Malibu ups its game in mid-size family field
"The latest Malibu steps into a vastly different playing field, not only in the names of the players but in the game they bring."
The Malibu nameplate has been around for half a century but the resurrection of the nameplate in 1997 (after a 15 year hiatus) was met with some criticism since the car was deemed not of large enough stature to warrant the badge of honour.
Not of important stature? It was dumped into a market of heavyweights – Accord and Camry, in particular, were the headliners – because General Motors thought it could put up a fight. Isn’t that what you do when you take on over-whelming favourites – put in your best and have at ’em?
For 2013, the latest Malibu steps into a vastly different playing field, not only in the names of the players but in the game they bring – Nissan’s Altima has stepped up in a big way, as has the Hyundai Sonata (and brought along a Kia Optima sibling), and Ford’s Fusion (itself an also ran for several years) also looks set to rock-’em-sock-’em in a major way.
Malibu has followed the trend with smaller, more fuel efficient engines, doing away with the V6s that only a couple years back were touted as “must haves” in the mid-sized family market. Malibu’s roster includes 2.5-litre, 2.4-litre and turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinders, with our test Eco model sporting the 2.4 with GM’s eAssist mild hybridization.
The hybrid system is meant to work on two fronts – ease the engine’s fuel consumption and provide a bit of extra power what would otherwise require more fuel. It does that by turning the engine off at full stops to stall idling emissions and fuel usage. It does not allow Malibu to run on electric power alone, which is no big deal (judging from the common complaint that a car has no go under electric power, though there are some who would argue that generalization).
The result is fuel economy that borders on sub-compact value range – we attain 7.2 litres per 100 km of driving, which is only slightly worse than what we attained in a Honda Fit. And although we don’t have the same level of manoeuvrability in city driving as we find in Fit, we’re a bit more relaxed in the Malibu’s interior spaciousness.
The rear seat accommodates three reasonably comfortably, with the biggest detriment being awkward centre seat foot positioning and a harder backrest due to the wide pull down armrest. As with just about any other car, the two outboard passengers are far more comfortable without a center passenger and with the armrest. The pass-through to the trunk is partially blocked by the battery pack for the hybrid system, but that doesn’t impact too much on cargo carrying, thanks to the deep well that swallows up groceries, overnight bags, golf bags or (with some jigging and re-jigging) all of the above.
Front seat riders get an equally comfortable seating experience and some neat storage solutions, including the hideaway bin behind the radio faceplate (with today’s thinner electronic modules and the straying from bulky media players such as cassettes and CDs, why aren’t more manufacturers doing this?).
The dual cockpit experience is attractive, I suppose, but I prefer more functional layouts and the Malibu does that while retaining the Chevy cues and tie-ins to the brand’s sportier models. It’s very much like my wife’s Camaro, but infinitely more useful in day to day use!
Malibu manners are also in keeping with Chevy aspirations, and though it’s not a NASCAR racer, this Malibu does very well for day to day driving needs. Steering is direct and the ride is pleasantly solid - when the road throws a twist in your driving, you come through it with a confident smile.
To sum it up, this Malibu is not just probably the best ever; it’s probably one of the best in the current mid-size family crop. Priced at just over $30,000, it’s no wonder it was runner up for the AJAC 2013 Best New Family Car over $30,000 (behind Fusion, no less).
2013 Chevrolet Malibu
Trim level: Eco
Price as tested (before taxes): $30,520
Options on test vehicle: Sunroof ($1,195); power convenience pkg. ($1,005) inc.: cargo net, auto-dimming rearview mirror, rearview camera, power driver’s seat; premium exterior paint ($380).
Configuration: front engine/ front-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 2.4L 4-cyl. with electric assist/ 6-spd. auto. with sequential shift
Power/torque: Net 182 hp/ 172 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): regular (60L)
Fuel economy ratings: 8.1 L/100km city; 5.3 L/100km hwy
Observed fuel economy: 7.2 L/100km over 807 km
Warranties: 3 years/ 60,000 km (basic); 5 years/ 160,000 km (powertrain)
Competitors: Chrysler 200; Dodge Avenger; Ford Fusion; Honda Accord; Hyundai Sonata; Kia Optima; Mazda6; Nissan Altima; Subaru Legacy; Toyota Camry; Volkswagen Passat
Strengths: roominess; ergonomics; storage solutions; solid ride; economy
Weaknesses: ho-hum styling