Not only has Chevrolet redesigned its extremely popular Malibu for the 2013 model year, but it is launching this eighth-generation of its mid-sized sedan with an especially fuel-efficient version called the Eco.
It was only a few years ago -- in fact, it was the last presidential election year, 2008 -- that Chevrolet introduced an all-new and rather revolutionary Malibu. After several years of floundering in the mid-size marketplace, this new Malibu flat-out leapfrogged competitors such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry to contend for buyers' attention with the likes of the mid-size sedan offerings from Acura and Lexus.
But the Accord and Camry -- and also the Volkswagen Passat, Ford Fusion, Chrysler 200, and especially the Hyundai Sonata/Kia Optima -- responded with significant upgrades of their own.
So Chevrolet has gone back to the design and engineering departments and challenged them to update the Malibu and to maintain and hopefully increase its newfound popularity. For the 2013 model year, that means a new exterior that Chevy says was inspired by the Camaro and even more roomy interior featuring Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment interface.
The new Malibu rides on a shorter wheelbase -- shorter by 4.5 inches! -- but a wider platform -- by two inches front and rear. This shorter but wider stance is accentuated by the exterior design, which includes more chiseled, athletic styling but also a more aerodynamically smooth, coupe-style roofline with a taller rear deck lid with integrated spoiler. The rearview is perhaps the most Camaro-like with its new muscle car-style tail lamps.
Not only does the new shape enhance aerodynamics, and thus fuel economy, but the new design with its raised deck lid provides room in the trunk for 14.3 cub feet of luggage as well as for a 115-volt lithium-ion battery pack that can supply power to auxiliary systems -- audio, air, etc. -- while the engine is silenced at stop lights.
Don't worry, you're not going to melt or freeze or miss your favorite tune while waiting for that light to change. The car's computer knows the load the HVAC and other systems are experiencing. When that load is high, it allows the engine to continue to operate. However, even with the temp in the high 80s and low 90s here in Phoenix, the battery pack was sufficient to keep the cabin cool while the car was stopped.
This so-called e-Assist technology enables the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco we've been driving to be rated at 25 miles per gallon in city travel and at 37 on the highway. We've averaged a very impressive 34.5 during our week in the car.
In the Malibu, this technology is applied to a 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine linked to a six-speed automatic transmission.
We've been fans of what generically is called stop/start technology ever since we first tried it more than a decade ago in Europe. It adds around $300 to a vehicle's cost, but also provides significant savings at the fuel pump. Chevrolet estimates the over the course of five years, the owner of a Malibu Eco will spend $2,350 less on gasoline than the owner of an identical car not equipped with e-Assist.
And a new exterior, interior, MyLink and e-Assist aren't the only changes for the eighth-gen Malibu. Chevy says the car also has a new braking system and "sound-blocking, sound-absorbing and exterior aero optimization make this the quietest Chevrolet ever."
Sorry, it was hard to hear that last statement because the interior of the car we've been driving is anything but the quietest Chevrolet ever.
One of my earlier impressions after just a few miles in the new Malibu Eco was how noisy it is. In carspeak we call this NVH -- noise, vibration and harshness.
I live in Phoenix, where many of the expressways are covered with noise-silencing rubberized asphalt, and yet there was so much tire noise in this car. Even worse to my ears -- and to my ride comfort -- was the noise and what I can only call "slap" made by the suspension as it encountered the slightest of road imperfections.
I wondered what it must be like to drive this car on rough Midwestern roads.
And it wasn't just me. I drove one night with friends along and they volunteered how noisy the car was for something so brand new.
That's too bad, because the Malibu's new interior is a nice place to sit and pass the miles. It's roomy, comfortable, and although I don't think the small bits of faux-wood trim fit with the high-tech image of e-Assist, I really do like the way the air vents are integrated into the finned panel that sweeps in nice curves from the doors across the dashboard.
The 2013 Malibu Eco we've been driving is the 2SA model, which means standard equipment includes StabiliTrak vehicle control, four-wheel disc brakes, all sorts of airbags, OnStar, a rear-view camera, power-adjusted front seats, XM satellite radio, tilt and telescoping steering column, very colorful 7-inch vehicle information computer touch screen, 250-watt Pioneer premium audio system, 17-inch wheels and much more.
Base price is $26,845.
Our test car also had option ($1,300) heated leather front seats, Crystal Red tint coat paint ($325) and Cocoa Fashion interior trim ($150).
Price as tested with destination charges: $29,380.