles. In fact, only two GM products – the Chevy Spark and the 2002-2005 Saturn Vue – used the CVT prior to the technology being introduced in the 2019 Malibu. But the CVT is far from being new in the automotive industry, with the technology having been used in passenger cars since 1989. Several automakers have been using CVTs in cars and crossovers for years, with the most common being Mitsubishi, Honda, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota. One automaker in particular – Honda – has come a long way in terms of using CVTs and making them feel rather good. Coincidentally, Honda and GM have been cozying up to each other in the last few years via various new partnerships.
Even more coincidentally, the current Honda Civic uses a turbo-charged 1.5L four-cylinder engine mated to a CVT, just like the 2019 Malibu. So, we dug into what Honda has done with the CVT in its new Civic, and have dug out the most important bits:
- The improved CVTs [for the Civic] are designed to provide the optimum gear ratio for driving conditions, and to offer a more natural driving feel than some previous CVT transmissions that may have something of a disconnected “rubber-band” feel compared to a conventional automatic transmission.
- The Civic CVTs have a new generation of special G-design shift logic that is designed to offer more immediate acceleration response than either conventional automatics or other CVT designs. When abruptly applying power from a steady-state cruising speed, both Civic CVTs immediately send power to the drive wheels while simultaneously adjusting the gear ratio (seamlessly and progressively downshifting) to smoothly bring the engine to its horsepower peak in a linear way.
- By comparison, a conventional automatic is slower to respond and loses time making multiple downshifts. Since the automatic transmission has a limited number of separate, discrete ratios, even when fully downshifted, it can only approximate the optimum engine rpm as speed increases. This cuts into acceleration.
- During full throttle acceleration, the new generation of G-Design shift logic employs stepped ratios as the vehicle speed increases. This helps give the transmission a more “connected” feel as the engine rpm and vehicle speed increase together. This stepped operation also improves acceleration performance incrementally.
The GM Authority Take
While we aren’t aware of any plans for the 2019 Malibu’s CVT to feature the aforementioned improvements made by Honda to its CVT, the transmission will likely feature “stepped ratios” to make it feel more like a traditional automatic. Coupled with its rather short 5.10 final drive ratio, we’re optimistic that drivers will approve of its functionality.
That said, we’re curious to find out whether GM/Chevy will gain any real-world benefits by switching to the CVT in this vehicle. We’re just as intrigued to see whether there will be an improvement in fuel economy and how its mannerisms compare to those of a “regular” automatic transmission.
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FYI, GM offered a CVT in the Saturn Vue from 2002 to 2005. It was horrible which is why it was discontinued. The fact that most people forgot about it is a good thing for GM.
That’s a good catch Gene! Thanks!
Something you should have known if you call yourself an automotive expert and write about GM everyday.
I’m not sure what your beef is with this site. This was a great article.
You constantly accuse the staff of political bias when all they’re doing is reporting on news that’s occurring. And when you’re not running your mouth about that you’re complaining about their GM reporting. Funny thing is, I don’t recall you and your multiple screen names ever once being able to actually point to a single error or mistake by any of the staff here. (In this case you’ve just piggybacked off of someone else’s comment.)
It’s all nonsensical bitchiness all the time from you.
If you like it here enough to read the articles and have a comment or a complaint you would like to voice about the reporting, confine it to the topic on hand and point to it specifically. Do so constructively and maybe you’ll add something to the discussion. Or keep quiet and move on. Otherwise you’re nothing but a troll. I can’t imagine that’s how you would want to spend your time.
Heaven forbid that someone might not know of (or even forget completely) about obscure, model-year specific, equipment packages from 15 years ago. It’s not like everyone on this site has documented and compartmentalized every little bit of GM trivia they’ve ever heard of.
– Tell me, what was the rarest interior colour for the 2003 Envoy XUV?
– How many SSR’s were offered with with a passenger airbag off switch?
– What was the RPO code for the 2003 Buick Rendezvous optional chrome grill?
Do you know why me, Alex, and everyone else on this site doesn’t know the answer to those questions? It’s not because we’ve willingly decided to call ourselves experts. It’s because the answers to those questions are so damn trivial that they don’t matter to anyone, anywhere, at any time.
You, however, might want to go that little step further and show us all how much of an automotive expert you are, because the further you push towards being an expert in trivial knowledge, the further you distance yourself from useful applicational and skillful knowledge.
I’m sure there’s a facebook quiz for you somewhere that’ll make you feel superior over those who don’t know as much GM trivia knowledge.
CVT history correction:
The Variomatic was introduced by DAF in 1958; putting an automatic gearbox in a Netherland’s car for the first time. The Variomatic was first introduced in the DAF 600.
The DAF auto transmission was the first commercially successful CVT
CVT’s are the future I believe. I’m not a huge fan but that’s where we are headed. I don’t own a Malibu, but if it’s 6 Speed auto is no better then the 6 Speed in my Silverado, it won’t be missed.
Nissan had a CVT in the Altima, and when you see them on craigslist for sale, they either say new trans or needs a trans.
Nissan STILL runs CVTs in just about all of their FWD cars, so your craigslist example is just that; an example of someone unloading crap on craigslist.
Mate a dual clutch auto to models equipped with the 2.0t.
Meh. The 9-speed in it is pretty good already.
Please don’t, DCT is as bad as CVT, as you know Ford’s PS and VW’s DSG.
From a reliability stand-point I found the CVTs were OK for Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep. That being said they suck the living life out of any vehicle they touch. This is a move towards the bland/boring… whatever happened to they fun front wheel drive cars that got guys my age to like or at least respect GM in the first place.
