The ‘Bu and Back Up Cameras

Posted: December 15, 2010 in Chevrolet, Safety
Tags: , , ,

It was just a couple weeks ago that I was cursing my rental Chevrolet Malibu because it’s hind quarters was too high for me to see the car I was backing into trying to parallel park. Since you rarely parallel park on a test drive, this is one of those nasty unexpected annoyances that pop up during your ownership of any given car. I was also profoundly annoyed by the blind spot created by the large B pillar every time I tried to check my left blind spot.

The Malibu's rear looks "normal" but it's too high when you look backwards.

It’s really hard to review an appliance like the 2010 Malibu LS. The styling is anonymous – neither exciting nor displeasing. It starts right up (as any car should) and stops with some level of assurance. The steering wheel is connected to the rack with a strand of al dente spaghetti, although in slow-speed parking tangos, the steering feel is more like freshly-poured cement. Only when pressed does the Malibu exhibit torque steer.

The anonymous styling of the 2010 Chevrolet Malibu. Better than the past, but that bar is so low almost anything would have been an improvement.

The Malibu has plenty of room for four passengers. It will be very tight with five adults. The picture makes it look even more like a rental car. Thanks, Chevrolet!

Most people would be hard-pressed to identify this as a Chevrolet Malibu, particularly if you get rid of the Chevy Bow Tie in the front.

The ‘Bu (an internal GM nickname, so the story goes) was an adequate rental appliance for our four days touring Richmond, Virginia and Washington DC. The trunk swallowed all the luggage with plenty of room to spare. The driver’s seat was relatively comfortable for the slog from Richmond to DC.

The base Malibu interior is well-designed and fairly straight forward. It didn't take long to find and master all the controls.

(Richmond is a lovely city, but I’m not sure they’ve been informed that the Civil War, uh I mean War for Southern Independence or War of Northern Aggression, ended 145 years ago.)

For most of the trip, the 6-speed automatic shifted unobtrusively, with a tendency to upshift to save fuel. When prodded, the silicon chips think for a moment, the transmission kicks down and the standard 2.4 liter, 169 hp Ecotec I-4 engine wails in misery. When I had to do some fast shifting from reverse to drive shoehorning the Malibu into rare and illusive DC parking spaces, the transmission actually clunked a couple times between gears.

The upgraded interior with leather in the top-of-the-line Malibu LTZ shows off the double dash design and is much more pleasing to the eyes.

As a daily transportation appliance, the Malibu rates a C+ or B-. It’s a solid effort from the “old GM” and in 2008, it was the best Chevrolet passenger car (damning with faint praise, I’m afraid). The switchgear, steering column stalks and center console displays are familiar parts bin stuff. The turn signal click clack is so annoying that anything longer than a couple seconds causes migraines.

On the plus side, we got an around 26 mpg during the trip, which is above average for this segment.

Unfortunately, out rental didn’t have the optional satellite radio or the upgraded sound system. Given the state of terrestrial radio, satellite radio is almost a must these days. But what you can’t get on the ‘Bu, at any price, is an on-board satellite-navigation system. GM thinks you will pay extra for monthly OnStar service which will beam audio turn-by-turn instructions to your car. All the competitors offer an optional GPS satellite-navigation system. Bad move, GM.

A typical OnStar system is built into the rearview mirror on many GM cars.

Another option offered by the competition is a backup camera connected to the sat-nav screen. It would have been nice to see behind the “Bu’s big butt.

Some backup camera displays give more than just the rear view. This Infinity system has side and rear views.

That brings me to to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s December 3, 2010 proposed rule requiring backup cameras on all new vehicles by the 2014 model year. Huh? Did this just drop from the sky? No, it was three years in the making.

This rearview screen marks distance between your bumper and other objects with colored markers.

The new rule is required by a 2007 law enacted after a 2-year old boy from New York died when his father accidentally backed over him. The NHTSA says there are 18,000 people injured in backup-related accidents a year, primarily involving kids and seniors. Of those, 292 are fatal while 3,000 suffer “incapacitating” injuries. Forty four percent involve children under the age of 5.

Okay, this is a tough one. How do you oppose a safety measure that might lead to fewer deaths of children and senior citizens? You don’t; it’s a losing argument. You just roll over and accept it.

This rearview camera has night vision too!

The NHTSA pegs the cost at around $1.9 – $2.7 billion and while this cost is “substantial,” it could reduce back-up related accidents, injuries and deaths. Of course, the cost would be passed on to consumers.

The two methods of displaying rearview camera images are either through a dash-mounted screen, usually connected to a satellite-navigation system or a smaller image displayed in the rearview mirror. The estimated cost to consumers would be $159 – $203 for the rearview camera system and between $58 – $88 for cars already equipped with a navigation system.

In the case of a car like the Chevy Malibu (or even the new Camaro), there is no real estate or plumbing in the center console for a navigation screen. It would have to be displayed in a special type of rearview mirror with an LCD screen that is visible only when the vehicle is in reverse.

A typical rearview mirror with an LCD screen that becomes visible when the car is placed in reverse.

I don’t think anyone (at least in California) is going to pick the Malibu over its Asian competition. Although this 7th generation Malibu was introduced in 2008, it already feels dated compared to the existing competition from Toyota and Honda. And it looks positively last century when compared to the all-new Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima.

It’s been almost four decades since Chevy made a Malibu that anyone would consider collectible. Starting in the mid-1970s, GM pushed out a steady stream of poor to mediocre appliances with the Malibu nameplate. The nameplate was on hiatus between the 1984 – 1996 model years, but GM felt the need to beat it further into the grave with another decade of rental cars.

A more basic rearview camera can be fitted to almost any car or truck.

The 2008 Malibu garnered glowing reviews at the time. GM brass thought that they finally produced a car that customers would consider instead of the perennial favorites, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. I see the Japanese losing ground to the Koreans, but when I see a new Malibu, it almost always has a bar code on the side. Yup, still relegated to the rental market.

This rearview mirror has a digital compass as well as HomeLink garage door openers built into an auto-dimming mirror.

I’m still rooting for GM. Maybe the 8th generation Malibu, with a backup camera will be better than the competition, but within two years, there will be next generation Accords, Camrys and Altimas. The mid-size sedan bar will be even higher and I hope the next ‘Bu can jump over it.

  1. Bronson says:

    Well, with that kind of styling, even pimped out in leather, I can’t imagine who – other than renters – would choose this snoozefest of an automobile.

  2. Looks like you are an expert in this field, you got some great points there, but you’ll want to add a facebook button to your blog. I just bookmarked this article, although I had to complete it manually. Simply my $.02 🙂

    – Daniel

  3. auto parts says:

    back up cameras are a terrible idea for most cars. I’m not saying they’re not handy for some huge cars or cars with terrible rear visibility, but north american drivers are already pretty terrible and this will just provide them with another crutch that will erode their already weak driving skills

    • Todd Bianco says:

      I agree, cameras really aren’t necessary for many cars. Think about a back-up camera in a Smart ForTwo or even the new Fiat 500. Another law that won’t necessarily make things safer.

      • aubrey cort says:

        hello todd, could you please tell me where I can purchase the rear view mirror/digital compass as well as homelink/garage door opener /built in auto dimmer/and rear view camera, like the one in your article? my e-mail address is
        Thanks a lot my friend.

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