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2013 Chevrolet Malibu: Right car, right time

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2013 Chevrolet Malibu: Right car, right time

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco

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POSTED October 10, 2012 7:04 p.m.

Big changes have occurred for the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu.

The new model is based on a different "global" platform with three four-cylinder engine choices, including a mild-hybrid eAssist and a turbocharged 2.0-liter that has more power than the V-6 it replaces.

With a wheelbase that is 4.5 inches shorter than the 2012 model, the car is about the same length as before but almost 3 inches wider and about a half inch taller. The big interior benefit is about 2 inches more shoulder room and still more than 3 feet of rear legroom. Shortening the wheelbase lopped 2 feet off the turning circle, now at 37.4 feet.

And the styling is completely different. If the previous generation Malibu was a "destination" car for its distinctive lines, the 2013 will be the choice for its refined interior.

I tested a Malibu Eco, the first of the 2013 models available. Sold in two trim levels, the Eco has a starting price of $25,995, including the $760 freight rate from the Kansas City, Kan., factory. Today's test car, a top-line Eco 2SA, starts at $27,605 and was $29,380 with options.

For those who spend hours in a daily commute, the test car was entry-level luxurious in presence and appeal ... for less than $30,000.

With fuel economy of 25 mpg city and 37 highway, the Malibu Eco could be the right car at the right time for Chevrolet. And for the money, there is a lot going on under the skin and a lot of features.

Unique to the Eco is its mild-hybrid powertrain of a 2.4-liter, direct-injection four-cylinder with the eAssist electric motor generator and lithium-ion battery. The system does not power the car on battery alone but gives an assist on hard acceleration and shuts off the engine when at idle, such as at a traffic light. There also is regenerative braking, which reroutes energy backward through the motor generator and to the battery. A topped-off charge helps the car run longer on electricity when on auto-stop. If the battery runs low on auto-stop, the engine starts to maintain cabin functions.

eAssist is a smart and simple hybrid system, which Chevy (and other GM divisions) offered previously to a less than eager public reception. With 182-hp and the six-speed automatic transmission, there is no hesitation for power. I know the goal here is gentle power for max fuel economy, but there's plenty of juice for highway merging and passing. The launch can be forceful when hard on the throttle, taking advantage of a 15-hp eAssist boost. On a run back from L.A., I was able to build the average fuel economy to 36.1 and was still building tenths when I reached home. The EPA combined city/highway rating is 29, and it seemed acceptable that I was getting 22 to 29 mpg, according to the onboard computer.

Other fuel-saving Eco features include:

—An aluminum hood and rear bumper beam, low-mass carpet and dash mat. About 130 pounds were trimmed over a standard Malibu.

—An Eco gauge in the cluster responds to driving behavior, encouraging fuel-efficient driving. An Auto Stop Indicator on the tachometer informs the driver when the engine is in start-stop mode.

—17-inch low-rolling-resistance all-season Goodyear Assurance tires.

—Fuel cut-off during deceleration.

The shutter is open or closed based on engine-coolant temperature and speed. For example, the shutters open when traveling up a hill, pulling a trailer or in hot city driving; the shutters close at highway speeds when less engine cooling is required.

And it is the quietest Malibu yet, with such soundproofing tricks as tighter door seals to block wind leakage, acoustic-laminate windshield and front door glass, liquid-applied and melt-on sound-deadening materials and 16 expanding-foam acoustic baffles stuffed in passageways.

There is deep detail throughout the interior, including the woven-fabric headliner and overhead grab handles at every door, with coat hooks at the rear handles. The rich texture and appearance of the leather — with piping and stitching — seems more Cadillac than Chevy. The zebra-like pattern in the faux wood trim has radiant depth.

The front armrest console has covered cup holders, a padded top and hookups for USB, iPod and 12-volt plug in the storage base. There's also a storage box (six inches deep) behind the seven-inch touchscreen, which pivots upward for access.

The back seat has a full seat bottom, door-side storage and a bottle holder, a fold-down armrest with cup holders and storage and a ski-pass-through. But with no center head restraint, this is 4 plus 1 seating.

Trunk space of 14.3 cubic feet is short by two from the standard Malibu for the lithium-ion battery storage, but the usable space is large and open. One side of the back seat still folds for expanded capacity.

Malibu is an American-class cruiser: comfortable and solid with room to spread out. With the new 54.5 mpg fuel economy standard for 2025, eAssist is just the beginning of electrified, mainstream cars.

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