Often perceived as bland and boring, one of the most competitive automobile segments of all in this country is the midsize sedan. The midsize sedan is the ideal vehicle for an enormous number of buyers, from those seeking well-designed space and utility, to those desiring comfort and fuel economy. Now achieving the fuel economy that only compacts once could, these cars maneuver us throughout suburbia, bring us to and from our work, and navigate us in the city, while - most important to us at theCD - being safer.
They do so many things well.
Those of us who don’t live and breathe the auto industry will agree that a 350 horsepower six-speed manual with a firm suspension is not a pragmatic daily requirement, unless giving charitable donations to the police & insurance company budgets is one’s goal.
That leaves two big clouds in the sky: one of journalists seeking performance family vehicles [an oxymoron], and the other of Ben and Rachel, wanting comfort and quiet on their daily commutes, the ability to stop by the home improvement store on their way home for mulch, and a weekend road trip staycation.
This opens the door to the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco: quiet, fuel efficient, spacious, and modern - the sharp focus of Chevrolet’s 2013 model team, building off the successful previous generation.
More muscular, defined, and Camaro-like than previous renditions, the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco sports a similar front-end, but a distinctly different derriere for 2013.
Aerodynamic design enhancements combined with this new body style to help engineers mitigate the fuel-economy-robbing wind drag of the former model. Drag coefficient (Cd) is the number used to indicate the aerodynamic drag force on a vehicle; the previous Malibu had a .35 Cd while the new 2013 Malibu Eco’s coefficient of drag rating comes in at an improved .30.
“Aerodynamics is driven by science,” said John Bednarchik, Chevrolet Malibu lead aerodynamic engineer. “While car designers favor wheel flares, sharp creases, and other details that add style to a car, what catches the eye may disrupt the airflow, creating unwanted air turbulence and increasing drag.”
The design didn’t suffer much, if at all, as we enjoyed the sporty character of the front end, the familiar Chevrolet signature with its split honeycomb grille face, and new projector-style headlights that worked phenomenally during our nighttime driving.
For the first time on a Chevrolet midsize sedan, the 2013 Malibu Eco features active aerodynamics, which change the body surface geometry of the vehicle. In laymen’s terms, this means that the Malibu Eco includes a pair of louvers in the lower grill opening of the front fascia that open or close automatically to maximize aerodynamic efficiency. This increases airflow in certain conditions, such as high-engine loads at low speeds, while remaining closed as often as possible to reduce aerodynamic drag.
Unlike some similar systems which merely activate when traveling above or below certain speeds, the aerodynamic shutters in the Malibu have a GM proprietary algorithm that monitors several variables in real time, including engine load, vehicle speeds, and ambient temperature, to determine if the shutters should be opened or closed.
Four underbody panels, two in the mid-body area under the floor pan on either side of the center tunnel, and two in the rear area covering the fuel tank and rear area on either side of the exhaust contribute to reduce underbody drag. Constructed of a black composite material, the panels cover approximately half of the underbody.
With so much invested into improving the aerodynamics of the 2013 Malibu Eco, we were worried that some Fun to Drive aspects seen in the other new Chevys would be lost. Thankfully, we were wrong.
If secure and predictable handling mated to a quick, and efficient powertrain is your wish, then the American-built 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco is our command.
Based on GM’s Epsilon II platform, [the same as the new Buick Regal], Malibu Eco drives like the modern car it is, but has a spirit of agility beneath. We felt its fun soul as we accelerated through the corners, and we definitely saw it wink at us along the winding, serpentine, orchard-lined Seaway Trail paralleling Lake Ontario.
The electric steering was predictable, with a bit of on-center vagueness, but the perfect balance of heft and assistance was omnipresent, affording secure confidence at highway speeds, and making precarious parking lots a cinch to maneuver.
As for the Eco part of the 2013 Malibu, we were intrigued by GM’s choice of light electrification over a full hybrid as in the Camry and Fusion. In the Malibu, the battery pack along with a small electric motor assist the 2.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine during certain situations to reduce fuel consumption. This assistance system means the Malibu can’t be propelled solely on electric power, an aspect of hybrid or electrified vehicles that many seek, or depending on one’s outlook, avoid.
Fuel savings is achieved through the aforementioned aerodynamic enhancements, automatic engine start/stop, and by helping the engine work less during certain acceleration situations.
During the week long drive of our test vehicle, we immediately defined the 2013 Malibu Eco as being THE smoothest hybrid vehicle we’ve ever driven; power delivery was linear and quick. The six-speed transmission and electrically assisted powertrain created a seamless driving experience which felt precisely like that of the traditional gas engine vehicle; the “jolt” we sometimes feel and dislike in many hybrids was a non-issue here.
We neither felt engine vibrations during automatic starting and stopping at traffic lights, nor heard any unfamiliar sounds created by the electrical assistance components. The same cannot be said for other full hybrids that we’ve driven.
Braking performance was equally as impressive. The pedal felt slightly numb during initial depression, but quickly gained the solid feel of four calipers grasping large rotors within the 17-inch alloy wheels. Nose-dive was minimal and the low-rolling-resistance tires did an impressive job of gripping every square inch of pavement to stop the Malibu Eco quickly.
Over several days of mostly city driving, we averaged 28.6-MPG, beating the 25-MPG rating by the EPA. We drove with windows up, and the climate control in “eco” mode; this smart feature reduces the load on the engine and we validated that it enhanced our fuel efficiency.
During a highway drive south of Rochester, with windows up and AC operating in “eco” mode, our Malibu Eco found its chi, returning a commendable 39.2-MPG.
One potential concern with innovative vehicles such as the Malibu Eco is warranty coverage; thankfully, Chevrolet has full faith in the engineering of its hybrid components, providing a warranty of eight years, or 100,000 miles.
The 2013 Malibu Eco bears resemblance to its previous generation, but every component from switchgear to seats has been revised. Engineers have made Malibu Chevrolet’s quietest vehicle ever, and we agreed from the moment we stepped inside.
Chevrolet is retaining their dual-cockpit design, which offers the benefits of more space for occupants, style, and versatility in other countries for right-hand drive vehicles. Soft touch and nicely textured materials cover the doors and dashboard, with metallic, wood, and chrome accents making a debut appearance. Chevrolet’s signature ice-blue lighting was everywhere we looked, from the radio controls to reflecting off the horizontal chrome strip spanning its breadth from door to door.
We loved this soothing lighting at night, but wished designers had taken notice of a serious reflection issue where the blue lighting of the horizontal chrome strip reflects directly up into the windshield, creating a huge annoyance for the driver and passenger, alike. A visibility issue results from this reflection into the windshield and side windows, also in line with the side-view mirrors. We believe a bulletin will inevitably be issued to tweak this problem, which clearly was an oversight; it wasn’t until we tested the Malibu at night that we learned of this problem.
The problem lessens as the rheostat is turned all the way down, but then the awesome beautiful visual effect is destroyed. A minor modification will make a major difference and eliminate this problem completely.
Seat comfort was superb and made simple thanks to eight-way and lumbar power adjustments for the driver and front passenger. Seats are wide with the perfect amount of lateral support enabling easy entry and exit, while at the same time offering strong support through turns.
In front of the driver is a tilt/telescoping steering column and gauges in Camaro-esque binnacles. An eco gauge is housed in the left binnacle, with the driver’s goal being to keep the needle in the solid green area for the most efficient driving. That binnacle also includes the words “Auto Stop,” which indicates when the engine has turned off.
Not often found in this segment was a color screen for the Driver Information Center. We commend Chevrolet for offering this easier to read display, which allows the driver to view fuel economy data, navigation directions, pressures for each tire, oil life, current speed, and how power is being delivered to the front wheels.
An electronic parking brake is a welcome addition to the right of the shifter, making activation as easy as closing a window. Even better, it releases automatically if the driver forgets to!
Storage space inside the 2013 Malibu Eco abounds, with one niche that is truly innovative: the 7” touch-screen radio display magically flips up with a touch of a sliding latch, revealing a 6-inch deep illuminated storage area. Cool and convenient!
Each front door pocket is molded for two bottles each, with the rear accommodating one in each. The center armrest features plenty of storage along with AUX, USB, and a 12V outlet.
In the rear, Malibu Eco offers a comfortable and roomy 60/40-split folding bench that features a long cushion for excellent thigh support. The 60% portion of the seat that folds offers a decent opening to the trunk, but is partially blocked by the battery pack. The other folding section is blocked entirely from the trunk area by the battery.
At 14.3 cubic feet, cargo volume in the trunk is diminished slightly by the battery, but the well-shaped and beautifully lined area remains highly useful.
This is where the 2013 Malibu Eco gets a major upgrade. Chevrolet’s all-new MyLink infotainment system makes its debut in this Malibu, offering smartphone integration for controlling apps like Pandora, while providing a voice recognition system that worked flawlessly during our review. The only caveat being that we had to spend a minute to read the various commands that the system understands: worth the investment.
Prior to reading the short user’s guide I was saying, “Tune to XM Channel 16,” but it failed to operate properly. Then after reading the instructions, I learned that it wasn’t failing to operate properly whatsoever; I was failing to express the command properly!
