Chevrolet has given us our first look at the all-new MyLink system, which combines voice-activated infotainment with a large touch screen on the center console.
MyLink is another solution in a long line of voice-activated systems (think Sync or uConnect), and at first it does little to elevate the field. In MyLink there are no Audi-esque scribble panels or force-feedback knobs, no whiz-bangery involved in inputting information into the system. No one feature of MyLink stands out from the pack.
Turn the system on and it fills the touch screen with rows of buttons marked for the most-used infotainment features: radio, phone, satellite radio, USB. The buttons are large and the touch-screen is responsive. Nice, but nothing dramatic.
Its most trick feature at first glance is Pandora, which links to a smartphone via Bluetooth or USB (Bluetooth for Droids and Blackberries, USB for iPhones) and allows the user to control Pandora or Stitcher radio through the head unit. Pandora, like everything else, can be controlled on screen or using a network of voice commands.
Plug your device into the USB slot (such as an iPod or flash drive) and MyLink can voice activate that as well. The voice activation is aided by Gracenote, which can add metadata (like Artist, Title, or Genre) to your songs and make them more searchable. One notable feature is that Gracenote also accepts artist nicknames: tell your 2013 Malibu to play songs by “The Fab Four” or “The Stones” and it knows what you mean. It also helps in pronunciation: tell it to play an album by Sade and it knows that it’s pronounced “shah-day,” not “say-d.”
Unlike, say, Ford, GM says that it has no plans to move its HVAC controls to the touch screen. One of the engineers told me the choice was a no-brainer. “We didn’t think people needed that,” she said. Good move: we’ve previously reported that MyFordTouch is one of the reasons the marque is lagging in initial quality surveys.
The only thing MyLink misses at the moment is an integrated GPS, which is still being developed. In the beginning, directions will only be offered through OnStar (which has a fully functional presence on the 2013 car) but GM promises to add an integrated GPS module into its MyLink systems soon. After that, GM says it’s open to the idea of adding other “apps” to its decks, which will be installable using the car’s USB port.
All in all, MyLink adds a scant few features to an already crowded market, which could make it slightly less than noteworthy. But—and this is a big but—it works.
Even in pre-production mode, it was easy to pair phones via Bluetooth, use Pandora, surf tracks, or listen to the radio. The new ’Bu ditches the “soft keys” from the previous radio, adds a line of black presets along the bottom of the color screen, and puts “back” and “home” buttons at the top of the screen. This might not seem revolutionary, but it largely streamlines the experience. At a number of points we could have used physical buttons on the radio demonstration unit, which used a button-heavy center console from an Equinox, but we never actually needed it. As such, the 2013 Malibu loses a number of buttons from its center console but still keeps enough to make it usable.
The 2013 Malibu will launch with available MyLink on it, but it probably won’t be the first model to offer the tech: expect MyLink to be slotted into the Volt and Equinox for the next model year, followed by the Malibu. The tech can also be shoehorned into smaller models, but GM says nothing is definite.
The Malibu’s interior, overall, is an evolution of the current model. It again has a “double bubble” dashboard design, creating what Chevy calls a “dual cockpit” setup. Most of the harder plastics from the 2012 model have been replaced with softer-touch vinyl that can be “tipped,” which means painted to look like leather. Square gauges allude to the Camaro. The Malibu is also the only mid-size sedan in its price range with available two-tone leather seats, which look just fine. We’re unable to judge fit and finish, as the LTZ we previewed was clearly a preproduction model.
Functionally, the Malibu scores points for a neat storage bin behind the touch screen, as well as a cubby between the seats that looks large enough to conceal a small laptop. The Malibu also boasts gains over its predecessor in shoulder, hip, and headroom. However, it loses about an inch of rear legroom due to its shortened wheelbase. Though on paper it still has more legroom than the Hyundai Sonata, it actually feels much more cramped (Chevrolet had a full range of competitors on hand for comparison).
All in all, the new Malibu interior seems like a step – if not quite a leap – forward. We look forward to getting the car out of the design studio and onto some test roads. We’ll be sure to let you know when we do.