This is a good way to make cheap cars for rental fleets. Pity the 2nd owners who will be stuck with out of warrenty sliding band transmissions.
As an addendum to what Gene posted, Saturn offered a CVT in the 2003 and 2004 Ion coupes, too. It was a failure, just as in the Vue.
Unless there is at least a 2-3 MPG improvement they are wasting time and money on a shrinking segment. I sure hope this isn’t a disastrous repeat of the Saturn Vue and Early Ion sedans. If everything works out with a worthwhile MPG improvement
a switch over for the Nox and Terrain would be logical.
Anything I see or read about CVTs is negative. Reminds me of the torque converters on mini bikes and go karts from my youth. How about a malib u hatch?
-Or one with a SUV body… -I know that all the old fashioned sedan people aren’t going to like this comment!
It would be called the “Equinox”, of the 2nd gen. wheel base setup!
CVT TRANSMISSION THE WORST. WILL HAVE A NEGATIVE EFFECT ON THE MALIBU AT 60 TO 70 THOUSAND MILES. THIS IS A WAY FOR GM TO FORCE THE CONSUMER BACK TO THE DEALERSHIP FOR REPAIR.NO OUTSIDE REPAIR FACILITY WILL BE ABLE TO REBUILD THIS TRANSMISSION WITHOUT AVAILABLE AFTERMARKET PARTS.
All American and many Asian built Subarus have them and they sell like crazy. Most of the Subaru owners just refer to them as automatics. They have come a long way in the last few years. If GM is using a version of the Honda CVT, it’s probably pretty good.
The greatest issue was many CVT tranny’s were kind of rushed to market and failed or they were poorly matched to the vehicle.
They are mostly matched to lighter and less powerful vehicles today but companies still push their luck on larger vehicles in the name of mpg.
I loath, despise and literally hate CVT transmissions. I know almost every other car in this class already has a CVT but damn GM, thats not a good enough reason to sell your soul and join the cult of bland.
I absolutley hate CVT transmissions. I know almost every other car in this class already has a CVT but damn GM, thats not a good enough reason to sell your soul and join the cult of bland.
Looks like GM’s MBA beancounters see a cheaper tranny with possible increased MPG. Unfortunately I don’t see a whole lot of long term satisfied Malibu customers. I have never heard people raving about the performance of cvt transmissions. Doesn’t bode well for the Malibu’s future.
There might be more to the story here.
It would seem that GM and Honda are getting friendlier by the day… the GM of 5 years ago would have never used a CVT in anything but the Spark (due to cost, weight and dimensional constraints). But the GM of today, influenced heavily by Honda, has become a different animal entirely. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing… but it’s worth noting that Honda has no problem being the sales leader in almost all car and crossover segments using (mostly) CVTs.
Why use CVT’s when most people hate them versus the 9 speed across the the whole lineup
Because from an engineering perspective, a CVT is a superior match for an ICE engine in nearly every way.
Most enthusiast hate CVTs because we are accustomed to hearing the engine rise and drop in revs with each gear.
That is literally the ONLY reason many don’t like a CVT. A CVT in an ICE will give it the same power and torque delivery as an electric motor. ALWAYS making the most torque when needed.
Agreed. The Thumb downers are petrolheads. Regular steel belt CVTs are becoming more popular and
e-CVTs used in hybrids, which uses a planetary gearset is very mature tech too.
Between CVT’s and stop / start, GM is really trying to make boring ass cars.
… that, or trying to become the world’s most efficient automaker. After all, their vision is…
“Zero accidents, zero emissions, zero congestion”.
Not sure how that how that will pan out, but that’s their corporate definition of transportation.
Even Toyota are adding a bunch of CVTs. And they wouldn’t do it if reliability was an issue.
Honda is a great company for GM to partner with. They are also doing it with hydrogen.
It’s interesting to see that every single con is actually an issue of human perception. Assuming the engineering is sound, a CVT is simpler, less prone to failure, and generally more effective at doing it’s given task than a mulit-gear conventional gearbox – manual or automatic. They are also usually smaller and more compact – as seen in the demo vid.
I will admit, I am no fan of CVTs. But the fact of the matter is they should have replaced conventional automatics a loooong time ago. They can even be tuned to behave as if they have shift points. Honestly, a well developed and designed CVT can operate in lightning quick, manual-matic mode, conventional auto mode, and seamless variable mode at the click of a button.
Many Nissans, Toyotas, and Subarus have had CVTs as an option or the only trans option for over a decade. Bout time GM stopped dicking around and offered a good one in a mainstream car.
Well, hopefully it’ll be a good one…*fingers crossed* we know how the Saturn ones are percieved.
This is just a larger model of what we used for snowmobile transmissions in the 60’s and 70’s. Not sure if they’re still in use.
I have a 2011 Malibu 5 speed auto and with 117000 miles it still purrs like a kitten. No leaks, no problems. They want me to buy a 2019, but I told them I would only trade if they had one with something besides a snowmobile tranny. Guess I’ll be looking elsewhere.
The CVT in the Hybrid Malibu does not have a belt. It is an e-CVT, using a planetary gearset. Not the same design that a snowmobile uses. Similar in design to the transmission in the Chevy Volt, which has been quite reliable. One of them got 470K miles before major service.
All this talk about CVTs makes my head spin.
“increasing a vehicle’s NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) levels since a CVT forces the engine to run at high RPM as it gets up to speed” —- Ummmm…. ANY vehicle with an automatic transmission will downshift to force the engine to run at a high RPM as it gets up to speed, if u press the accelerator hard enough… Duh. CVT or e-CVT or torque converter automatic or dual dry clutch automatic.