When it comes to the allure of the middle-class midsize sedan segment, the first thing most people think about is… meh. Seriously. When was the last time somebody bragged about the handling prowess of their Toyota Camry? Or the awesome looks of the Nissan Altima? Oooh, or how about the amazing power of the Ford Fusion? Never. Face it, people buy these cars like they buy microwave ovens. This is a market dominated by the essentials such as pricing, fuel economy, and a solid warranty. Chevrolet looks to build on these factors by featuring a dash of style, comfort and solid handling to go with it all with the all-new 2013 Malibu Eco.
A Little Electricity
General Motors’ engineers managed to accelerate the launch of the new Malibu by six months by strategically launching the Eco model first, which features the company’s next generation mild-hybrid system appropriately named eAssist. The system can currently be found in both the Buick LaCrosse and Regal eAssist sedans, and features a 15-kilowatt-hour electric motor located in the trunk that provides an extra 15 horsepower and 79 pound-feet of electric assistance (get it?) to the 182 horse, 172 pound-foot 2.4-liter Ecotec engine under the hood during acceleration. The result is an estimated 37 MPG on the highway and 25 MPG in the city, which makes Malibu Eco the best non-diesel, non full-hybrid vehicle in its class in terms of fuel economy, but still far behind the combined mileage of the full hybrids in the segment. And with a price starting at $25,995, it’s cheaper than every hybrid in the segment but one (more on that later).
The looks are standout. The designers did a solid job giving the car a sense of personality in a segment crowded with vehicles that are about as interesting to look at as beige painted walls. Its stance is wider than the outgoing model, its wheel arches are slightly swollen, and the tail end is quite muscular. In fact, this is one of those few vehicles where the rear fascia eclipses the front in the looks department, but don’t expect to fade off into the distance from the rest of the herd when driving it, as zero-to-sixty comes in around 8.7 seconds. Then again, the Malibu Eco isn’t exactly meant to be judged as a performance car, though there are some very obvious performance handling characteristics.
The steering found in the new ‘ Bu is perhaps the most precise in the segment, but this is where it’s not about sportiness, but rather about the feeling of being able to easily control the vehicle — especially on the slick Texas roads I navigated at the time. And I thought Texas was a dry state. The wet roads also pushed the threshold of the low-rolling-resistance tires, which are designed to save fuel more than anything else. However, it was easy to tell that the Malibu’s architecture could easily surpass the limits of the eco-friendly rubber, making the upcoming turbocharged model all the more promising.
Braking also felt very neutral, not surprisingly hard or mushy. Wonderfully, the car’s eAssist mild-hybrid system’s auto-stop feature operates in stop-go traffic without a hitch. The six-speed automatic transmission is also pretty buttery, and is a huge improvement on the hesitant shifting found in the old version. As for the suspension, I found it on the tighter end of neutral, going away from the slushy feel of the imported midsized sedans in the segment and offering — again — something more capable and easy to control.
Quietly Making A Statement
The interior of the car is officially touted as the quietest cabin Chevrolet has ever built, and there’s no reason to doubt it. Every outside noise is significantly muffled — tire noise, wind noise, everything. It’s almost quiet enough to hear a rat piss on cotton. Plop down on the pleasantly plush seats, and you’ll notice that the cabin itself is stylish, with the glossy Chevy MyLink infotainment system being the centerpiece. The system picked up voice recognition pretty well, as it would play whatever was asked of it through the Pioneer sound system. The system itself isn’t exactly a Bose system you would find in a Cadillac, but chances are the demographic of this car won’t be listening to anything outstandingly bass-heavy. I also can’t talk about the cabin without pointing out a few gripes.
Chevrolet, if you’re going to feature fake wood in this car, at least make the attempt to have it look the part. The stuff inside the Malibu Eco looked more like browned tiger print than anything else. Plus it clashes with the fake chromed plastic accents (see what I did there?). I also miss an extra two inches of leg room in the back, but the taller and wider dimensions of the cabin were definitely noticed. And where are the vents for the rear seat passengers? Floor vents simply are not enough. The fact that the Toyota Camry hybrid boasts much better fuel economy numbers than the Malibu Eco while undercutting the vehicle in price isn’t going to make a Chevy salesman’s job any easier. Despite these shortcomings, the Malibu Eco still manages to come off as perhaps the most well-rounded vehicle in the segment.
The GM Authority First Impression
The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco is an obvious class leader in handling characteristics, and a head turner with its athletic design. And with modern technology, great fuel economy and comfort to back up those credentials, this car deserves your full attention. Look for the Malibu Eco in dealerships starting February 2012 with a more affordable version cradling GM’s all-new 2.5L Ecotec engine later in the year, as well as a more lithe 2.0L turbocharged version.
- The great balance of performance, fuel economy, technology, comfort, pricing and style.
- Minor interior imperfections; probably priced too high.