Vital Stats

Engine:
2.4L eAssist I4
Power:
182 HP / 172 LB-FT
Transmission:
6-Speed Auto
0-60 Time:
8.7 Seconds
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
3,620 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
13.2 CU-FT
MPG:
25 City / 37 HWY
Mild-Hybrid Malibu Proves Only Mildly Interesting



Don't judge a book by its cover. The sentiment certainly applies to cars as well, but doubly so. Years of driving and photographing new vehicles have taught us that you can't evaluate a new model – or even judge its styling – based on photos alone, no matter how good or bad the images or the sheetmetal might seem. And you can't really know anything until you get that car off the auto show stand and out in the wild, driving it on the street in its natural habitat.

We explain this because when we first spied the new 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, we didn't think much of it: Mostly carryover front fascia, grafted-on Camaro taillights, Bangle butt. Move along, nothing to see here. But a funny thing happened when we got behind the wheel of the Malibu Eco for a week. We warmed up to it. We actually liked it.

The more we looked at that new Chevrolet grille, the less we saw the old one and the more we noticed the nice-looking headlights and fog lamps. We appreciated how the new front fascia accentuates the 2013 Malibu's greater width, and we spied the symmetry between the hood and the bustle on the trunk. While Chevy is making a big deal about the aerodynamic justification for the design – it says the Malibu's coefficient of drag is just 0.30, which is nearly as slippery as the Volt – there's a strong case to be made that the exterior styling just plain looks good, because it does. In person, the Malibu is a handsome car, much more so than in photos.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco side view2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco front view2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco rear view

Inside, the design is just as well-executed. The dual-cockpit instrument panel wraps nicely into the doors, and the materials and fit-and-finish are excellent. The car has the same substantial feeling we enjoyed in the Chevrolet Cruze – a solid weight to all its touch points that implies quality.

Driving the Malibu Eco isn't half bad either, at least not once you acclimatize yourself to the fact that this is not a particularly powerful automobile. Its 2.4-liter four-cylinder makes 182 horsepower, and a 15-kilowatt electric motor chips in an additional 15 horses. This is the eAssist mild-hybrid system that General Motors has been selling on Buick models for a little while now. In the Malibu Eco, it is seamless under both acceleration and braking, which is good, though a bit more of a boost when you flex your right foot would be nice, and a more direct and linear pedal feel under braking would certainly improve confidence during panic stops. Chevy says the Eco will accelerate to 60 miles per hour in 8.7 seconds, but in the real world it feels slower because you really have goose the throttle to get the little 0.5-kWh battery pack to do its discharge thing. But the Malibu Eco is quiet, its seats are comfortable, the steering wheel points the car where you turn it rather well, and the brakes definitely stop the car. Though none of this happens in a particularly engaging fashion, it's not meant to be a sporty car and we can live with that.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco engine

What we're having a harder time living with, however, are the numbers. Because even though we enjoyed the Malibu Eco, we still can't see how the car makes sense, vis-à-vis the competition – or even compared to other Chevys.

The Malibu Eco has an EPA rating of 29 miles per gallon combined, though we managed just 27.1 during our week in the car. Giving Chevy the benefit of the doubt, however, 29 is still just one more than the base four-cylinder Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima and Toyota Camry. So the Eco isn't setting any records for being thrifty – and isn't that the point of the badge?

At $25,995 (including delivery), the Malibu Eco isn't cheap either. While the midsize sedan market encompasses a broad spectrum of pricing, from just over $20,000 for the value versions all the way up to nearly $35,000 for some fully loaded models, the Malibu Eco lies somewhere in the middle. Yes, equipment levels vary and the Malibu Eco does include some nice stuff, like Chevy's pretty MyLink Touch Radio and automatic climate control. But by comparison, the aforementioned 2013 Sonata starts at $21,670. You'll sacrifice a few bells and whistles, but we like the idea of living with a base Sonata and pocketing over $4,000. That's enough to buy all the gas you'd be saving in the Malibu even if you drove the car for the rest of your life.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco interior2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco front seats2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco gauges2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco multimedia system

So you have the various standard four-cylinder models of Chevy's competitors, delivering almost the same fuel economy while hitting price points that can give them a much better value equation. That's bad enough, but then there are the real hybrids, principally the Camry Hybrid, which starts at just $26,750. Offering 40 mpg combined, the fuel economy improvement over the Malibu Eco is enough that in your second year of ownership, you'll have paid for the difference in MSRP and the Camry will start saving you over $500 per year compared to the Malibu Eco. Of course, you'd be stuck driving a Camry, which isn't anything to get excited about. But there's also the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, with a combined 37-mpg rating and a base price of $26,625, and the forthcoming 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid, which promises to deliver over 45 mpg combined, though at what price point we don't know. (And the new Fusion looks stunning.)

