The Chevrolet Malibu is completely redesigned and re-engineered for the 2013 model year and the 2013 Malibu is a winner, delivering a smooth ride, responsive handling, cabin comfort and ease of use. The 2013 Malibu is a midsize sedan with a choice of powertrains, ranging from a low-cost 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine to the sporty 260-horsepower Malibu Turbo to the Malibu Eco mild hybrid that rates an EPA-estimated 25/37 miles per gallon City/Highway.
A quick glance at the 2013 Malibu tells you you're looking at a new kind of Chevrolet. Completely redesigned, the 2013 Malibu has an international look about it while not being either outlandish or overdone. It looks both modern and nicely understated; the stylists resisted the temptation to go Lady Gaga just to attract attention.
The interior, like the exterior, is handsome and, for a Chevrolet, pleasingly elegant. The luxury level of this Chevrolet seems almost Buick, though drawn with a much freer hand. Obviously, having the mission of standing out all around the world has not hurt Chevrolet's styling vocabulary in the least.
But the minute we drove the 2013 Malibu Eco around a fast bend, we knew we were driving a new kind of Chevrolet. It's a family car, to be sure, filled with all the familiar keynotes that define mid-size Chevrolet sedans. But in the same moment, it is a far more roadable vehicle than the Malibus of five or ten years ago. Gone is the vaguely ramshackle ride and the wanton tendency to lean far over when cornering in even the slightest haste.
Also gone is the wayward, numb sense of not knowing what the pavement beneath you is telling you. A proper driver's car communicates precisely what the driving conditions are, and serious lapses in driver feedback have ever been a shortcoming not only of non-Corvette Chevrolets but most American cruisers. Yet very suddenly, the new Malibu is a genuine contender in the world driver's car sweepstakes. It's not perfect; the more expensive sports-sedan marketers, after all, have had decades' more experience at fine-tuning their cars' behavior. But this Chevrolet family sedan has made a truly remarkable move in their direction. It is a genuinely rewarding car to drive. It's handling and ride are comparable to that of the superb new 2013 Honda Accord.
Furthermore, the Malibu Eco model's thriftily priced mild-hybrid drivetrain we tested has an impressive new E-Assist electrical torque-boosting arrangement that adds force to the car's very fuel-efficient 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. The result is vigorous over-the-road performance, achieved while also registering very high highway mileage.
The 2013 Malibu Eco is a sleek new mild-hybrid package that is reasonably roomy, handsomely styled, and most of all, a convincing contemporary American rendering of the world car. The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco mild hybrid is debuting simultaneously in the U.S. and China. That singular fact tells you how completely the world view at Chevrolet and General Motors has changed. Though General Motors has long paid lip service to the concept of world cars, very suddenly in 2012, it is a world car company and will be judged by world-car standards. It's no longer enough to be applauded in Hammond, Indiana; it also has to be craved in Beijing, China and Singapore, Malaysia, and if such a thing be possible, Munich, Bavaria.
A quick way to understand the new looks of the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu is to consider its competition: the midsize Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, and Hyundai Sonata. Malibu's nicely integrated modernism puts it well in range of them. It has a sleek, coupe-like profile without sacrificing too much rear seat headroom to the sloping roofline, as some higher end sedans do.
The 2013 Malibu is 4.5-inches shorter than the previous-generation version, and its front and rear track are two inches wider, for a more stable package.
At the nose of the Malibu are two main horizontal grille ports and a lower intake containing very advanced aerodynamic shutters, among the first in this economical category. These shutters automatically close to decrease drag and increase fuel mileage at higher speeds. Conversely, they automatically open at lower speeds, when climbing or hauling a trailer, improving cooling. When appropriate, the upper grille closes to redirect airflow over the hood, further decreasing aerodynamic drag. The outside mirrors are also designed for minimum aerodynamic drag, as are the taillights. Finally, heretofore found only on luxury cars, the Malibu has underbody panels that create smooth airflow and reduce drag beneath the car. Chevrolet estimates the Malibu's coefficient of drag at a very low 0.30. First rate.
The Malibu's nose is high in order to meet current European safety standards for pedestrian impact. The idea is for the nose to collapse progressively but not so completely as to direct the pedestrian at the engine's solid cylinder head.
The muscular Malibu's nose flows nicely rearward without an excess of character lines, ending in a concisely modeled tail that is somehow Volvo-like. Not a bad thing. Chrome highlights the side-window frames, brightening the profile, which is punctuated by wide door cuts for easy ingress and egress.
The trunk is opened with a button in the center-high-mounted-stoplight or the key fob and has a high lift-over. Space is severely encroached upon by the battery pack for the engine's E-Assist system. The trunk is, by far, the smallest in its class.
