Chevrolet's Malibu jumps into a sea of redesigned midsize sedans for 2013, but it has been done so well that it should be able to hold its own — and even stand out — among its key competitors.
The fuel-efficient Malibu Eco model arrived first, in April, and this fall, the rest of the models joined the lineup.
Malibu prices range from $22,390 for the base LS model to $30,165 for the top-of-the-line 2LTZ version with a turbo engine — the model we tested for this report.
Both the 3LT and 2LTZ come with the truly fun turbocharged 2.0-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine — the first turbo ever in a stock Malibu.
General Motors doesn't offer a V-6 engine option in the 2013 Malibu, but after a few turns behind the wheel of the turbo-equipped model, my reaction was, "Who cares?" This engine offers the zip of a V-6, but the fuel economy of a four.
With the standard six-speed automatic transmission, the Malibu with the turbo is EPA-rated at 21 mpg city/30 highway. This engine cranks out 259 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, compared with 197 horsepower and 191 pound-feet of torque for the 2.5-liter normally aspirated base Malibu four-cylinder.
Chevy also offers the more-fuel-efficient Eco model, which comes with General Motors' new eAssist mild-hybrid system, designed to boost fuel economy significantly over that of the previous generation's four-cylinder engine. EPA ratings are 25 mpg city/37 highway
The mild-hybrid system uses a 115-volt lithium-ion battery pack to power a 15-horsepower electric motor built into the car's six-speed automatic transmission. The motor is intended primarily to boost acceleration at highway speeds.
The eAssist system has the same automatic stop/start technology found in full hybrids such as the Toyota Prius, which cuts off the gasoline engine when the car comes to a stop.
The engine restarts automatically and quite smoothly when the gas pedal is pushed. But while the car is sitting still, which can happen frequently during city driving, the engine remains off, saving gas.
Cutting off the engine during stops helps push up the Malibu Eco's mileage in the city, while the electric motor gets most of the credit for the car's good highway rating.
The electric motor helps give the four-cylinder engine the feel of a V-6, but with much better fuel economy. The Eco has its own 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which produces 182 horsepower on its own.
Eco design features intended to help increase fuel economy include lightweight components and systems such as an aluminum hood and rear bumper beam, and low-mass carpet and dash mat. Together, these lighter materials take 130 pounds out of the car. Goodyear low-rolling-resistance 17-inch tires are included as well. They reduce friction on the road, which gives a slight increase in fuel economy.
An Eco gauge on the instrument panel can help the driver get the most efficiency from the system. There is also an indicator on the tachometer that shows when the engine is in the start-stop mode.
This newest generation of the Malibu is the first global Chevrolet midsize sedan, available in nearly 100 markets on six continents. That's in line with GM's plans to expand the Chevy brand worldwide, especially in rapidly developing markets such as China, where Buick already is GM's biggest player.
Last year, the Malibu was Chevy's third-best-selling model, behind the Silverado pickup and the new Cruze compact sedan.
Malibu's new exterior design borrows elements from the current Corvette and Camaro, including a wider stance and integrated rear spoiler, giving the car a sportier look. It's also among the most aerodynamic sedans on the road, which helps the fuel economy.
The new model's wheelbase is 4.5 inches shorter than that of the previous Malibu, yet the track is two inches wider, at 62 inches.
Other exterior changes include a dual-port grille, projector-beam high-intensity-discharge headlights, larger Chevrolet badges, and new dual-element LED taillights taken from the Camaro. Available are 17-, 18- and 19-inch wheels.
Because of the extra width, there are four more cubic feet of interior space, giving passengers more room to spread out. We packed five adults into the Malibu, and had no real complaints, although the middle rear position is never the most pleasant place to sit in any car if there are passengers in both outboard seats.
The new interior is much more luxurious, with metallic, chrome or faux wood trim around the shifter, center stack and instrument cluster, as well as on the doors and steering wheel. Our LTZ had the faux wood, along with two-tone black/brownstone leather seats ($150 extra for the two-tone scheme).
Soft ice-blue lighting is used along the instrument panel and in the door storage pockets, as well as on the center-stack dials.
2013 CHEVROLET MALIBU:
—Type of vehicle: Midsize, four-door, five-passenger, four-cylinder gasoline or gasoline/electric-motor powered, front-wheel-drive sedan.
—Highlights: Completely redesigned for 2013, the new Malibu comes with a base four-cylinder gasoline engine or the option of either a turbocharged four-cylinder or a mild-hybrid system. The new styling and interior are much improved over an already very good previous generation.
—Negatives: Fuel economy for the Eco mild-hybrid model isn't as good as that of comparably priced full hybrids such as the Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata.
—Engine: 2.5-liter normally aspirated inline four-cylinder (base); 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder (optional); 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder coupled with a 15-horsepower electric motor (Eco model).
—Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
—Power/torque: 197 horsepower/191 pound-feet (2.5-liter); 259 hp/260 pound-feet (2.0 turbo); 182 hp/172 pound-feet gasoline engine, plus electric boost motor with 15 hp/110 pound-feet (Eco).
—Base price, base model: $22,390
—Base price, model tested: $30,165
—Price as tested: $33,385
—On the Road rating: 9.3 (of a possible 10)
All prices exclude destination charges.
ABOUT THE WRITER
G. Chambers Williams III has been an automotive columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1994. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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