2013 Chevrolet Malibu Road Test Review
Chevrolet’s 2013 Malibu is its first world-wide midsize sedan. But is it world-class?
Scores High: Smooth and quiet ride, cavernous trunk, easy-to-use media
Scores Low: Turbo lag, outward visibility, pricey when fully optioned
Total Car Score Analysis
The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu is the first midsize sedan that Chevrolet plans to sell around the world; in fact, it was unveiled at the Shanghai Auto Show a day before it made its U.S. debut at the New York Auto Show. That means Chevy has more than just an American audience to please with the Malibu, so the redesign of this longstanding model had many masters to serve. The good news is that any compromises Chevrolet had to make for foreign markets -- if you can even call them compromises -- work just fine on American roads, too.
For example, Chevy tweaked the Malibu’s dimensions some, shortening the wheelbase by 4.5 inches yet widening the car overall by about 3 inches. This gives the new Malibu a trim look on the outside while affording a spacious feeling inside. Taller passengers will notice there’s less leg room in the back seat, but they will appreciate the extra elbow and shoulder room the wider body allows.
2013 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ 4 cylinder Ecotec 2.0-liter Engine Shown
Powertrains, too, are affected by Malibu’s world-wide marketing intent. Last year’s V6 option is gone, and instead Chevy offers Malibu with a trio of four-cylinder engines: a mild gas/electric hybrid engine for the Malibu Eco model, a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-banger, and the turbocharged Ecotec 2.0-liter we tested. By sticking with small-displacement engines and massaging the car’s aerodynamics, Chevy intends this to be the most fuel-efficient Malibu ever, a definite plus for any driver, no matter which continent they are located on.
The aerodynamic tuning has a side benefit: The Malibu slices so cleanly through the air that it’s one of the quietest sedans we’ve ever driven. Combine that in-cab serenity with a suspension tuned for a smooth ride and you have the makings of a fine long-haul sedan, perfect for those family trips to Wally World.
From the front, the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu looks a lot like the outgoing model, as the grille treatment and headlight shapes bear a strong family resemblance to its predecessor. But the ’13 model’s nose is taller, due to new pedestrian-protection regulations, which then raise the cowl and beltline, too, so the whole car seems fuller from rocker panels to window sills. Yet the Malibu isn’t much taller overall, a trick made possible by keeping the roof pillars shorter, giving the greenhouse a more squat look. Styling-wise the design works, but from inside the car visibility is definitely affected. Short-statured drivers may feel like they can’t see enough of the road ahead without really cranking up the seat’s height, and we wanted a more expansive view out the rear window.
One styling touch we liked a lot are the Camaro-inspired taillights, which added a dash of sportiness to what is otherwise a handsome, if somewhat bland, body shape.
If you read “turbocharged” about the Malibu’s engine and thought this might be a fun sport sedan, sorry to disappoint. While the turbo helps push 259 horsepower out of a tiny, 2.0-liter engine, factor in the Malibu LTZ’s 3,660-pound weight, combined with a fair amount of turbo lag when you tip into the throttle, and the result is a sedan that’s adequately powered but not exactly spirited.
Then, too, the Malibu’s four-wheel independent suspension is tuned for a controlled and compliant ride, not canyon-carving firmness. Ditto the electric power steering, which isn’t as numb as some of the electric systems we’ve experienced lately, but still transmits little feedback from the road and lacks any on-center feel. No, “sport sedan” is not in the Malibu’s wheelhouse. At least, not this version. (We can dream about a Malibu SS, though, can’t we?)
Instead, the Malibu’s driving experience is spot-on for a family sedan. It’s easy to maneuver, has a tight turning circle (helpful in crowded parking lots), will soak up road imperfections without getting wallowy, and offers brisk enough acceleration to easily merge with highway traffic.
