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2013 Chevrolet Malibu

2013 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ. (04/18/2011)
2013 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ. (04/18/2011) Wieck

From the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and beyond, the next-generation Malibu aims to make waves on a truly global scale and shore up the Chevrolet brand in every continent short of Antarctica.

Arriving in early 2012, the new Malibu is a direction-changing model in nearly every sense, from its appearance to its powerplant choices that emphasize fuel efficiency.

But what does that mean to you?

It sheds a few inches between the front and rear wheels, but is slightly taller and nearly three inches wider. Along with a broader stance, the result is added interior volume, especially front and rear shoulder and hip room. In addition, the amount of available trunk space has also been increased.

Inside, the Malibu’s stylists appear to have gone all out to improve on the previous model’s inviting environment while reducing only slightly the amount of front and rear leg room. Up front, Chevrolet has developed what it calls a “dual cockpit” design approach that creates a cosy and cosseted environment enhanced by the wrap-around-style dashboard and well-bolstered seats. Of particular note is the Malibu’s gauge package that appears inspired by the Chevy Camaro’s pod-style speedometer and tachometer. Also on display is Chevrolet’s proprietary MyLink touch-screen audio/communications system with a faceplate that pivots upward to reveal a hidden six-inch-deep storage area.

Additional Camaro influence can be seen in the Malibu’s prominent taillights that are an asterisk in an otherwise conservatively streamlined body that mimics to some degree the Toyota Camry.

That’s not surprising, however, as the Camry remains the league leader among mid-size sedans. Unlike the Camry, the Malibu won’t offer a V6.

The starting point is a new base 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces an estimated 190 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. That’s up from the previous 2.4-liter four-cylinder’s 169/158 rating. The new 2.5 operates through a six-speed automatic transmission.

The second offering is the General Motors’ eAssist limited hybrid system, similar to that used in the 2012 Buick LaCrosse and Regal. This “Eco” model consists of a 182-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder gas engine working in tandem with a 15-horsepower electric motor/generator (with 110 pound-feet of torque) and six-speed automatic transmission. The motor replaces the traditional alternator, assisting the engine via a belt with power supplied by a lithium-ion battery pack located behind the rear seat. The battery contributes about 65 pounds weight, but the Eco’s aluminum hood and rear bumper beam (and other measures) slice a reported 130 pounds from the car’s total.

Other Eco technologies include stop/start that shuts off the engine when the vehicle is at rest, then fires it up when the brake pedal is released. A system recovers braking energy and converts it into electrical energy to help recharge the batteries.

Also integral are low-rolling-resistance tires affixed to 17-inch wheel and an “Eco” gauge that tells the driver when the vehicle is being driven in a fuel-efficient manner. Electronically controlled grille shutters aid aerodynamic performance at highway speeds.

By Chevrolet’s numbers, the $26,000 Eco (about $3,000 more than a base Malibu) will achieve 26 mpg in the city, and 38 on the highway. Those numbers are impressive, but the Toyota Camry Hybrid is rated at 43 mpg city/39 highway and costs only $700 more than the Chevy.

As before, all Malibu models, beginning with the base LS, arrive in a well-equipped state, with an increasing level of amenities as you climb up the LT, LTZ and Eco levels.

The previous Malibu was no slouch and the new car takes that up a notch in terms of style and fuel economy. It doesn’t qualify as spectacular, or jaw dropping, but that seems to be the norm in the mid-size-sedan class. But with the competition so stiff, offering up something exciting and jaw dropping might not be far off so as to create a car you not only like, but one you fall in love with.

The new Malibu is certainly a step closer.