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2013 Chevrolet Malibu ECO Test Drive By Henny Hemmes

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2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco

By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
The Auto Channel

REDONDO BEACH, February 14, 2013. Even though the new Malibu was out for a while last year, I had not yet driven this new Chevy. So I was glad to test the Malibu and even more, because it was the Eco model, which is on the list of nominees for the 2013 World Green Car awards.

Looking up the specifications of the Malibu Eco, I realized that some people think that this variant is a hybrid model. Well, it is not, as it cannot run on the electric motor exclusively. But it has brake energy regeneration that stores energy in a lithium ion battery to power the accessories when the engine is not running and a small, 15 hp electric motor to boost output. GM uses the technology for the eAssist models of the Buick LaCrosse and Regal. The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu does not get the eAssist label, but rather ‘Eco’, symbolizing it as a fuel efficient model.

After the test drive we will see if it is possible to come close to the 25/37 city/highway, or an combined fuel economy of some 29 mpg. On paper it is the most fuel-efficient Malibu ever.

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Under the hood is the Ecotec 2.4-liter gasoline engine with variable valve timing and direct injection. The power plant is teamed to a six-speed automatic transmission. The combined output of the four-cylinder and the electric motor is 182 hp/134 kW with 172 lb-ft/233 Nm of torque at4,900 rpm.

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The Malibu is built on the same chassis as the Opel Insignia, a model that is well appreciated in Europe. By the way, this Epsilon II platform hosts a third GM model, the Buick Regal, but all three have their own set up of the suspension, with the Opel tuned for Europe which delivers a firmer ride than the Malibu.

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>Back to the Malibu Eco, which is available in two variants, the 1SA and the 2SA and is only available in North America. Standard features on the 1SA are 10 airbags and 17-inch aluminum wheels with eco tires, which means they have a low rolling resistance, driver memory, dual zone automatic climate control, MyLink touch radio and Bluetooth streaming audio for music and select phones. The 2SA has extras such as a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, an 8-way power adjustable driver seat, rear vision camera, remote vehicle starter system and Pioneer premium 9-speaker sound system. On the outside the 2SA is noticeable by the fog lamps and side moldings in body color. A panorama roof is available.

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The exterior design of the Malibu is somewhat mainstream, not bad, but not exiting. I like the square taillights that look like those of the Camaro, but the upward shape of the deck lid is somewhat outmoded: it looks a bit like the ‘Bangle butt’ of the former generation BMW’s. Anyway, closing the lid after loading your suitcases does not mean they will be crushed, since the spaces that the hinges need to sink down, are covered.

The dual layout of the cockpit looks nice and sporty, and the materials look and feel well. I also like the dual gauges in the instrument panel, that also reflects a family tie with the Camaro.

The right position behind the steering wheel is easy to find and visibility is good. I like the rear vision camera system, that is getting more popular in this segment. The bucket seat gives good support and the size of there is enough space for legs and head. However in the back, the passengers should not be tall, as leg space is limited.

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Alas, the ambient lighting proved to be a nuisance on the dark roads through the mountains during my trip from the coast to Indian Wells. The blue lighting is bright, too bright and the strip that runs along the dashboard all the way to the right gives the impression that there is a car behind you that lights up the Malibu’s interior. It also lights up the chrome details nearby. It could not be dimmed, switched off, nor could the color be changed.

Another ‘con’ in my opinion, is the basic OnStar system. Indeed, the connection with the person in the control room is made in a second and the desired route is quickly loaded, so you can start your trip instantly. But not being familiar with the back roads, with the small towns and villages along the route of my trip, I felt left in the blue (literally at night…!) Usually I take a road map with me for easy reference, but without it, I sometimes had no clue where I was. In the Cadillac ATS that I tested later, the OnStar was combined with map on the monitor, which is much better.

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Driving the Malibu Eco was a pleasant experience. The suspension is firm but not uncomfortable, handling is good and the ride is stable and pleasant. The automatic start-stop functions seamless and the engine reacts willingly to the input of the right foot, with enough power to pass slower traffic on two lane roads. When cruising at 75 mph, the engine runs absolutely quiet at about 1800 rpm. The six-speed automatic transmission works smoothly, but when you brake it feels like hesitating a bit before downshifting. In that case you better use manual shift control, which is standard for this transmission.

The steering feels a bit vague, not only on the straight roads, but also in the corners. It may be due to the low resistance tires, which also squeal around the corners. That is probably no issue for people who chose an Eco model. They go for the excellent fuel efficiency in combination with pleasant manners, a good looking exterior and a, nicely executed cabin. In those respects the Malibu Eco will meet their needs.

And yes, I promised to tell you about the mileage: the Malibu used an average of 27.89 mpg for my test drive of 324 miles. We may call that mainstream as well. But is proven to be not enough to be ranked among the five finalists for the World Green Car Award, for which the last three will be announced at the 2013 Geneva auto show.

The standard price of the Malibu Eco in 2SA trim is $ 27,705. With the leather package that includes; leather appointed seat trim and heated driver and front passenger seats, crystal red tint coat and cocoa trim the price as tested amounts to $ 29,940 including destination charge.

Another option is the 197 hp strong 2.5-liter 2LT model, that has a fuel efficiency of 22/34 city highway and starts at $ 25,700 (MSRP). But that is a question of calculating if you drive enough miles to earn back the extra money invested in the Eco model.