The Chevrolet Malibu has been putting new-car buyers in the midsize sedan driver's seat for quite some time now. But the car has been suspiciously absent from midsize sedan comparison tests. Midsize stars like the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima -- and more recently the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima -- have been filling the comparison-test dance cards, but good-hearted-but-well-meaning cars like the Malibu seldom got asked to the dance. The 2013 Chevy Malibu Eco may change all that.
As 2012 progresses, your local Chevy dealer's showroom will fill with new 2013 Malibu models (including a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder price leader in the summer, and a turbocharged 2.0-liter performance model later in the year), but the first of the lot is the Malibu Eco, arriving early in the year. The "Eco" part of the 2013 Malibu Eco comes from mating a 182-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with the additional power of a high-voltage, lithium-ion battery that gets recharged by capturing the juice created every time the car slows down.
That's the scenario, finished off with a 6-speed automatic transmission, and here's how it works to save you gasoline and money: The eAssist battery provides a sniff of extra power (15 hp) under heavy acceleration, which allows for a more fuel-efficient final-drive gear ratio. The 115-volt battery further enhances the Malibu Eco's fuel economy by stepping in with electrical power at times when the draw on the gasoline engine can be reduced or shut off completely, as when the Malibu Eco's "Auto-Stop" feature kicks in. Auto-Stop automatically shuts the engine off when the Malibu is stopped, say at a traffic light, while the eAssist battery stays primed to seamlessly -- and we do mean imperceptibly -- restart the engine the instant your foot lifts off the brake pedal. Chevy expects the Malibu Eco system to answer for 25 mpg in the city and 37 on the highway.
The new-for-2013 Malibu Eco isn't going to be anybody's partner of choice on the tango floor or the racetrack - its weight plays too big a role on twisty roads, and the Hyundai Sonata/Kia Optima 2.4-liter engine is the take-charge 4-cylinder of the class -- but it makes perfect sense for a nice, clean waltz across the country or a daily commute.
The front-wheel-drive 4-door's stance is about two inches wider than the Malibu it replaces, and while the rear legroom can get a little Rhode Island at times, the front-seat area is big like Texas in all directions. And the smart interior styling gets full marks for being competitive in class. That compliment goes particularly to the new Malibu's seats which elegantly combine welcome support and quality from the top-tier leather upholstery right down to the first-tier cloth seating included at the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco's base price of $25,995.
Also playing in the 2013 Malibu Eco's favor are the sound-damping work that Chevy has done to quiet the Malibu interior and the sound-sweetening work that the car's music systems deliver. Both the 6-speaker base audio and the optional 9-speaker Pioneer setup are exceptional, as is the standard (and blessedly easy to use) Chevrolet MyLink system. Controlled via a 7-inch high-res touchscreen or from the steering wheel or by voice commands, MyLink connects you not only to your mobile phone and your phone's audio files, but also to essential modern-day music apps like Pandora and Stitcher. Added bonus: the addition of a well-placed storage space behind the touchscreen.
In many ways, the exterior of the 2013 Chevy Malibu sums up the new car's story: Remember the characteristic shape of the previous Malibu? Neither do we. But this new Malibu, while not a radical departure from the middle of the road is still a handsome sedan, especially in profile, and the more you're around it, the more you start to admire the stacked trunklid and hood, and the sweep of the rear pillar. The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco may not be an uncontested standing ovation, but it can certainly do a lot of what's required to steal some of the wild applause being heaped on the Camry, Accord and Sonata.