What's New for 2013
The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu has been completely redesigned.
"Close but no cigar." This saying could be applied pretty easily to the previous generation of the Chevy Malibu, a family sedan that was pretty good in most respects but not good enough to earn "best-in-class" status. The fully redesigned 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, however, with its added refinement, feature content and efficiency, finally makes this model a strong competitor.
The Malibu's improvement is immediately evident once you take a seat inside. Even lesser-equipped Malibus enjoy an abundance of sound deadening, soft-touch materials, high-quality switchgear and an attractive appearance. The controls -- dominated by a touchscreen in all but the base LS trim -- are a bit more complicated than the outgoing car's, but then the 2013 Malibu is also available with a lot more equipment to control. Chevy's new MyLink system connects your smartphone to the car via a USB jack and/or the Bluetooth system, allowing for not only hands-free calling, but audio connectivity and Internet music streaming as well. The Malibu is also available with a navigation system for the first time.
In terms of size, the new Malibu is wider than before, which results in more shoulder and hiproom. However, the wheelbase has shrunk, which means a little less rear legroom than most other midsize family sedans provide. Still, we can't say many people will notice. Overall, the Malibu is more spacious than before, and only the tallest drivers will leave rear occupants with squished knees.
The 2013 Malibu debuted first with a new "Eco" setup. This pairs a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with a mild-hybrid system that adds an electric motor for assistance during acceleration but which otherwise primarily powers an auto stop/start system as well as various vehicle accessories. Taking that burden off the gasoline engine and adding some aerodynamic tweaks allows the Malibu Eco to achieve an impressive 29 mpg combined from the EPA. Still it's worth noting that this figure is only 1 mpg better than what the four-cylinder-powered Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Camry achieve.
However, the 2013 Chevy Malibu does offer a new 197-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder as standard equipment, as well as an optional 259-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Both of these engines deliver strong performance and admirable fuel efficiency, easily making them preferable to the Eco model.
Given the wealth of other benefits that come with the 2013 Malibu, we think Chevrolet has risen to become competitive among other midsize family sedans. It joins the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima and Volkswagen Passat as a model to consider heavily. Quite simply, the new Malibu feels like a more premium product. Forget "close but no cigar." The new 2013 Chevy Malibu deserves a Cohiba or two.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu midsize sedan is currently available in four main trims: LS, LT, LTZ and Eco.
Standard equipment on the LS includes 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, keyless entry, full power accessories, cruise control, air-conditioning, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, OnStar, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a touchscreen infotainment interface and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and satellite radio.
The LT actually consists of three subsets: 1LT, 2LT and 3LT. Added perks of the 1LT over the LS include heated mirrors, upgraded upholstery, Chevrolet MyLink smartphone integration (includes voice controls, Pandora and Stitcher Internet radio compatibility) and an upgraded audio system with a touchscreen infotainment interface, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface. The 2LT further adds 18-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, remote vehicle start, a compact spare tire (versus just a tire repair kit), dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver seat (with power lumbar) and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The 3LT is essentially identical to the 2LT, with the addition of the turbocharged engine.
Springing for the top-of-the-line LTZ provides leather seating, heated front seats, an eight-way power passenger seat (with power lumbar) and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Like the 3LT, the 2LZ subset trim level is the same as the LTZ but with the turbocharged engine.
The Eco is available in two subsets: base and with Premium audio. Standard features on the Eco are similar to those of the 1LT, with a few upgrades that include 17-inch alloy wheels and dual-zone automatic climate control. An Eco with the Premium audio adds a nine-speaker Pioneer sound system, foglamps, a remote garage opener, a cargo net, auto-dimming rearview mirror, a rearview camera, remote vehicle start, an eight-way power driver seat (with power lumbar) and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
Many of the upper trims' features are available on the lower trims via various option packages. Other optional highlights (depending on trim) include xenon headlights, keyless ignition/entry, a sunroof and a navigation system.