But what really kills our interest in the Malibu Eco isn't the competition. Remember, we like the Malibu. We're trying to talk ourselves into recommending one. And we just might – but it won't be the Eco.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco headlight2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco wheel detail2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco taillights2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco badge

A standard Malibu sporting a 197-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder with direct injection (but without eAssist) will be offered later in the year, and we are eagerly awaiting its arrival. See, there's a reason the General is rolling out the Eco first. Because when this regular Malibu shows up, it will certainly be priced lower and the three cubic feet of trunk space lost to the Eco's hybrid battery will be regained. We also imagine the regular Malibu's fuel economy will be nearly as good as its Eco sibling.

While Chevrolet hasn't indicated pricing or fuel economy for the non-Eco 2013 Malibu yet, comparing a 2012 Malibu in similar trim (1LT, for the record) isn't likely to be too far off. Even with a three mile-per-gallon advantage for the 2013 – a delta that you have to hope would shrink, given the aerodynamic improvements that will be shared by all Malibus – it would take over seven years of driving with $4-per-gallon gas to level out the nearly $1,800 price differential.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco rear 3/4 view

So that seems like a pretty good argument against the Malibu Eco, but hey, we're dealing largely in theoreticals here. We haven't driven the standard Malibu yet, and lest we not heed our own good advice, we're not going to anoint a car that doesn't exist yet.

We have, however, driven the Chevrolet Cruze. And though GM isn't going to like it when we write this, the best argument against the Malibu Eco is sitting next to it on Chevrolet dealer lots.

Compare, if you will, some key specs:

2013 Malibu Eco 2012 Cruze Eco
Front Headroom 39 inches 39.3 inches
Rear Headroom 37.5 inches 37.9 inches
Front Legroom 42.1 inches 42.3 inches
Rear Legroom 36.8 inches 35.4 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 95 Cubic Feet 94 Cubic Feet
Cargo Volume 13.2 Cubic Feet 15.4 Cubic Feet

The EPA classifies both vehicles as midsize sedans, and save for the Cruze's slightly smaller backseat and narrower width, the cars aren't that dissimilar in interior size. The Malibu Eco certainly doesn't feel that much more spacious inside, nor does it offer a significant upgrade in power or handling. The interior appointments are nicer, but you can get a top-of-the-line, automatic Cruze LTZ with leather and navigation for a few hundred dollars less, a car rated at a combined 30 mpg.

Yet despite all this conjecture, we've been ignoring two crucial aspects of car buying. The first is that a great many midsize sedan shoppers head to their local dealer completely uninformed and drive off in whatever is new and pretty. While we can't understand that sort of behavior, we do get the second: Sometimes even after you've done your homework and talked yourself out of the rationality of a purchase, you stand before that shiny new car and say, "Damn the torpedoes, I'll take it. Because I like it."