I learned that “to” and “channel” are unnecessary. After having learned the directions, commanding: “Tune XM 16” or “Tune XM The Blend” worked flawlessly each and every time without fail. It makes sense, because “to” sounds like the digit “two”, and could cause complicated confusion, along with the word “channel” being obvious, so therefore unnecessary, serving only as “TMI”.
Specific commands are available with every audio source, from the radio tuner to Bluetooth audio, allowing the driver to locate and play songs by artist, album, or genre. The thumbs up/down function for Pandora worked well, also.
One area for enhancement is reprogramming the system so that after commanding “Tune AM 1610” the system should say, “tuning to sixteen-ten”, not “tuning to one thousand six hundred and ten”. People refer to WHAM as 1180AM, that is, “eleven eighty”, not “one thousand one hundred and eighty.” That looked like a simple oversight, but it resulted in far too much auditory annoyance.
Bluetooth streaming audio and phone calling is standard with MyLink, and the Pioneer sound system [through which all auditory output emanates] has plenty of depth and bass as the 9-speaker, 250-watt system channels sound beautifully through the cabin.
The large screen offers a clear view of the Energy Monitor showing the sources and flow of energy, along with battery charge and regenerative braking.
A remote starter is also standard, which begins cooling or heating the cabin prior to stepping foot into the Malibu Eco. With OnStar standard, using a smartphone or a computer, the Malibu Eco can be started/turned off, unlocked/locked, and more - from anywhere.
Midsize sedans are among the hardest-working haulers on the road, and Chevrolet wanted to make sure the 2013 Malibu Eco was able to protect the driver and passengers before, during, and after a crash. Malibu features advanced braking and chassis control technologies, and a structure comprised of 65-percent high-strength and ultra high-strength steels.
Besides the technology seen on every new vehicle, such as electronic stability control, traction control, and anti-lock braking, the 2013 Malibu Eco offers another level of advanced braking technology that makes calculations thousands of times per second to keep its occupants safe.
Cornering brake control is standard and activates while the car is braking during cornering by individually varying brake pressure among all four wheels to keep the car stabilized.
Panic brake assist is exactly what its name says. The system uses inputs such as force and speed of brake pedal application, such as during a sudden “panic” situation, to apply greater brake boost than the driver ever could, bringing the vehicle to a safer stop even faster.
Electronic brake force distribution helps ensure that the optimal amount of braking force is simultaneously applied to all four wheels for maximum stability during heavy braking, while hill assist keeps the brakes engaged momentarily on inclines when the driver switches from the brake to the gas pedal.
An innovation we haven’t seen in this segment is brake fade assist, which automatically increases braking pressure under repeated, heavy braking.
Chevrolet has stated that two new technologies [which we found to be priceless], Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning, will be available in 2014 Malibu Eco models. The systems use a camera mounted on the inside rear-view mirror to “watch” the road markings and vehicles ahead. If it detects the driver leaving their lane, or a potential collision ahead, it warns the driver via audible and visual alerts, and pre-charges the braking system for maximum stopping force.
Safety isn’t only for forward driving though, and thankfully Chevrolet offers a backup camera on vehicles with the touch-screen radio. We found this to be a critical “must” in the Malibu Eco, along with virtually every other new vehicle we test, as energy-saving aerodynamics and stylish design have significantly reduced rear visibility.
Chevrolet and the other General Motors brands were the first to offer daytime running lights as standard equipment on their vehicles to increase visibility for other drivers and pedestrians. This is such a valuable and basic safety technology, that we wonder why it hasn’t become a federal motor vehicle safety standard as it has for our northern neighbors in Canada.
In the event of a crash, the engineers at Chevrolet designed the Malibu with a structure capable of absorbing the energy of a crash while preserving the structural integrity of the occupant area.
Assisting the energy absorbing structure are ten airbags, which when used in conjunction with seat belts, provide the highest likelihood of injury prevention to occupants. Most vehicles offer six airbags, but the Malibu offers a driver and front passenger knee airbag, along with rear pelvis airbags mounted in the outboard seat cushions.
After a crash, the Malibu Eco is the only vehicle in the segment that has its passengers covered with an immediate connection to OnStar. We’ve become huge fans of the OnStar system not only for emergency situations, but for getting directions and for simply making a crystal-clear phone call that rivals the superiority of landline quality over that of the typical weak cell phone.
Competition in the midsize segment is fierce.
The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco offers a lower starting price than full hybrids, exceptional fuel economy for its size, comfortable seating, solitude from the outside world, superior safety, and technology that brings it into the today’s world of connectivity.
The 2013 Malibu is aptly named; coincidentally, the “Malibu surfboard” is one with a classic shape, which has been ridden and praised by experienced surfers for its maneuverability and performance.
GM’s new Malibu is a California dream; this is a smart and efficient vehicle that performs exceptionally well, precisely as it was intelligently designed to do.