2013 Chevrolet Malibu ECO review
|Chevy's mild hybrid comes wrapped in luxury|
|Why we’d buy it: Good highway cruiser, eAssist, smart controls, styling.|
|Why we wouldn’t: Back seat room, trunk layout|
|Mileage: 25 city, 37 highway. Review by Bill Cawthon.|
It’s been years since I’ve had any serious experience with a Malibu. A good friend had a 1970 Malibu coupe back when they were still called Chevelles. It was a pretty nice car. Some years later, I had a 1980 sedan as a company car; it was a fleet car, dedicated to the proposition that driving is solely about traveling from Point A to Point B and then forgetting that you did.
So it was with great interest that I took temporary possession of a 2013 Black Granite Metallic Malibu ECO.
I am still not completely happy with the Silverado-inspired front end but, to my eye, it blends with the new body styling better than it did with the previous iteration. The new design is less anonymous, and judging by the number of new Malibus I see in the Greater Heatstroke area, a lot of folks are happy with it. When it comes to the numbers, the Malibu is always among the best-selling passenger cars.
The 2013 Malibu ECO is a different car from its predecessors, both in theory and in practice. The pieces fit, panel lines are straight and true, and everything feels solid. The interior, complete with $1,300 of optional leather, is a comfortable, roomy place, tastefully decorated with pleasing textures. Some might fret about the number of textures but each piece has a purpose to serve and a material from which it needs to be made. Suffice it to say that Chevrolet's interior designers did a nice job of blending them.
Hats off to the men and women in Kansas City who assembled this particular Malibu; they did a good job. The fit and finish was impressive; not just in comparison to that old Malibu, but to a fair amount of contemporary competition. Credit Bob Lutz with persuading General Motors that interiors do matter.
The bucket seats are comfortable, though a bit lacking in side support, and front seat legroom is all anyone not in the NBA could ask. The only complaint about the Malibu’s ability to accommodate someone with long legs in front is going to come from whoever sits behind them. The new Malibu is slightly shorter in length than the previous model and rear seat occupants are the ones who pay the price. The front seat doesn't even have to be at its full rearward travel before there isn't enough legroom back there for anyone who isn't in a toddler seat. Fortunately, most drivers will be able to use the power-adjusted seat and tilt-and-telescope steering wheel to find a position that is comfortable for them and for an actual adult in the rear.
A non-adjustable issue with the Malibu arises when an adult enters or exits through the rear door. For a taller person, it can be awkward because they have to twist and fold to avoid hitting their head on the top of the door opening. Once inside, the headroom is reasonable for most people.
Sliding behind the steering wheel, one is confronted with enough controls to make a jet pilot feel right at home. There's a seven-inch color touch screen in the center stack, two square instrument bezels containing the speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge and one gauge labeled "ECO." Between the two main gauge clusters is a small, color information screen with the odometer, trip odometer, a compass and gear selection.The center stack is crowned with the touch screen. Our ECO didn't come with the navigation system, so the touch screen was primarily dedicated to the infotainment system and the rearview camera. The car comes with a three-month trial subscription to XM radio and a six-month subscription to OnStar directions.In addition to screens for selecting inputs, stations, etc., there is a screen that shows the status of the car's power system. It displays when the regular engine is driving the, the regenerative braking charging, and when the electric motor is in use. While that's a nifty extra, it's not only useless most of the time, since you know what's happening, watching it long enough to get any information would be a major distraction.
However, Chevy's engineers redeem themselves in a big way: not only are the majority of the touch-screen controls replicated in easy-to-locate-and-operate pushbuttons and knobs, volume and scan controls are located on the steering wheel within easy reach of the right thumb as are the Bluetooth phone controls. This allows the driver to save the more complex, i.e., multi-screen, multi-touch, decisions for times when the vehicle is parked. This may seem like a thoroughly Luddite attitude, but I've seen distracted driving in action and it ain't pretty.
In the overhead panel is a storage binnacle for sunglasses, interior lights and the HomeLink controls. The rearview mirror has the OnStar buttons for routine matters and emergencies.
The trunk volume is 14.3 cubic feet, but the eAssist system takes up a couple of cubic feet behind the rear seat on the passenger side, leaving a small shelf that isn't really useful for normal luggage, though something like a gym bag would fit. A family of four on a weeklong trip would probably want to pack carefully.
Once started, the Malibu got to really show its stuff. The air-conditioning was first-rate; though Houston's afternoon heat indices have ranged up to 105 recently, the Malibu's automatic climate control had the interior at a livable temperature quickly. The leather was comfortable and the nine-speaker Pioneer sound system had plenty of power to give good bass response. All the makings of a car that a family could live with for a long time.
The Malibu ECO has GM's eAssist mild hybrid system, otherwise known as a belted alternator starter system. The system uses an alternator both to generate electricity and as a motor to start or assist the engine. The alternator charges a battery mounted in the trunk; when the car comes to a complete stop, the regular engine shuts off. The the driver presses on the accelerator, the battery sends current to the alternator, which then gets the car rolling as it fires up the engine. It actually takes longer to explain than it does to happen; the only way the system makes itself known to the driver is by watching the tachometer. The eAssist system also gives the engine a little extra power in hard acceleration situations, such as passing. The difference between eAssist and a true hybrid is that the eAssist car, other than momentarily when starting up, never actually propels the car.
