The front seats are indeed comfortable, however, and a good driving position is easily found. Forward visibility is good but only fair to poor at the sides and rear. The wide C-pillars and high rear deck make shoulder checks mandatory in this car, regardless of mirror settings. The rear camera is appreciated as a supplement when backing out of driveways or parking spots. Steering wheel–mounted controls are easy to operate, as are the controls for climate and vehicle information. As with many electronic systems, tuning the radio seems more of a chore than it should be.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco
2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco
2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco
2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco
2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco (top photo by Grant Yoxon). Click image to enlarge

Although our test vehicle lacked a navigation system, OnStar can be used to generate driving directions if required. This system seems almost quaint in these days of smartphone-based mapping, eschewing personal devices in favour of actual people with whom to interact. To acquire directions, for instance, you press the OnStar button, wait while the system’s “phone” dials, then talk to an attendant based…. somewhere. “Please supply driving directions to a particular restaurant,” you say, or to an address or point of interest. Your attendant finds the address using his or her database, then downloads directions to your vehicle. Turn-by-turn visuals then appear in a small display between the speedometer and tachometer, and on part of your centre-stack display, while instructions are delivered verbally.

It works, but is slow to react when a series of quick turns are required as it fails to string instructions together. But for the directionally challenged, it’s definitely a useful resource. I’d rather have it than not.

Despite finding the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco a very agreeable car to drive, there are two areas that conspire against it. The first is fuel consumption and the second is passenger and cargo capacity.

My average in almost exclusively highway driving was 7.2 to 7.8 L/100 km. This is very good for many midsize cars, but is a long way from the 5.3 L/100 km estimated by Transport Canada (it’s 31 to 35 percent more, in fact). Maybe it seems churlish to complain about not achieving the excellent 5.3 L/100 km estimate (this is not a small car, after all), but consumers are right to expect something very close to the stated estimates especially when opting for a higher-priced hybrid vehicle.

The second area of concern is also hybrid related, having to do with compromised trunk space due to the lithium-ion battery’s location behind the rear seat. The problem is compounded when the rear seat is folded to reveal a small pass-through rather than the expected additional cargo capacity. In my case, a picture wouldn’t fit in the trunk and barely fit on the rear seat. Just a little more and the doors wouldn’t have closed and I would have been strapping a piece of art on the roof. For families with young children a stroller will pretty much fill the trunk (if it fits at all), making this vehicle (and to be fair, other similar hybrid sedans) much less suitable than a standard sedan or small SUV. It’s odd that such a large car has such limited interior room. A comparatively short wheelbase coupled with the hybrid battery explain it.

On the plus side, the “euro-tuned” suspension makes this car feel sporty and agile. It is exceedingly quiet and plenty powerful when needed. It feels solidly and well built, with even shut lines, good quality materials and strategically placed soft-touch surfaces further enhancing the interior ambiance. It is certainly American in look and feel, as opposed to the more minimalist European interiors.

What it won’t do is drive on battery alone as some hybrids will (EV mode), and when you factor in its good-but-not-great fuel economy, Malibu shoppers should also look at the LTZ, which for a price very close to our as-tested Malibu Eco, supplies the wonderful 260-hp 2.0L turbo engine and also very good fuel economy. It has a big trunk, too…

Pricing: 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco 2LT
Base price: $29,160
Options: $4,305
Freight: $1,500
A/C Tax: $100
Price as tested: $35,065

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