The first impression of the Malibu's interior requires but one word: lavish. The seats are Business Class, with the full range of travel, excellent comfort and firmness, beautiful sable leather, and deluxe lumbar adjustment. It's downright un-Chevrolet. The dashboard and trim are dynamic and modern, with a strongly contrasting dark boomerang of soft-touch dark leather arranged against a broad sable background, the dark leather framing all the functional controls and hardware. Flashes of chrome highlight the door handles and window controls, console and gearshift, but the center stack is framed in understated earth tones. Very grown-up, nicely un-Retro.
A full 8000-rpm radial tachometer for the 7000 rpm-redline engine is matched to a speedometer that ranges to 160 (but that, of course, is only so it can be switched to 160 kph). The fuel gauge is accompanied by an ECO gauge, which casually tells you whether you're achieving excellent or slightly less-excellent mileage.
The shifter in the console controls the 6-speed automatic, and we mean controls. You can shift it to D and drive it as a full automatic, or move one more notch rearward to M, for Manual. Now you press a toggle switch on the top of the shifter to command the up-shift or down-shift you want. It works well, unless you make an irrational request, which it will reject. Yet there is something not very satisfying, not very commanding, about the fiddly little button. And when you press the detente release button needed to get out of Park and pull the lever back, it goes straight back past Drive to Manual. Most of the time, we think most people would prefer it to stop at Drive. At least that's what we'd prefer.
The nice cocoa leather steering wheel has the usual yoke-mounted controls, and at night the dash has pleasing, deluxe wraparound ambient lighting. The center stack provides wonderfully intuitive audio controls, and pressing a release, the entire touch-screen pops open, revealing a hidden storage space. The climate control is straightforward and flawless. There are handsome elements of French stitching in the door panels, adding another luxury touch. And the front windows are one-touch down, but alas, snail-mail up.
The 2013 Malibu's increased width gives it 1.5 inches more front shoulder room and 3.2 inches rear shoulder room over the previous-generation model, combined with nearly three inches more hip room front and rear. The front feels roomy enough, but the rear is extremely tight for three adults. The rear seats are also flat and rather hard, and for taller adults, headroom is limited. The rear seat does have a nice fold-down center cushion with two cup-holders and a folding compartment. Triple seat anchors are provided for child seats.
The 2013 Malibu is no BMW, but it's far closer than it's ever been before.
Malibu Eco's highly tuned mild-hybrid Ecotec 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder, though small in displacement, is engineered to produce V6 performance with inline-4 fuel economy. The Malibu Eco uses an electrical battery pack that adds a hearty boost of 15 horsepower through added electric power. This electrical charge, accumulated through regenerative braking, energy that would otherwise be lost, also shuts down fuel delivery during some deceleration conditions. At such times, the engine and electric motor continue spinning, allowing a seamless restart of the Malibu's auto-stop system. The latter, incidentally, has no lurch and surge and is better than BMW's balky auto-stop systems.
In other respects, the Ecotec is engineered to the Nth degree: aluminum block, head and pistons, DOHC, direct injection, with continuously variable intake and exhaust timing, and electronic throttle control. The engine's peak gasoline-generated thrust is 182 horsepower at 6200 rpm. When accelerated, the combined gasoline and added electric boost take a moment to gather up (not unlike the momentary hesitation of an automatic transmission kickdown), but when this is accomplished, the Malibu Eco accelerates well. Coupled to the new Hydra-Matic 6T40 6-speed automatic, it's an entirely adequate performance package. Chevrolet estimates Malibu Eco's 0-60 acceleration performance at 8.7 seconds.
But we mentioned inline-4 fuel mileage. With all its solid performance, the Malibu Eco delivers EPA City/Highway mileage of 25/37 mpg. Right in the ballpark with the hybrid versions of its competition.
Even more startling is the Malibu Eco's handling. As a world car, this Malibu's agility and stability will be judged by standards nobody in Hardy's Corners ever thought of. And we can all profit from that. The minute we put the Malibu through its first high-speed bend, this was clearly like no Chevrolet sedan we'd tested. It corners flat, firmly, fully prepared for the next command. It doesn't yet have the live, bounding-ahead feel of the very best European sports sedans, but this is a mid-size sedan competing with Toyotas and Hondas. There is room for improvement, perhaps, but it's a very, very good start. It could feel more lively, more sporting, but it does the right things in the right way, and for a Chevy sedan, that's huge. This will pay off handsomely in emergency avoidance maneuvers.
At the same time, the Malibu Eco's ride is quiet and very compliant. Our driving was in the rough, rugged northeast, where pavement is like a lava flow. Yet despite the Eco's well-disciplined suspension, it also tuned out the roughness under foot effortlessly. First rate.
The brakes, too, were exemplary: powerful, easily modulated, a silent partner in the act of driving, just as they ought to be.
The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu is Chevrolet's first true world mid-size family sedan. It rises to the challenge of competing against the best from Europe and Japan, and as such, excels in areas where no Chevrolet mid-size family sedan has excelled before. It combines efficiency, advanced engineering, agility and style, at a Chevy price, in a way that will startle many.
Ted West filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Chevrolet Malibu Eco in the Northeast.