The Automobile Red Book recently had the opportunity to wring-out a 2013 Malibu Eco. The week-long test revealed a car that was rewarding to drive, impressive to its passengers, and light on fuel consumption. General Motors continues to make strides in vehicle quality and desirability, and this latest offering from the bowtie division is a great example of that progress.
Built at the Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Kan., the 2013 Malibu takes some of its exterior styling cues from the popular Camaro. From the four rectangular taillights to the low, bulked-up beak, the Malibu imparts a bit of sportiness to the everyday midsized sedan.
The interior is probably the most impressive part of the new ‘Bu. The attention to detail in the instrument panel and wraparound door panels is phenomenal. There is a lot going on here—basketball-like texturing on soft surfaces, chrome accents, a painted center stack bezel, faux wood—but somehow it all comes together in a coherent package. The cool blue lighting, especially in places like the accent panel in front of the passenger, gives the new Malibu a modern, almost nightclub-like atmosphere.
Later in the summer the Malibu will be available with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a 2.0-liter turbocharged four, but the initial vehicles like our tester are equipped with a 182-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder paired with a 15-hp electric motor. This combination is the basis for the “Eco” moniker, and while it isn’t exactly a hybrid per se, it is stingy at the gas pump.
Chevrolet calls this setup “eAssist.” The rear-mounted lithium-ion battery pack harnesses energy from the braking system when you bring the car to a stop, then the charged-up battery runs an electric motor that assists the gasoline engine when it’s time to go. Also, the engine shuts off completely when the car comes to a complete stop, and the accessories are run off of the battery pack until you take your foot off the brake.
The Eco also receives low-resistance tires, lightweight aluminum bits like the hood, and even lighter carpeting and dashboard materials. You might not even notice these features, but they all work toward the goal of better fuel economy.
The EPA ratings for the new Malibu Eco are 25-mpg in the city, 37-mpg highway. Our test car observed a city/highway average of about 28-mpg according to the on-board computer, but that was with a week’s worth of relatively choppy stop-and-go daily commuting.
The battery pack and electric motor is located in the trunk behind the seat. Trunk space is limited to 14.3-cubic-feet with this setup, and it severely limits the pass-through feature with the rear seat. Such is the price one pays for decreased fuel consumption. If you need the maximum trunk space, you’ll have to settle for a non-eAssist model later this summer.
In contrast to its frugal intentions, the 2013 Malibu Eco is pretty rewarding to drive. From the seat of your pants it accelerates as if it has a six-cylinder engine, and it’ll easily cruise at 75-80-mph without subjecting you to frequent downshifts in the six-speed automatic transmission. Handling is modern and tight, and it manages to find a good balance between not feeling wallowy while still eliciting confidence in the turns.
Our test car came in at just under $30,000, and included a $1,300 leather interior option and a premium Pioneer stereo system. It also featured the Chevrolet “MyLink” infotainment system, which syncs-up everything from your favorite Sirius radio stations, to your Pandora Internet Radio selections, to the music you have stored on your Bluetooth-enabled smart phone.
If Chevrolet is judged solely on the quality of its products, it should get strong marks for the 2013 Malibu. Sometimes people seem to automatically replace their family vehicles with another Honda Accord or Toyota Camry, but the technologically advanced, American-built Malibu is definitely worth a test drive.