One way to squeeze a little more fun out of the engine is to pull the six-speed automatic’s console-mounted shift lever back into Manual mode, then use the rocker switch on top of the lever to change gears. This lets you spool the engine up to its 5,500-rpm horsepower peak before upshifting -- definitely entertaining, but definitely not the way to maximize the Malibu’s fuel economy. Speaking of which, during a week’s worth of driving the Malibu, in which we mixed freeway and surface-street routes, we averaged about 24 mpg. That’s right in line with the EPA’s fuel economy estimate of 21 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, 24 mpg combined for the 2.0-liter Ecotec.
Interior Design and Function
The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu’s cabin has an upscale look that effectively blends form and function. The “dual-cockpit” dashboard layout harkens back to Chevys of old, just as the pods surrounding the speedometer and tach remind us of a similar treatment on ’60s Chevy muscle cars. That, though, is where the Malibu’s retro design ends. Sandwiched between those pods is a thoroughly modern driver information center that monitors fuel economy (instant and average), driving range, tire pressure, miles per hour, and other functions.
The center stack is topped by a 7-inch full-color monitor with touchscreen functions for the various media that stream into the Malibu. Buttons and dials beneath the screen offer additional media controls. We were ready to be confused by all this gadgetry -- as we have been in other cars -- but Chevy has figured out how to make the operations very intuitive. Heck, we even changed the time on the clock when Daylight Savings Time ended, and on the first try! Chevy’s new MyLink infotainment system helps cut through the clutter with voice-activated phone controls, Bluetooth streaming and music apps that include Pandora and Stitcher SmartRadio.
There are some well-thought-out features inside the new Malibu. The touchscreen in the center stack hinges up to reveal a convenient storage cubby for cell phones and other small gear. There’s also a 120-volt power point mounted on the back of the center console for rear-seat passengers to use (no more dead gaming systems). The folding armrest in the back seat not only has cup holders, there’s also a storage tray that’s sized perfectly for hand-held games and their cartridges, iPods, and other entertainment/distraction devices for little ones. And the trunk is downright cavernous, offering 16.3 cubic feet of storage space plus a convenient cargo net for groceries and other small items. Need even more room? The backseat backrests fold down.
Primary Features and Options
Even without the optional equipment on our test car, the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ is well equipped with 18-inch alloy wheels, heated leather front seats, the 7-inch touchscreen with Chevy’s MyLink infotainment system, ambient cabin lighting, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a six-speaker audio system. The 259-horsepower turbo Ecotec engine is the powerplant of choice if you want an entertaining driving experience and don’t put a premium on fuel economy. (Though if you do, the gas/electric Malibu Eco model returns 37 highway mpg, says the EPA.) Without the options packages the Malibu LTZ stickers at $30,000, which feels about right for this car. Add another $3,000 or $4,000 in options, though, and you’re in a different price class, one populated by some premium German sedans. Stacked up against those, the Chevy may not fare as well…
It’s Perfect For…
The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu is (nearly) perfect as the midsize family sedan that Chevy intended it to be. Its cabin is roomy, its trunk will easily swallow everyone’s luggage, and its smooth and quiet road manners will help keep you sane on long holiday trips, as will the variety of entertainment options streaming through the audio system.
With three engines to choose from you can pick your need for power. But be forewarned -- the mileage ratings for our Malibu test car, with the most powerful turbo engine, were still below some competitive models. That, combined with the car’s mediocre acceleration, suggests Chevy needs to up its game in this area. Also be careful not to check too many option boxes if you’re on a budget, and be sure to test drive the Malibu -- and check its sight lines -- particularly if you’re shorter than average.
Vehicle Tested: 2013 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ
Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $30,165
Options on Test Vehicle: Electronics & Entertainment Package (19-inch aluminum wheels; Pioneer premium 9-speaker, 250-watt audio system; rear-vision camera; 120-volt power outlet; universal home remote -- $1,350), LTZ Premium Package (HID headlamps, keyless/push-button start, EZ Key passive entry system, driver seat/mirror memory settings -- $1,000), Advanced Safety Package (Forward collision alert, lane departure warning -- $395), Crystal Red Tintcoat ($325), Black/brownstone fashion trim ($150), destination charge ($760)
MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): $34,145
The manufacturer provided Total Car Score this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Photos courtesy of the manufacturer (with additional photography from Total Car Score).