Malibu adds entry-level model as it struggles to stand out
by Sami Haj-Assaad
When we first looked at the 2013 Chevy
Malibu Eco, we came away awed by its incredibly quiet ride, but were otherwise unimpressed. Despite its mild-hybrid powertrain, it lagged behind its hybrid rivals in fuel economy and driving enjoyment.
However, a new four-cylinder engine is now available on the Malibu, and is focused on being quiet, providing solid power, and netting good fuel economy. These might seem like simple goals, but if met they can help make the Malibu stand out in a crowded playing field.
This new 2.5L engine is available on the lowest trim Malibu, and is cheaper than the eAssist mild-hybrid Malibu Eco by about $3,000. While comparing that car to the other hybrids in its segment proved a lopsided affair, the Malibu 2.5L offers a closer head-to-head comparison with other base models in the mid-size family sedan segment such as the Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata and the all-new Nissan Altima.
The Malibu 2.5L is looking to continue the reputation of its mild-hybrid model. That means the expectations are set with a bunch of standard features, a quiet cabin and a comfortable ride. The new engine also hopes to breathe life into the car, in terms of power and fuel efficiency.
PLENTY OF POWER
The additional power that the new engine makes is a clear advantage over its mid-sized rivals – at least on paper.
At 197-hp and 191 lbs-ft of torque, the Malibu beats out the power numbers made by the base Camry, Altima and Accord. It’s just one pony shy of the Sonata and Optima twins, but bests them in torque. When driving, the car never feels out of breath, and will adequately pass slower vehicles on the highway.
While family sedans aren’t known for blazing fast acceleration, Chevrolet says that the Malibu can hit 60 mph in about 8-seconds, which is on par with other sedans in the segment. The reason it’s not quicker is the extra weight the Malibu lugs around, ranging from 200 to 300 lbs more than many of its competitors.
The car delivers its power smoothly, and briskly glides when pushed hard, rather than abruptly throwing passengers back in their seats.
SOLID FUEL ECONOMY, BUT SHORT OF RIVALS
That extra power (and weight) comes with a compromise. The EPA rates the Malibu 2.5L at 22/34/26 mpg city/highway/combined. While this is a better rating than the old 2.4L in the 2012 Malibu, it’s slightly lower than the ratings of the Camry, Accord, Altima and Sonata. The plus side is that the Malibu’s fuel economy numbers are actually attainable, and done without a frustratingly unresponsive Eco mode.
During city, highway and rural drives, our test car averaged closer to 30 mpg, higher than the EPA’s estimate.