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  • 133 Comments
      karnut
      • 2 Years Ago
      What is the obsession w/ the Camaro "influence". The Camaro is a beautiful car w/ a great stance. The Malibu is NOT. The previous generation was a great looking car w/ a great stance. The new on is a huge step backward. As much as I wanted to like this car and cheer for GM...I can't. The Fusion is going to mop the floor w/ this thing. As much as I hate to say it the Camry looks downright sexy next to this thing. Probably a good drive - equal to others in the segment. The problem is that the Sonata/Optima has shown that people like a stylish car...cant blame them. Ed Welburn - what were you thinking when you signed off on this thing????
      Jim
      • 2 Years Ago
      First, Chevy needs to lose that front end. That being said, the current Malibu has a certain classy look that buyers can be proud to drive. The new one has completely lost that and looks like several cars stuck together. With competition getting stronger in this class, this is a huge misstep for GM. Hope they are busy working on the next
      Zach
      • 2 Years Ago
      I really wanted to like this car, so I am thinking it is partially psychological, the 2005-2008 Malibu redesign was barely better than the previous 1997?-2004, but the 2008 Malibu took the biggest leapin Malibus history, even if it isn't that great of a car, the 2013 looks like it got caught up in a refrsh cycle, and they ran out of money and used rockers panels from the 2006+ Impala, the 2013 Malibu isn't an ugly car by any means, just not as well buttoned up as the current Bu'. IMHO
      GoSpeedRacerGo
      • 2 Years Ago
      In what areas does Malibu beat the competition? Price? No. Styling? No. Fuel economy? No. Interior space? No. Ride & handling? No. Fit & finish? No. Resale value? Probably not. What was Chevy benchmarking when they redesigned this? And why are the people responsible still employed? How do they justify the extra cost of the Malibu over the Cruze? The questions at GM seem to be the only thing that "run deep".
        NightFlight
        • 2 Years Ago
        @GoSpeedRacerGo
        GM made it clear that they benchmarked the last generation Malibu. Huge mistake as it wasn't leading the class with ANYTHING.
          NightFlight
          • 2 Years Ago
          @NightFlight
          Of course it is a line of crap. I just don't understand why GM would release a vehicle that is so uncompetitive. It reeks of mid-90's GM thinking...
      roadhazzard11
      • 2 Years Ago
      Camaro tail lights barely look nice on the Camaro, on the Malibu they are just plain awful. Chevrolet did a horrendously terrible job on the rear end of the last Malibu, and they a terrible job on the new Malibu so I guess that is an improvement.
        suthrn2nr
        • 2 Years Ago
        @roadhazzard11
        yea, i love the camaro look, but its like they half-assed the Malibu into a Camaro Sedan. It's too bad because the Cruze looks good and would have looked great in Malibu size.
      Burabus
      • 2 Years Ago
      Boy that is not an attractive car
        Dantzig
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Burabus
        Gotta agree with you. It takes too many cues from the Camaro and Volt. They don't fit on this car.
      oollyoumn
      • 2 Years Ago
      I really don't get the Malibu at all, especially the Eco. It almost the exact same size as the Cruz, but is much more expensive gets worse mileage (even in Eco) and is much uglier. The Eco is sold as a mild hybrid, but it cost the same as the Camry full hybrid and more than the Hyundai full hybrid, and doesn't come close the real hybrid mileage. The Malibu Eco actually starts at a higher price than the Prius, but has less space and is far less refined. The Cruz gets better mileage without the Eco package and the standard (non-hybrid) Fusion is projected to offer better city mileage and match the highway mileage of the Malibu Eco. To make a bad deal worse, they did nothing to improve the looks. It still looks plan, with a K-Mart cheap looking grill. I don't know how Chevy can sell even one of these when everyone else is upping their game. Being the owner of a previous version of this car (08), I can say from experience they are not very good in the quality department too. It has been one of the worse cars I've owned since my 95 Chevy. I know they will sell plenty, but I don't see how. The competition is moving ahead leaving the Malibu far behind.
        NightFlight
        • 2 Years Ago
        @oollyoumn
        Why is this guy being downrated??? He is absolutely right, and he has direct experience with a last gen Malibu....
          NightFlight
          • 2 Years Ago
          @NightFlight
          Nice to see that rational thinking has come back to this article. The guy was sitting at -3 at one point....
      rmkensington
      • 2 Years Ago
      Poor thing looks like it was beaten with an ugly stick
      Thomas D Hilton III
      • 2 Years Ago
      Man why does GM offer so many cars that Overlap eachother?? Your bacially buy the Bu for the Interior. might as well get the Cruze. for less??? and LAWD that ass is horrible... looks like a Fat chick with a Square ass wearing Strech pants
        straferhoo
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Thomas D Hilton III
        ... looks like a Fat chick with a Square ass wearing Strech pants Thanks a lot, now I gotta clean my monitor!
        suthrn2nr
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Thomas D Hilton III
        yea, "New" GM reminds me so much of "Old GM", especially with some vehicles that are larger on the exterior than the competition (Cruze, Traverse)
      Raadius
      • 2 Years Ago
      LOOK AT THOSE REAR LIGHTS, LMFAO. Horrible design choice. It doesn't even match up (design wise) with the headlights which most, if not all car manu do. The interior is meh too. Those RPM/Speedo cup guages are silly looking. Geez GM. Is your design team avg. age 12?
        QCRamAir
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Raadius
        Agreed on all points. There are many bad design choices on this new car, but the biggest eyesore of all are those awful taillights. Seriously GM, WTF were you guys thinking?
      • 2 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      dukeisduke
      • 2 Years Ago
      Meh. They should call it the Chevy Mediocrity.
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