By James Healey, USA Today
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (USA Today) -OK, Chevy gets serious about the new Malibu.
Rolling out now is the mainstream version of the redesigned 2013 Malibu with the new-generation General Motors gasoline four-cylinder engines.
One model of the redone Malibu - the Eco - has been on sale since late January. But the Eco, which has GM's eAssist gasoline-electric mild hybrid drivetrain, isn't meant to be a high-volume seller; about 2,000 a month, or roughly 10% of total Malibu sales.
The eAssist, also offered in Buicks, was the only Malibu powertrain ready when Chevy, hurried by GM CEO Dan Akerson, finished the rest of the car. The new gas engines weren't on the same schedule.
Test Drive evaluated the Malibu Eco eAssist earlier.
The 2.5-liter gasoline-only models, like those evaluated here, are the ones that Chevy expects at least 75% of buyers to pick. The new-design, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder has modern direct fuel injection but not the turbocharger that's becoming a common power booster on four-bangers. It's also the base engine on the 2013 Cadillac ATS small sedan coming soon.
A go-faster Malibu, coming in September or October, will have a 2-liter turbo four, same as the midlevel engine in the Cadillac ATS.
It's hardly a stretch to call the 2013 Malibu the best modern Chevy. Styling is crisp and restrained. Interior is roomy and quiet, outfitted with classy trim. Engine's strong. But that combo is almost the price of entry, rather than standout attributes.
The midsize sedan playground is full of bullies, and just being a really good car is no guarantee of success. Ford's new Fusion comes soon, edgy and Euro. Honda fields a new Accord late this summer, sculpted and trimmer. Nissan's new Altima just went on sale as a gas-mileage champ that's quick and comfy.
There is such furious activity because the midsize sedan segment is biggest in the U.S.: 26% of all new vehicles sold, says sales tracker Autodata.
The Malibu is an adaptation of GM's award-winning German Opel Insignia with new start-from-scratch engines.
The 2.5-liter base four-cylinder is a bright spot. Pretty quiet and calm normally, and will yowl and scoot under heavy foot. Doesn't feel taxed, just feels as if it's having a ball at WOT ("wide-open throttle," which is what engineers call flooring the gas pedal).
The Malibu test vehicles driven around here and beachy South Haven on Lake Michigan were an LTZ high-end model, about $31,000, and an LT more like a lot of buyers will choose, about $27,000. In addition to their engine, so well-matched to its assigned task, here's what seems worth noting on these 2.5-liter Malibus:
• Quiet. Chevy engineers set out to make the interior premium-car-quiet and succeeded. Applause.
• Comfort. Seats fit well; back's roomy enough for adults. But some physiques might find the front cushions insufficiently padded.
• Brakes. A bit numb, sadly.
• Shifting. Six-speed automatic zips through upshifts and downshifts with composure and precision. Manual shift mode has been changed from a rocker switch on the side of the gear lever to + and - touch points atop the lever. Still awkward and ill-positioned for easy use.
The gearbox jerks violently in the quick on/off/on throttle maneuver that you'd use if you started to hustle, suddenly had to slow for a police car or errant pedestrian, then needed to get back up to speed fast.
• Interior. Classy. The lower-price test car didn't seem like a wanna-be version, save for lack of leather.
A big-screen infotainment and control system called MyLink is standard on all but the base model. It is a central controller, operated by voice or buttons, for phone, stereo, streaming audio (via Bluetooth link to your phone, for instance).
• Dynamics. Ride is comfy over most roads, but the front end bobs a bit on undulating roads. Cornering agility is good for a family sedan.
The Malibu is a sweet Chevy, satisfying to wheel around. But can it stand out in an arena of strong contenders?
About the Chevrolet Malibu
• What? Redesigned Malibu with the new-generation gasoline engines most people will buy. Midsize, four-door, front-drive sedan meant to rival Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord.
• When? On sale since early August.
• Where? Built at Fairfax, Kan., Detroit-Hamtramck, Mich.
• How much? Starts at $23,150, including shipping; tops out about $34,000.
• What makes it go? 2.5-liter Ecotec four-cylinder rated 197 horsepower at 6,300 rpm, 191 pounds-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. Coming late summer/early fall: optional 2-liter turbocharged Ecotec four-cylinder rated 259 hp at 5,500 rpm, 260 lbs.-ft., at 1,700 rpm. All engines use six-speed automatic transmission.
• How big? A few inches longer than Camry. Malibu is 191.5 inches long, 73 in. wide, 57.6 in. tall on a 107.8-in wheelbase. Weight, 3,393 to 3,660 lbs. Passenger space, 100.3 cubic feet; trunk, 16.3 cu. ft.
Turning circle diameter, 37.4 ft.
• How thirsty? 2.5-liter rated 23 mpg in the city, 34 highway, 26 in combined driving. Trip computer in 2.5-liter test car registered 28.9 mpg (3.46 gallons per 100 miles) in highway driving.
Burns regular; holds 18.5 gal.
• Overall: Great Chevy. Good-enough midsize sedan?