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2013 Malibu lives up to its promise

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2013 Malibu lives up to its promise

The all-new 2013 Chevrolet Malibu.

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POSTED June 27, 2012 6:48 p.m.

The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu has been completely redesigned. The mild-hybrid Eco model debuts first, while the regular lineup of trims and their standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder arrive in the summer of 2012. A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder upgrade engine should arrive some time later in the year.

"Close but no cigar." This saying could be applied pretty easily to the most recent Chevy Malibu, a family sedan that was pretty good in most respects but never went far enough to receive "best-in-class" status. The fully redesigned 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, however, with its added refinement, feature content and efficiency, finally becomes a top-tier model.

The Malibu's improvement is immediately evident once you take a seat inside. Even lesser-equipped Malibus enjoy an abundance of sound deadening, soft-touch materials, high-quality switchgear and an attractive appearance. The controls -- dominated by a touchscreen in all but the base LS trim -- are a bit more complicated than the outgoing car's, but then the 2013 Malibu is also available with a lot more equipment to control. Chevy's new MyLink system connects your smartphone to the car via a USB jack and/or the Bluetooth system, allowing for not only hands-free calling, but audio connectivity and Internet music streaming as well. The Malibu is also available with a navigation system for the first time.

In terms of size, the new Malibu is wider than the outgoing car, which results in more shoulder and hiproom. However, the wheelbase has shrunk, and that means a little less rear legroom than most other midsize family sedans provide. Still, we can't say many people will notice. Overall, the Malibu is more spacious than before, and only the tallest drivers will leave rear occupants with squished knees.

As for what's under the hood, the new Malibu will debut first with a new "Eco" setup. This pairs a rather unrefined 2.4-liter four-cylinder with a mild-hybrid system that adds some electric-motor assistance during acceleration, but primarily powers an auto stop/start system as well as certain vehicle accessories that would normally draw power from the engine-run alternator. This, in addition to aerodynamic improvements, allows the Malibu Eco to achieve an impressive 29 mpg combined fuel economy estimate from the EPA. Still it's worth noting that this figure is only 1 mpg better than what the four-cylinder-powered Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Camry achieve.

However, the 2013 Chevy Malibu will feature a new 2.5-liter four-cylinder as standard equipment starting in summer 2012, with an optional turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine arriving later in the year. (The turbocharged engine will likely serve as the car's V6 equivalent.) Official horsepower and fuel economy numbers were not available at the time of this writing, but with more power and likely more refinement than the Eco can muster, these should be the engines to get.

Given the wealth of other benefits that come with the 2013 Malibu, we think Chevrolet has risen to become a top choice for a midsize family sedan. It joins the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima and Volkswagen Passat as a model to consider heavily. Quite simply, the new Malibu feels like a more premium product. Forget "close but no cigar." The new 2013 Chevy Malibu will easily be taking home a Cohiba or two.

Standard equipment on the Eco includes 17-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, automatic headlights, keyless entry, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, OnStar, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Chevrolet MyLink smartphone integration (includes voice controls, Pandora and Sticher Internet radio compatibility), a touchscreen infotainment interface and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.

A sunroof is a stand-alone option. The Power Convenience package adds remote ignition, an eight-way power driver seat (with four-way adjustable lumbar), a rearview camera and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The Premium Audio package includes the Power Convenience items along with foglamps, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and an upgraded Pioneer sound system. The Leather package includes the contents from both of the previous two packages and adds leather upholstery and heated front seats. The Navigation package includes all of the above, along with a navigation system and driver memory functions. This all-or-nothing packaging method means it's tricky to keep the price down and get exactly what you want.

Powertrains and Performance

Eventually, the 2013 Chevy Malibu will come with a standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder or an optional 2.0-liter four-cylinder.

The Malibu Eco model comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder paired to a six-speed automatic transmission and a small electric motor. It produces 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. Unlike full-hybrid models, the mild-hybrid Malibu Eco cannot propel itself using electricity alone. Instead, the motor modestly aids acceleration, powers vehicle accessories instead of the alternator and enables an automatic stop/start system that shuts off the car at traffic lights to conserve fuel.

The 2.5-liter engine (late availability) generates 197 hp and 191 lb-ft of torque. It, too, is paired with a six-speed automatic. Specifications for the 2.0-liter turbo engine aren't yet available.

In performance testing, the Malibu Eco went from zero to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds, which is quicker than average for a four-cylinder family sedan. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 25 mpg city/37 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined. These numbers are slightly better than the thriftiest four-cylinder family sedans, but far less than what you'd get from a full hybrid sedan.

Driving Impressions

Chevrolet put a lot of effort into giving the new 2013 Malibu a supremely quiet cabin, and it was certainly a successful mission. This on-road serenity is particularly appreciated on the highway, where the Malibu offers a well-composed ride that dampens bumps without making you feel isolated from the driving experience. Handling is about what you'd expect for a family sedan -- confidence-inspiring, but we wouldn't call it fun. The steering is responsive enough and offers an appropriate amount of weighting, but provides little in the way of feel.

The Eco model's quasi-hybrid system operates seamlessly, rarely reminding the driver of its part electrification. For instance, when the engine shuts off automatically when the car comes to a stop, you don't get as much of the telltale shudder when it turns back on as is common to most auto stop/start systems. Unfortunately, the 2.4-liter four-cylinder that provides a majority of the motivation here (the electric motor provides limited assistance) sounds unrefined and feels sluggish, despite acceleration numbers that are strong for the class. The culprit is the transmission, which is eager to reach top gear and recalcitrant to kick down when needed. While this model's fuel economy is impressive, we'd probably stick with the 2.5-liter.

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