Powertrains and Performance
All Malibu trims except the Eco come with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 197 hp and 191 pound-feet of torque. As with all Malibu models, a six-speed automatic is the sole transmission offered. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 22 mpg city/34 mpg highway and 26 mpg in combined driving.
The 2.0-liter turbo engine is only offered with the 3LT and 2LZ trims. It produces 259 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy registers an EPA-estimated 21/30/24 mpg.
The Malibu Eco model comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder paired to a small electric motor. It produces 182 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque. Unlike a full-hybrid, the mild-hybrid Malibu Eco cannot propel itself using electricity alone. Instead, the motor modestly aids acceleration, powers vehicle accessories and enables an automatic stop/start system that shuts off the car when you've stopped (such as at a traffic light or stop sign) to conserve fuel.
In Edmunds performance testing, the Malibu Eco went from zero to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds -- quicker than average for a four-cylinder family sedan. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 25 mpg city/37 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined. These numbers are slightly better than the thriftiest four-cylinder family sedans, but far less than what you'd get from a full hybrid sedan.
The 2013 Chevy Malibu comes standard with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front knee airbags, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and OnStar emergency communications. Rear side airbags will be standard on all Malibus starting in the summer.
In Edmunds brake testing, an Eco stopped from 60 mph in 119 feet, which is a few feet better than average. As for crash safety, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Malibu its best possible rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu stands out from the crowd with a cabin that verges on entry-level luxury territory. The look is attractive, there is an abundance of soft-touch materials and the various buttons and knobs feel substantial. The control layout may be more complicated than previous Malibus, but it's actually simpler than other recent Chevrolets, such as the Equinox and Volt. The touchscreen that's standard on most trims supports GM's new MyLink system, which works pretty well and allows the driver to customize the menu structure (just as you would on an iPhone) and stream music using Internet radio services.
In terms of comfort and space, the new Malibu is a mixed bag. The front seats are comfortable and the available power driver seat provides a wide range of adjustability for even tall drivers. In back, the Malibu's increased width for 2013 creates more shoulder and hiproom, but the shrunken wheelbase means less legroom. Unlike in most of its competitors, taller drivers will have to scoot their seat up a bit in order to make room for folks in back. To be fair, it'll be big enough for most, but rivals are nevertheless superior in terms of maximum rear legroom.
All Malibus but the Eco boast a 16.3-cubic-foot trunk. The Eco's trunk stands at 14.3 cubic feet, as much of the rearmost portion is taken up by the car's compact lithium-ion battery. Although the latter is a decent number, the Eco's trunk's space is oddly shaped. Also, while the Eco still manages to provide a pass-through into the interior, it is rather small and located in the upper left corner of the trunk. We suppose it's better than nothing, but we also can't imagine how useful it would be.
Chevrolet put a lot of effort into giving the new 2013 Malibu a supremely quiet cabin, and it was certainly a successful mission. This on-road serenity is particularly appreciated on the highway, where the Malibu offers a well-composed ride that dampens bumps without making you feel isolated from the driving experience. Handling is about what you'd expect for a family sedan -- confidence-inspiring, but we wouldn't call it fun. The steering is responsive enough and offers an appropriate amount of weighting, but provides little in the way of feel.
The Eco model's quasi-hybrid system operates seamlessly, rarely reminding the driver of its existence. For instance, when the engine shuts off automatically when the car comes to a stop, you don't get as much of the telltale shudder when it turns back on as is common to most auto stop/start systems. Unfortunately, the 2.4-liter four-cylinder that provides a majority of the motivation here (the electric motor provides limited assistance) sounds unrefined and feels sluggish, despite acceleration numbers that are strong for the class. The culprit is the fuel economy-programmed transmission, which is eager to reach top gear and reluctant to kick down when needed.
While the Eco's fuel economy is impressive, we'd choose either the 2.5-liter or 2.0 turbo engine instead.