2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco
2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco. Click image to enlarge

First Drive: 2013 Chevrolet Malibu

Manufacturer’s web site
Chevrolet Canada

By Paul Williams
Photos courtesy General Motors

Photo Gallery:
2013 Chevrolet Malibu

Although many consumers now favour SUVs for family transportation, the midsize sedan still accounts for 20 percent of vehicle purchases in the Canadian market. Although declining, it’s still a highly competitive segment, with 2013 seeing all-new vehicles from Honda, Nissan, Ford and Chevrolet.

The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu was actually available early in 2012, which means it had a head start on its competition for most of this year. The Malibu Eco, starting at $27,940 (plus $1,500 freight) for the base “1LT” version, is the hybrid model, billed as the most fuel efficient Malibu ever.

Our more comprehensively equipped “2LT” test car came with a retail price of $33,465 (plus freight) due to the addition of a $965 premium audio system, a $1,670 Eco Premium package that includes leather upholstery with heatable front seats, and an $1,195 sunroof. A navigation system would further increase the price by $795. The 2LT base price is $29,160.

Standard equipment is generous, but the key distinguishing feature of the Malibu Eco is its hybrid “eAssist” drivetrain. The 182-hp 2.4L four-cylinder direct-injected engine works in conjunction with a lithium-ion battery and a 15-kW motor/generator that together reduce fuel consumption to 8.1/5.3 L/100 km city/highway according to Transport Canada estimates. In other Malibu models, the 2.5L returns an estimated 9.2/5.7 L/100 km and the 2.0L turbo manages 10.1/6.6 L/100 km.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco
2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco. Click image to enlarge

The transmission is a six-speed automatic and the Malibu Eco’s eAssist system features automatic start-stop functionality (the engine shuts down at stop lights to save fuel), regenerative braking that charges the air-cooled battery, and aggressive fuel cut-off during deceleration. An active shutter system in the grille automatically closes airflow through the lower intake to enhance aerodynamics and reduce fuel consumption based on engine coolant temperature and speed.

Exterior design of the Malibu Eco is not significantly different from other 2013 Malibu models, although 17-inch alloy wheels are standard. At the rear, the car borrows some styling cues from the Chevrolet Camaro that are echoed inside by the Camaro-style gauge cluster. The new Malibu is wider than the outgoing model, adding more than 113 L of interior volume and 76 mm of cockpit width, which translates to more shoulder and hip room front and rear.

The Malibu rides on General Motors’ “global midsize platform” and is a vehicle that in various iterations will be sold in countries around the world.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco
2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco
2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco. Click image to enlarge

The Malibu Eco’s interior is designed to look upscale, featuring metallic, chrome, or wood accents, blue ambient lighting and the optional leather upholstery that uses contrasting stitching to suggest a handcrafted look. The multi-adjustable seats are bolstered with firmer foam and frames made of high-strength steel designed for long-distance comfort and durability.

The seven-inch display atop the centre stack cleverly flips up at the press of a button, revealing a handy storage area for small items. Bluetooth connectivity is standard, as is audio streaming and OnStar with a six-month free trial of the Directions and Connections package. A rear-view camera helps when reversing.

On the road, the 2013 Malibu is super quiet. Indeed, Chevrolet points out that this is the quietest car ever built by the company thanks to its sound-reducing and sound-absorbing components, along with the “aero-optimized” exterior.

The interior for front-seat occupants is spacious enough, although storage areas are strangely absent in the cockpit area, with no handy places built into centre console or at the base of the centre stack to put a phone, wallet or other small items. The door pockets will hold small bottles but the cupholders behind the seats are too close to each other and situated too far back in the console for easy access. They end up being receptacles for odds and ends, until your beverage displaces them.

Rear seat passengers will have to work for comfort, however. Even with the front seats located forward on their tracks, there’s little room for legs and feet back there.

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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