By Jim MacPherson
It only takes a short drive in the completely redesigned 2013 Chevrolet Malibu to realize that this car is aimed at families.
The styling is bold, yet pleasingly handsome, the suspension swallows bumps effortlessly and the cabin is impressively quiet on the highway. It seems the perfect car for Middle America, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
This new Malibu actually has some very big shoes (or tire treads) to fill. The previous generation Malibu, introduced in 2008, was an excellent automobile. Its performance, style and quality placed it squarely among the better midsize family sedans.
As for the new Malibu, Jim Frageau, one of the general sales managers at Gengras Chevrolet in East Hartford, says that the new body design has really taken hold with the public. “It’s a hint at future Chevrolets. It has some character to it,” Frageau says.
An eAssist model is the only version currently offered. This uses an electric motor-generator, hybrid style, to help the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine.
“It captures energy while going downhill, conserves it at highway speeds and unleashes it going uphill,” Frageau says.
However, the heart of this system, the motor-generator, isn’t sandwiched between the engine and transmission, as is common in other gasoline-electric hybrids. Rather, it’s hung on the side of the engine, replacing the alternator. It provides its assistance using a robust drive belt.
If regular readers feel that this has all been covered before, they’re correct. The system is also used in the eAssist Buick LaCrosse, reviewed in February.
Chevrolet will offer Malibu buyers a non-hybrid lineup consisting of the now familiar LS, LT and LTZ trim levels later in the year. These models feature a new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Frageau estimates they will arrive in four- to-six months. All Malibus have a six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive.
A V-6 engine option is missing from this lineup, as Chevrolet, along with other automakers competing in this class, has dropped it. All have concluded that the family sedan market is not crying out for V-6 power, and sales statistics support that view. Our recent flirtation with $4-a-gallon gasoline has only reinforced this trend.
Engine performance is lively for family use. Power-hungry customers weren’t about to buy a Malibu four-door sedan or any of its competitors anyway, so our 0-60 run in 8.9 seconds should be considered sufficient. Only on full-throttle acceleration do the audible trademarks of a four-cylinder engine appear. The transmission shifts well.
The ride is smooth and very quiet. Handling is secure, with the electric power assisted steering offering reasonable feedback and precision. Brake pedal feel is also very good.
The cabin is finished to standards that belie the price. Frageau calls the quality “top notch.”
Chevrolet notes that interior passenger volume is up by about three cubic feet. Passengers familiar with the last Malibu, however, may be skeptical. The wheelbase lost 4.5 inches with the redesign and the back seat of the new Malibu is not as welcoming to taller adults as the prior Malibu’s back seat. The greater passenger volume comes from an increase in width, so shoulder room is better and the sense of space is good.
The trunk of the eAssist Malibu is good, but not quite as roomy as you’d expect. The lithium-ion battery pack that powers the motor-generator takes some room and also eliminates the option of folding the right side of the split and folding rear seat.
These quibbles notwithstanding, the 2013 Malibu should give its competition a run for the money. It looks good, drives nicely, has a nice interior and is quiet beyond expectation at this price level.
Starts at: $25,235
Engine: 2.4-liter four-cylinder with eAssist.
172 lb-ft of torque.
Electric Motor: 15 kW
Next Week: Nissan Juke