2013 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ 2.5L review: Fit for Middle America

2013 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ 2.5-liter

2013 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ 2.5-liter

Chevrolet is rolling out the all-new 2013 Malibu bit by bit, starting with the2013 Malibu Eco, equipped with GM’s eAssist 2.4-liter four-cylinder with electric boost motor powertrain that we reviewed earlie here and here. We’re promised a 2.0-liter turbo engine whacking out at 259 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. We’re not quite there yet. This is a review of the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, just released with the 2.5-liter four, and in our case, the LTZ trim level.

Officially our 2013 Malibu LTZ is a Malibu 1LZ, which means it’s the LTZ with the 2.5-liter. The forthcoming LTZ/2.0-liter turbo bears the designation 2LZ, but either way, you and the guy next door will know it as a Chevrolet Malibu LTZ. So it is said, so is it written on the trunk lid.

For the record, in addition to the Malibu Eco, other trim variations on the 2013 Malibu include the entry-level LS at $23,150 and the mid-level volume model, the LT, starting at $24,765. Both LS and LT come with the 2.5-liter engine, although the LT will also be available with the turbo engine in 3LT trim.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ 2.5-liter engine

The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ 2.5-liter engine is smooth, powerful and all but hidden. (Click to enlarge)

The big difference between the Malibu Eco and our test 2013 Malibu LTZ is Chevy’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine.  The all-new Ecotec 2.5-liter dual overhead cam four has direct injection and what Chevrolet calls “enhanced authority” continuously variable valve timing. Variable valve timing allows an engine produce greater power and torque over a wider rev range. The “enhanced authority” modifier means that the degrees that the timing gears (camshafts) can be advanced or retarded has been broadened.

In addition to elements that make the engine produce more power and torque, the 2.5 also has a variable-displacement oil pump (which reduces mechanical drag when full pressure lubrication isn’t required by the engine) and electronic thermostat.

Noise-reducing features include a cast exhaust manifold, steel crank, low-noise timing chain and direct mount accessories.

Chevrolet claims top horsepower for a standard engine in the midsize class. It shows up in the throttle. The Malibu LTZ with the 2.5-liter is quicker than one might expect. In average around-town driving, there’s little to reveal that there’s anything special under the hood. And broadly speaking there isn’t.

But shift the six-speed into manual mode and it’s as if someone poked the Malibu awake. The manual mode is one notch beyond D in a straight line shift pattern, but there’s no move-the-lever-to-the-side fore-and-aft tip shift. Instead, the transmission has a small rocker top the shift lever. Thumb tip it forward for an upshift, back for downshift. It sounds awkward, and at first it is. But it doesn’t take long before dropping one’s right hand from the steering wheel to make a shift is easy enough.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ 2.5-liter interior

The black and brownstone interior is a striking color treatment for the interior of the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ. (Click to enlarge)

What’s odd, however, is the lack of a redline on the tachometer. We suspect it’s a psychological trick. If there were a redline, drivers would expect being able to run the engine to the line before shifting, which considering even the brief lag in upshifting would put the engine up against the rev limiter.

The rev limiter is absolute, by the way.  In manual mode, the transmission with the Malibu 2.5-liter will not shift up or down, regardless of how hard the throttle pedal is pushed. Downshift are rev matched to a point, not as smooth or exact as some, but there’s no ugly lurch when moving down a gear.

Unlike GM four-cylinders of long ago, the 2.5 is smooth and produces a clean mechanical sound with an overlayer of exhaust coming out of those big twin exhaust outlets. We recommend going full throttle through a tunnel for full appreciation. The aggressive noises are noteworthy coming from a midsize family sedan.