2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco First Drive: Midsize car for midsize appetites

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco

Chevrolet’s 2013 Malibu Eco combines midsize comfort with compact efficiency.

Austin, TX – Although Chevy’s Corvair and Camaro received the bulk of the attention in the Swingin’ Sixties, the launch of the Malibu in the ’64 model year may have had more lasting import. It was this intro that, more than any, established Chevrolet as GM’s go-to maker of cars for the expanding population of young adults. Some fifty years later – and within weeks of Chevrolet’s centennial – today’s 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco is taking an eco-sensitive route to the sweet spot of the U.S. market and (with essentially the same vehicle) provides an upsized ‘halo’ to Chevy’s global audience.

You know, of course, the recipe. While the Accord and Camry provide the benchmarks, the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima are nipping at their collective heels, while Ford makes an increasingly credible claim with its midsize Fusion. Even Volkswagen has entered the midsize game with a reconfigured Passat, offering more room for less money. While more may be merrier, it’s also vastly more competitive; today’s midsize marketplace leaves little room for miscalculation.

Into this marketing maelstrom comes Chevrolet’s 2013 Malibu, the model’s eighth iteration. While it may have been birthed in bankruptcy, its early rollout is born of a mandate from GM execs to generate maximum excitement – and cash flow – in the showroom. To that end we get but one variant of the Malibu in the first quarter of 2012, while waiting for more drivetrains (and options) throughout the balance of the calendar year. The first version is the Malibu Eco, a ‘mild’ hybrid whose drivetrain specifics were first introduced on the Buick LaCrosse and Regal sedans.

GM’s eAssist technology combines the General’s 2.4 liter Ecotec four with a compact lithium-ion battery, electric motor and conventional 6-speed automatic. The electric additions are intended to provide a motive assist to the Ecotec four, as well as smoothing the engineering path to Auto Stop/Start technology. The end result is a generously proportioned midsize 4-door with an estimated EPA rating of 25 City/37 Highway/29 Combined. In short, this 5-passenger with 14 cubic feet of trunk space comes within a whisker of matching several subcompacts recently introduced.

There’s more, of course, than just what’s under the Chevy Malibu Eco’s hood. Chevy’s design team was justifiably proud of the sheetmetal, which incorporates numerous upscale details both front and rear. And in that the sheetmetal is mounted atop the same platform as Opel’s Insignia and Buick’s Regal there’s an appropriate emphasis on structural integrity and safety. The Malibu’s BMW-inspired tail makes for an interesting juxtaposition with a front fender line apparently taken from Volvo, but we’re hard pressed to blame GM’s design team for looking beyond Ann Arbor for inspiration. Inside, a number of design details speak to a target far higher than the Malibu’s mid-$20s price point; the interior execution ain’t, to be sure, Audi, but neither is it dowdy.

Our ride-and-drive consisted of a 150-mile lap of the Texas Hill Country’s Lake Travis.  A great many of those miles were on a serpentine path whose unintended consequence was more merriment than miles-per-gallon. And while the Malibu’s marketing mantra is practical, affordable efficiency, its ride-and-handling balance was remarkably composed and – after a fashion – almost entertaining. We might have wished for a driver’s seat with more lateral support, but reasonably communicative steering, a compliant ride and positive braking is light years removed from that very first Malibu.

With a well-equipped base of $26K the 2013 Malibu Eco is fully competitive with hybrids from Toyota and Hyundai. In some areas one or the other might surpass the Chevrolet in execution, but as an attractive entry in the midsize wars the Malibu has never been more credible. Somewhere, Dinah Shore is smiling…

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco, price and key specifications, as tested

Base Price: $26,845

2SA Plus Leather and Metallic Paint

Total: $29,930

Body style/layout: 4-door sedan, front engine/front-wheel drive

Engine

  • Type: 2.4-liter 16-valve DOHC inline four
  • Horsepower: 182 @ 6200 rpm
  • Torque: 172 @ 4900 rpm
  • Battery: Lithium-ion, 115V, 15 kW peak power
  • Max Electric Motor Torque: 79 lb-ft @ 1000 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed Hydra-Matic 6T40

Dimensions

  • Wheelbase: 107.8 inches
  • Length: 191.3 inches
  • Width: 73 inches
  • Height: 57.6 inches
  • Curb weight: 3620 lbs.