The eAssist system also doesn't deliver the fuel economy of a hybrid. The Malibu ECO is rated at 25 City/37 Highway/29 Combined, not exactly Prius territory, but better than the 22 City/33 Highway/26 Combined rating for a 2012 Malibu Flex-Fuel. What's important to remember is while a single car's reduction might be small, GM will sell thousands of Chevrolet and Buicks with the eAssist system, reducing fuel consumption by millions of gallons and CO2 emissions by thousands of tons over their lifetime.
Incidentally, the eAssist start/stop system doesn't work when there is a load on the engine, such as the air-conditioning blowing at full volume. Once the car is cooled, dial back on the A/C and the system reengages.
The Malibu has an electrically actuated parking brake with the switch mounted by the gear selector lever. Pull up to engage, push down to release: there's an indicator in the tachometer bezel to let you know the status of the brake.
Shifting into reverse activates the rearview camera, one of the better electronic options on the market, especially if you live in a neighborhood with small children. Day or night, you get an excellent wide-angle view. Next, we want to see the rearview periscope which will allow you to back out from between two big SUVs without getting your tail clipped.
Driving the Malibu is, well, like driving a good family sedan: pleasant and effortless. The ride is smooth; the steering is responsive; the seats are comfy; the iPod's plugged in; all's well with the world. There is a fair amount of road noise from the tires, but there's no wind noise, even at highway speeds.
Considering that a 3,620-pound car is being pulled by a 2.4-liter non-turbocharged four, acceleration is graceful but adequate for most driving, including entering freeway traffic.
As mentioned earlier, there is a small gauge below the tachometer labeled "ECO." The gauge has a green section in the middle with white markings to either side. There are no numbers or anything else to tell the driver how well he or she is doing, ECO-wise, so it seems the goal is to keep the red pointer centered in the green. This becomes a game; one that might improve mileage as you try to keep the needle centered. The problem with "ECO" is that nobody at GM seems to remember that the National Maximum Speed Law was repealed in 1995. Posted highway speed limits in my area range from 65 to 75 and "ECO" doesn't like any of them.
This is not to say the Malibu can't keep up with traffic: Testing by independent sources gives the Malibu ECO a top speed of 118; more than adequate for the target market. We didn't press the car's limits but did take the Malibu out to a stretch of highway where the limit was 75 and the car hit that mark easily with enough reserve for prudent passing. The key word here is "prudent" because when it's time to put the pedal down, the four is fairly vocal and rough-sounding yet the ECO doesn't seem to move that much more quickly. Plan your passing and you'll be fine.
The ECO also handled well in emergencies; an unexpected opportunity to test this in an avoidance situation at highway speeds came after rounding a curve and to find bits and pieces of somebody's load in the middle of the highway. The car responded well; the steering was fast and true and there was never a hint of the car losing its composure. For a family sedan, you could do a lot worse.
Around town, where the limits range from 30 to 45, the Malibu does just fine. It's easy to just blend in; drive like they taught back in driver's ed and enjoy the ride.
The Malibu has GM's Hydra-Matic 6T40 six-speed transmission. The shift indicator is marked "P-R-N-D-M" where "M" stands for "manual." On the top of the shift lever is a rocker switch that when the transmission is in "M" allows you to select upshifts and downshifts. Unfortunately, someone expecting the performance of some other multi-clutch transmissions, like Volkswagen's dual-clutch design, are going to be disappointed. The GM transmission doesn't allow the fine control over shifting and anytime the driver selects a gear the transmission doesn't like, a "Shift not accepted!" message appears in the driver's display. VW's transmission can override a bad choice, too, but it doesn't insult you. The manual selection capability is mostly likely there for things like long mountain ascents or descents, not more spirited driving.
One of the best times to drive the Malibu ECO is at night. When you first experience it, the soft blue lighting that extends from door to door gives the impression of being in a UFO; bands of blue light are everywhere. But the hue and level allow dashboard, control and instrument lighting to be sufficiently bright without being garish or distracting. It also adds an upscale touch to the ambiance.
When all is said and done, the 2013 Malibu ECO is a good car. At $27,605.00, including destination, the base price seems a bit high, but the standard equipment list* is extensive: our review car had just two extra-cost options, the leather and the paint, which brought the final price up to $29,100, not including tax, title and license.
If buying American is important to you, the Malibu is built in the USA with 62% domestic content including the engine and transmission.
Standard features include stability and traction control, OnStar with six-month subscription, rearview camera, power windows and locks, SiriusXM satellite radio with 3-month subscription, remote start, automatic dual-zone climate control, tilt-and-telescopic steering column, MyLink, touchscreen radio, auxiliary audio jack, USB port, Pioneer audio system, cruise control, fog lights, and heated front seats.
Chevrolet has produced a car that is very comfortable, pleasant to drive and saves a bit on gas expenses. Moreover, the Malibu feels like an upscale car, with a quality of materials and assembly that speaks volumes about the changes at General Motors.
The Malibu is an important car for General Motors. Last year, automakers sold about two million 4-door sedans in the Malibu's range last year, making that segment one of the largest in the industry. Yes, lots of them go to rental fleets, but the majority find homes with American families looking for good transportation and good value. Based on those criteria, the new Malibu ECO is strong competitor and definitely worthy of consideration.