2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco 2LT
2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco Review:
The first thing you notice about the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco is what you don’t notice.
You don’t notice much mechanical, road or wind noise. This mid-sized four-door is nearly as quiet inside as a recording studio—more like a well-insulated luxury sedan than a popular-priced family car.
The front-drive Malibu competes in the heart of the market against the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Chrysler 200, Nissan Altima, Volkswagen Passat, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda 6 and Kia Optima. Jeanne Merchant, the Malibu’s vehicle line manager, calls it “the most brutally competitive segment.” This new Malibu makes it even more so.
In an unusual order of battle, the hybrid Eco is the first and, for awhile, only 2013 Malibu available. Other versions, including a turbocharged performance model, will arrive later.The Eco’s power train is a mild hybrid, which uses a small electric motor to provide a boost to the four-cylinder gasoline engine, for a total 182 horsepower. The system is similar to that used by Honda in its Insight hybrid, and identical to the eAssist system in the La Crosse from Chevrolet’s sister division, Buick.
A small electric motor-generator, about the size of a standard alternator, sends its power to the drive shaft via a belt drive. Working through the Malibu’s six-speed automatic transmission, it provides a 15-horsepower boost when the onboard computer detects that the gasoline engine is on the verge of lugging, as on a long upgrade.
With the electric motor, the Eco’s engineers were able to tune the engine and transmission for optimum fuel economy. The Eco delivers 25/37 miles to the gallon on the EPA’s city/highway cycle.
Also contributing to the fuel economy are stop-start technology and an automatic system similar to that on the Chevrolet Cruze Eco, which closes cooling vents in the grille to reduce drag by directing air flow around the car.
The stop-start system shuts down the engine at stop signs and re-starts it automatically—in about one-third of a second, the engineers say—when you lift your foot off the brake. On the Malibu, it is barely noticeable, to the point where some first-time drivers might not even know they were driving a hybrid.
The Eco uses a lithium-ion battery pack, mounted in the trunk, to power the electric motor. It takes up about two cubic feet of space, but the designers still managed to give the Malibu Eco a decent-sized trunk of 14 cubic feet with covered C-hinges to prevent luggage damage.
There’s also a conventional 12-volt battery, but it is used only to start the car and, when the stop-start shuts down the gasoline engine, to operate auxiliary features like the audio system. It gets recharged by the lithium-ion battery, which gets its juice from regenerative deceleration and braking.Even with its fuel economy, the Eco is no slouch off the line. If you left-brake at a stoplight and slam the accelerator pedal the instant you release the brake, you can induce some slight hesitation. Ordinarily, however, acceleration is brisk. You won’t win most stoplight drag races, but you won’t be embarrassed either.
All-new from the tires up, the 2013 Malibu Eco features considerably altered styling that gives it a fresh look but nevertheless retains current elements so it does not look like a stranger. In fact, the differences between it and its predecessor are apparent only when you view the cars side-by-side.
One demerit: In their obsessive pursuit of silent running, the designers equipped the Malibu with fixed outside mirrors to reduce wind noise. If somebody whacks one of them, say in a parking lot, it will rip off instead of fold away.
The new Malibu has a wider track that gives it a more planted look and feel. Handling is not up to sports sedan standards, but it’s not far behind. Combined with a stiff chassis, the steering feels tight, responsive and connected in cornering, and the Eco tracks cleanly and serenely in straight-line driving.
As befits a mid-size family sedan, the suspension system is a compromise biased in favor of a comfortable ride over performance handling. There is some ride harshness on rough roads and larger dips cause minor pitch and roll, but nothing to upset driver control.
Inside, the designers complemented the Malibu’s relaxed ambiance. With an intention of selling this car in 100 countries around the world, they made everything intuitive—from the big speedometer and tachometer flanking an information display, to the large navigation screen and big buttons on the audio system. A button controls the electric parking brake.The seats, upholstered in durable cloth or optional leather, are comfortable and supportive for long-distance cruising, though they lack lateral support for spirited autocross driving—which, of course, is not what the Malibu is all about anyway.
In back, the outboard seating positions offer just enough knee and head room for people up to six feet tall. The center position is a hard perch with a big floor hump.
The Malibu Eco has a starting price of $25,995. With options, the tested upscale 2LT version had a bottom-line sticker of $29,950.