2013 Chevrolet Malibu: 2011 New York Auto Show Preview

April 18, 2011

GM's best-selling sedan gets a major refurbishing early next year in the form of the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, which will be shown this week in New York after a global reveal in Shanghai.

The new car will be the eighth new vehicle to wear the storied nameplate. This time around, the Malibu's a bit smaller and a lot softer, too. Chevrolet's bowtie is framed in a tiered grille, and its taillights are squared off in an homage to the Camaro muscle car. The cabin has been reshaped around a new center console with a flip-up radio control panel, flanked by woodgrain, metallic or chrome trim and blue ambient lighting.

The power of...four?

Over the decades the Malibu has been transformed from a rear-wheel-drive car with V-8 power, to a front-driver with either a V-6 or a four-cylinder engine, with or without mild-hybrid add-ons.

For the 2013 redo, the Malibu tips its gunsights squarely at the Hyundai Sonata, with only four-cylinder power. The 2.5-liter four ushers 190 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque through a six-speed automatic transmission, which Chevy says gives it the performance of a V-6--which V-6, they don't specify. 

Fuel economy is promised to be improved; the Malibu gains electric power steering in the all-out effort to trim weight and friction and to save fuel.

At the same time, Chevy's also gambling that a tauter feel will pay off as it has for the Sonata, not to mention the Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion. The Malibu's front suspension remains MacPherson struts, the rear a four-link design, but GM says they've been tuned for European-style handling. Turning circle for the not-so-big sedan is nearly 38 feet, though.

All four corners wear disc brakes, and the Malibu will be offered with wheels sized from 17 to 19 inches.

Shorter, wider, roomier?

Downsizing brings the Malibu closer to its global cousins on GM's Epsilon II platform, while it brings the four-door down to a different niche of family sedans in overall size.

The Honda Accord is a large car, by EPA standards, while the old Malibu came close; the new version is 4.5 inches smaller in wheelbase at 107.8 inches, and it's 191.3 inches long--but an inch wider, which repackages the rear-seat space and still leaves the Malibu with the same interior volume as the Sonata. That nets out to more shoulder and hip room front and back, Chevy promises.

Chevy also says the Malibu's trunk is a cubic foot larger than before, at 16.3 cu ft. 

And that flip-up audio system? It hides one of the new cubbies tucked into the Malibu's interior trim. The LCD screen cloaks a deep, illuminated bin that's bound to be a favorite hiding space for iPhones and other things better hidden from thieves.

More bags for all

All the mandatory safety gear is bolted into the Malibu, from dual front and curtain airbags to anti-lock brakes and traction control.

The Malibu will be one of the few domestic-brand family sedans to offer rear-seat side airbags as an option--while it'll also sport dual front knee airbags as standard equipment.

Safety options will include a rearview camera and a lane-departure warning system that also warns drivers of vehicles slowing in the lane ahead.

GM's OnStar hardware and six months of service also will be included.

Malibu eAssist?

In this new iteration, GM says the Malibu will put an emphasis on fuel economy with a range of four-cylinder engines and six-speed transmissions. A GM spokesman says no V-6 powertrain will be offered in the new Malibu.

In fact, the Malibu may be the next GM product to offer a new mild-hybrid system that's been dubbed eAssist, as it's applied to the Buick LaCrosse. An announcement is expected at the 2011 New York Auto Show.

GM briefly offered a mild hybrid Malibu in 2009 to retail customers, selling a few to fleets in 2010.

The new four-door will sport aero shutters like those in the Cruze, on a special high-fuel-economy model. The shutters block airflow when it's not needed to cool the engine; the air is managed around the vehicle to improve aerodynamics, which GM says is already a Malibu highlight.

Worldwide domination planned

The 2013 Malibu will be sold in the U.S. in three trim levels: LS, LT, and LTZ. Top versions will offer new infotainment systems, including a navigation system.

Chevy's MyLink also will be featured on the sedan. Like similar systems from Ford and Toyota, MyLink brings apps to the car's secondary systems. Audio apps like Pandora are integrated into the system so the driver's cell phone can deliver an audio stream that gives an alternative--or replaces--services like XM satellite radio.  

Bluetooth audio streaming is bundled in along with those services, but GM hasn't said whether it will explore adding Twitter services to MyLink, as Ford is doing with its SYNC system.

GM has plans for worldwide growth for the Malibu name. It's committed to build the sedan in the U.S. and China, and will sell the new Malibu on every continent except for Antarctica--in 100 countries, in all.

Production for American buyers begins early in 2012 at two plants in the U.S.--at the Hamtramck, Michigan, plant where the 2011 Chevy Volt also is built, and at the GM plant in Fairfax, Kansas.

The current Chevy Malibu was named North American Car of the Year when it was introduced for the 2008 model year, and since then, it's become one of General Motors' sales pillars. Chevy sold 198,770 Malibu sedans in 2010, ranking alongside the likes of the Hyundai Sonata (196,623 sales), Ford Fusion (219,219 units), and Nissan Altima (229,263 units), though behind the sales titans among family sedans--the Toyota Camry (327,804 units) and the Honda Accord (311,381 units).

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