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2013 Chevrolet Malibu ECO Review By Steve Purdy

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2013 Chevrolet Malibu ECO

By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

From last week’s 23 mpg Chevy Equinox compact CUV to this week’s 33 mpg Malibu Eco mild hybrid sedan we learned much about Chevrolet’s new cachet. Since the current product cycle began just a few years ago with the Saturn Aura and the last generation Malibu, everything has gone upscale, most noticeably in interior quality and design, but just as importantly in fundamental engineering, powertrains, suspensions and added technology.

This 2013 Malibu Eco is the first of this eighth generation of the venerable midsize, front-wheel drive family sedan to hit showrooms. Throughout the product cycles Malibu has been a best seller in this, perhaps the largest single market segment. As a mainstream player earlier generations of Malibu remained conservative but beginning with the 7th generation they have added considerable panache.

GM garnered many accolades for significantly upgrading their interiors on the past two generations of cars across the brands, and this new Malibu is a fine example. A new more textured dash covering reminds me of turtle skin. Swooping, sculpted lines define a dual cockpit layout. Soft-colored stitching trims the instrument brow, door panels and the leather seats (part of the Leather Package) and striking blue ambient lighting makes our after-dark driving quite a lovely aesthetic experience.

Freshened exterior styling for 2013 includes a dramatic new rear view with Camaro-inspired dual, nearly-square taillights on each side and a strong-shouldered deck. Headlights get a bit more drama as well swooping from the grille nearly half way to the A-pillar. The lower grille features active shutters for better cooling and aerodynamics.

Truly a world car, Malibu will be sold in nearly 100 countries on six continents, according to the Chevy folks, but this Eco model will only be in North America initially.

The Eco designation means that GM has applied eAssist technology, meaning a hint of hybrid. The small 1.4-liter direct-injected engine is assisted by an electric motor/generator worth 79 to 110 pound-feet of extra torque (depending on conditions) when you need it. A 15 kW lithium-ion battery back stores enough extra electrons to enhance the driving efficiency by feeding power into the car on acceleration, and it soaks up some otherwise wasted energy on deceleration by way of regenerative braking. Along with stop/start and a fuel shut-off for coasting, low-rolling-resistance tires and extra aerodynamics enhance the Eco’s efficiency. A six-speed automatic transmission is well integrated into the overall power delivery. The cost of this system is significant but less than a full hybrid.

The Malibu Eco is rated at 25mpg in the city, 37 on the highway and combined mileage is claimed to be 29. In mixed driving this week, probably about 60% on the highway, I experienced 34mpg. I move along briskly with the faster traffic and have an unapologetically spirited driving style, so I’m guessing I could easily make the predicted 37mpg if I tried. With a 15.8-gallon fuel tank the expected cruising range will be well over 400 miles, using regular fuel.

Our Eco tester in the 2SA trim level shows a base price of $25,995 (about a grand more than the basic Eco) and includes premium audio, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and fog lamps. With the $1,300 Leather Package (leather seat trim, front passenger seat adjuster and heated front seats), the optional crystal red paint and cocoa fashion trim plus the $760 destination charge we’re looking at a bottom line on the sticker of $29,380.

“So, how does it drive,” you ask?

“Just fine,” I reply. The electric assist transitions are virtually imperceptible, and acceleration is excellent. Cruising on the highway at speed we mash the go-pedal and launch as if we were powered by a sturdy V6. As with any regenerative braking system we feel that bit of a slowing lurch as we decelerate. Otherwise we could not tell it was anything but a common Malibu.

With an entirely conventional suspension design – McPherson struts up front and an independent multi-ling rear arrangement – the ride and handling are just fine. While it has no particular sporty character it does have a decent level of sophistication and handling is as good as anything in its class.

Whether the extra cost of the Eco is worth it may depend on both the amount of driving you do and perhaps your political philosophy. You’re essentially paying about 2 or 3 grand extra to get all those extra components so you’ll need to run the numbers to see if it makes sense economically for you. Let’s just say if your goal is to make a political or environmental statement, it would be more of a whisper than a shout.

Coincidentally, my brother-in-law Rick, who is quite knowledgeable and astute about cars and does his research, is contemplating giving up his old Chevy pickup with dismal mileage for something more efficient. But he wants something with some panache. The Malibu Eco rose near the top of his list and he asked me what I thought of it.

I told him, without reservation, that the top of his list is right where this one ought to be.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions