The Chevrolet Malibu has been around on and off since 1964 and has sold more than 8.5 million units worldwide during a successful 35-year run.
That’s a pretty solid sales record and one that is sure to grow with the launch of an all-new 2013 model—the first global mid-size car for Chevrolet.
The new Malibu will be sold in 100 markets on six continents and represents an important vehicle for the bow-tie brand. In Canada, the mid-size segment represents 20 per cent of the market and the Malibu is again expected to appeal mainly to families and fleet customers.
At least that was the case with the previous generation, which bowed in 2007 as a 2008 model and earned 40-plus industry awards including North American Car of the Year.
For 2013, the Malibu will come with a four-cylinder strategy only. The base engine is an all-new Ecotec 2.5-litre four-cylinder.
A turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder will be a late arrival this fall, so we didn’t get a chance to test one on the East Coast launch, but we did get to try the Malibu ECO, a 2.4-litre four-cylinder linked to the e-Assist system used on the Buick LaCrosse and Buick Regal.
As with the outgoing model, the new Malibu is based on the same Epsilon II platform as the LaCrosse. Chassis tuning is derived from the European Car of the Year, the Opel Insignia so the new Malibu has great DNA from the get-go.
Production has begun at the Fairfax, Va. and Detroit Hamtramck plants and the car is only sale now, starting at $24,995 for the LS model.
Styling isn’t a great departure from the outgoing model, yet this is the most aerodynamic Chevy mid-size ever with a coefficient of drag of 0.29. The new look gives the car a more planted, sporty stance with 16, 17, 18 or 19-inch wheels available, depending upon the trim level.
There’s no doubt it’s a Chevrolet with the signature dual port grille with Chevy bow-tie insignia, while the rear fascia and taillamps are Camaro-inspired, according to General Motors.
This is the quietest Malibu ever, thanks in part to an enhanced body structure with a 20 per cent improvement in rear torsional stiffness over the current Malibu.
All models get new ZF Rack electric power steering along with wider wheels.
GM packs a lot into the 2013 Malibu with 10 standard airbags, like the Cruze, and available lane departure/forward collision warning and rear camera systems.
The car has more cargo volume than before with 463 litres of trunk space, up 34 litres from 2012. There is also improved front and rear shoulder room and front and rear hip room with 110 litres of increased interior space.
The cabin of the Malibu features the Chevrolet signature wrap-around dual cockpit design, again with a Camaro-inspired gauge cluster. Over all, the cabin is much improved with a decidedly more upscale look including the use of much more soft touch materials.
Among the neat touches is a six-inch deep hidden storage compartment behind the radio display. Ice blue ambient interior lighting adds a classy touch for nighttime driving.
Suspension is MacPherson struts up front with a multi-link setup in the rear. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS are standard as is a six-speed automatic transmission. A choice of 16, 17, 18 and 19-inch wheels is available depending upon the trim.
Trim levels available in Canada are the LS ($24,995), 1LT ($25,325) 1LT ECO ($27, 940), 2LT ($27,915) 2LT ECO ($29,160) and LTZ ($32,540).
We first drove a 2LT with the 2.5-litre DOHC engine. Featuring options like the leather package with heated seats ($1,135), sunroof ($1,195), and electronics/entertainment package $1,115), this vehicle priced out at $33,180 including the $1,500 freight and PDI.
It was quiet and smooth, handled well on some of the rougher, pothole-filled coastal roads on Cape Breton and exhibited decent acceleration (0-96 km/h in 7.8 seconds, according to GM) with its 197 hp and 191 lb/ft of torque. Fuel consumption for this engine is rated at 9.4/5.9/7.8 L/100 km city/hwy/combined..
GM has softened out the suspension on the Malibu from the European version to suit North American tastes, but the car is far from removed from the ‘floaty’ feeling we used to get in big Chevys and Buicks of the past.
In the afternoon, we sampled a Malibu ECO 2LT. It also was well-optioned with $4,205 in add-ons, bringing the as-tested price to a hefty $34,945.
GM says this is the most fuel-efficient Malibu ever with “hybrid-like fuel efficiency for non-hybrid like price.”
The eAssist has an air-cooled lithium-ion battery that will provide up to 15 hp of electric power. The system also has regenerative braking, start stop technology and an active shutter system in the lower grille to aid engine efficiency. Four underbody panels also add to aerodynamics. All this adds up to fuel consumption ratings of 8.1 city/ 5.3 hwy/6.9 combined.
Unlike a hybrid, the car never runs on battery alone, so this is referred to in the industry as a ‘mild hybrid.’ The electric-assist adds a turbo-like boost in passing situations, providing the ECO with a 0-96 km/h time of about nine seconds.
The battery sits behind the right rear seat and does cut into trunk space on that model. A small price to pay, though, for the savings at the gas pumps.
To get the 2.0-litre turbo model, buyers will have to shell out for the top-end LTZ trim. The most powerful Malibu will offer 259 hp and 260 lb/ft of torque, all the while providing 20 per cent better fuel economy 10.1/6.6/8.5) than the previous Malibu V6.
All trims except the LS get the rear camera, a most-welcome feature in my books.
All in all, the Malibu is a nice ride and should be a solid contender in what is becoming an even more competitive segment.
For buyers shopping this class, the choice of great vehicles continues to grow.
Chevrolet Malibu 2013
Body Style: four-door, five-passenger mid-size sedan.
Drive Method: front-engine, front-wheel drive.
Engine: Ecotec 2.5-litre direct injection four-cylinder engine (197 hp, 191 lb/ft); 2.0-litre SIDI Ecotec turbo (259 hp, 260 lb/ft of torque); ECO 2.4-litre with eAssist (combined 182 hp, 172 lb/ft of torque), all combined with six-speed automatic transmission.
Cargo Capacity: 463 litres.
Price: LS ($24,995), 1LT ($25,325) 1LT ECO ($27, 940), 2LT ($27,915) 2LT ECO ($29,160) and LTZ ($32,540).