When we last left our hero, Malibu Man was struggling mightily. Beset by meddlesome marketers and ineffective engineers, allies who had inexplicably trapped him in the dull green glow of an Eco ray, Malibu Man was about to face off against new and stronger nemeses than ever before, foes intent on dispatching both our hero and the Middle American Way he represents to car buyers across the globe. Would Malibu Man fight back? Could he stand a chance when Aston Fusion, Camrybot and Dr. Altima came to battle?
Well it's time for the next exciting episode of Malibu Man Against the Midsize Marauders, and – spoiler alert – this one has a happier ending than the last. We finally had the opportunity to drive the mainstream version of the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu equipped with a new 2.5-liter four-cylinder and did, in fact, come away with our expectations firmly met: If you want a Malibu, this is the one to buy.
Make no mistake, an overwhelming majority will be buying this one, which will make up some 75 percent of sales, according to Chevrolet. The Eco model, fitted with GM's underwhelming eAssist mild-hybrid system, is expected to shake out to only 10 percent, a lower number than even the forthcoming top-of-the-line, 259-horsepower turbo model.
What those three-quarters of Malibu buyers will be getting is everything good about the first-model-to-market Eco, but with an extra 3.1 cubic feet of trunk space returned and a starting MSRP that's lower by almost three thousand bucks. While Chevrolet has packaged the equipment on the Eco models differently to make it frustrating for customers to do an apples-to-apples comparison, when similarly equipped the 2.5-liter models represent a $1,000-$1,500 savings.
The 2.5-liter represents a $1,000-$1,500 savings compared to the Eco model.
The base 2.5-liter Malibu is the LS, which lists at $22,390 plus a $760 destination charge. The 1LT trim level adds Bluetooth and the Chevrolet MyLink touchscreen audio system along with some other equipment for $24,005 plus destination. A 2LT runs $25,240, offering 18-inch alloys, automatic dual-zone climate control, power driver's seat and a few other bells and whistles. Then pricing really escalates to $27,830 for the loaded LTZ, which has heated leather seats, LED taillights and chrome accents.
Offered solely with a six-speed automatic, the direct-injected, 2.5-liter four-cylinder has good throttle response and a smooth character that's helped by a transmission that seems tuned for driveability rather than eking out maximum mileage from every last drop of fuel. We only had about 50 miles behind the wheel to tease out some fuel economy numbers for the 2.5-liter Malibu, but we saw an indicated 28 miles per gallon in combined driving.
The transmission seems tuned for driveability rather than eking out maximum mileage from every last drop of fuel.
Our initial impressions would thus point to the Malibu's EPA ratings of 22 mpg city, 34 highway and 26 combined being achievable without taping an egg to the gas pedal. We'll even go so far as to wonder aloud whether GM has understated the fuel economy here, so as to maintain greater distance between the non-Eco model and the supposedly thriftier eAssist-equipped brother, which carries a combined EPA rating of 29 mpg.
While the new 2.5-liter still has a buzzy drone between 3,000-4,000 rpm like the 2.4-liter four it replaces, its 197 peak horsepower and 191 lb-ft of torque are well-matched to the Malibu's bulk. GM says the 2.5-liter models weigh in between 3,393 and 3,547 pounds, which is as much as 200 pounds less than the Eco. Dynamically, the car is as prone to understeer during hard cornering as any other middle-of-the-road midsizer, but the steering is good, with reasonable levels of feedback and exceptional on-center highway feel. The brakes feel much improved over the Eco model, with a firm, immediate engagement and a linear pedal.
The 2.5-liter models weigh in between 3,393 and 3,547 pounds – as much as 200 pounds less than the Eco.
The Malibu is quiet and comfortable, turning just 2,200 rpms at 75 miles per hour, and while the seats aren't as plush as the new Nissan Altima, the Malibu arguably makes a better long-hauler because it feels so much more sedate at speed. The two cars are actually more similar than you might imagine at first glance, with the Altima's evolutionary approach coming from what would be a similar playbook, though perhaps better-executed.
Compared to the Toyota Camry, the Malibu is also a more enjoyable place to while away your time in traffic, if only because its interior is more refined. While we still didn't find the new Malibu the equal of the Korean twins from Hyundai and Kia, we can understand why someone might choose one rather than a Sonata or Optima – a rationale extending beyond the obviously jingoistic, but still firmly rooted in appreciating the more conservative design character of the Chevy.
Compared to the Toyota Camry, the Malibu is a more enjoyable place to while away your time in traffic.
The base 'Bu seems like a solid value for a good car, and even if it's not the automotive equivalent of Superman, it's at least dressed up well enough that most people won't be able to tell the difference.