2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco: First Drive Review Page 2

December 14, 2011
2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco

Eco assist, but no "hybrid"


A 190-horsepower, 2.5-liter four and a turbocharged four-cylinder are coming to the Malibu lineup later in the 2013 model year. At launch, GM will build all Malibu sedans as Eco models, at its Kansas plant, alongside its Buick LaCrosse eAssist model, which marked the debut of the mild-hybrid technology.

The eAssist name isn't used on the Malibu Eco, though it's the same setup, essentially the second generation of GM's mild hybrid technology. Here, the basic 2.4-liter, 182-horsepower four-cylinder engine is teamed to a six-speed automatic. The gas drivetrain is in turn teamed with a 15-kW motor, a battery pack housed behind the rear seats, a stop/start system, and a regenerative braking system that keeps the lithium-ion batteries topped off.

In practice, the gas engine is responsible for almost all the power when it's on, but the batteries do deliver some torque so that the transmission can be geared taller, which in turn allows the engine to run at lower rpm in some circumstances, all to boost fuel economy. When the car comes to a stop, the engine turns off, and the batteries provide supplemental power and restart capability. When the driver lifts foot from brake, the Malibu Eco restarts automatically. The batteries are recharged on the go via the motor and regenerative braking.

The Malibu also gets other efficiency tech like the LaCrosse eAssist, including active shutters that smooth the airflow at its front end, low rolling resistance tires, and lighter-weight materials.

Our first drive in the LaCrosse eAssist left us with good impressions. The same is true of the Malibu, which does an impressive job of forgetting it's a hybrid, mild or no. The blending of battery and engine torque doesn't leave many footprints on the Malibu's smoothness. The windup of its four-cylinder engine is tamed really very well, while outright performance is in the eight-second 0-60 mph ballpark. There's a somewhat silly click switch on top of the shift lever, like the side-saddle one on the Ford Fusion, in case you get the urge to keep a hand off the wheel and grab gears at will.

The payoff: the Malibu Eco delivers 25/37 mpg. It neatly divides the non-hybrid and hybrid versions of strong-selling sedans like the Sonata (24/35 mpg or 35/40 mpg), the Fusion (23/33 mpg and 41/36 mpg), but fades compared with the dull new Camry Hybrid's 43/39-mpg rating. GM says the Eco delivers almost 600 miles of range on a tank of gas.

The opposite of before, this Malibu's handling is a reason to seek it out. Of all the electric-assisted family cars we've driven in the past year, the Malibu has the best steering response, period. It doesn't feel detached. It goes where you point it, and no further, and no closer. There's actual feedback, and even compared to the class acts of electric steering--mostly Ford and VW--the Malibu betters them with just-right heft. It's a great companion for the front strut/rear multi-link suspension: GM promised us European-influenced handling and it's here. It's a pretty stark contrast with the regal-riding 2011 Malibu, the one that cut into corners like kindergarten-issue scissors through construction paper. This one keeps its wheels in line, and skims off the worst road surfaces without slop.

The tuning makes us more eager to drive the upcoming turbo edition, without the Eco's tires or brake-pedal feel. The low-rolling-resistance treads were a bit too ready to slip in light rain that hardly covered Austin's highways. The brake pedal felt hard, and the combination of aggressive regen and tires underscores that this version isn't the sporty one.

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