2013 Chevrolet Malibu Review | Motortrend
2013 Chevrolet Malibu
By Todd Lassa, Motortrend
A First Look
If the Volt is the small-batch bourbon in General Motors’ liquor cabinet, the Chevy Malibu is Pabst Blue Ribbon — once as popular as the high-trim Chevelle of the 1960s, but watery discount liquor store stuff by the time the Corsica/Beretta replaced it in the ’80s.
The Malibu’s return for ’97 was not pretty, but that prosaic model couldn’t prepare Chevrolet loyalists for what followed: the 2004 Malibu/Maxx. Right now, GM designers, engineers, and execs are shrieking in horror over its mention in a story about their handsome new model. Please calm down. There’s a method behind this history lesson.
The shift from Malibu/Maxx to its ’08 successor represents the greatest design turnaround in GM’s history, and one of Bob Lutz’s biggest successes during his second tenure at the company. What do you do for an encore?
The outgoing Malibu recalled Chevrolet’s glory days, when the brand offered elegance and features that transcended its status at the bottom of GM’s price/purpose ladder. With its tailored appearance and formal roofline, the Malibu looked like it could fetch far more than its low-$20s price range.
Its successor eschews elegant, formal sheetmetal for a sporty look. The Malibu evolves to the Opel Insignia/Buick Regal’s Epsilon II architecture to lose 4.5 inches in wheelbase. Chevy worries buyers will think it has shrunk. After all, Buick markets the Regal as a “sport sedan,” explaining its tight rear-seat space, so Chevrolet is quick to note that overall interior space is increased more than 3 cubic feet relative to the current Malibu, putting it in the ballpark of the Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion, and just slightly smaller than Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata. That’s because the new Malibu has grown 2.7 inches wider, so big increases in shoulder and hip room compensate for slight losses in legroom and front headroom relative to the 2012 Malibu. Mark Moussa, Malibu’s global chief engineer explains that relative to the Regal, his packaging engineers have greatly increased shoulder room, tightened the clearance between the headliner and the exterior roof panel, and lowered the H-point.
Perhaps its most striking feature, after styling, is that it will be offered only with four-cylinder engines. There’s no V-6 in the works. That’s pretty forward thinking for Chevy, even if Buick, Hyundai, and Kia got there first.
To take advantage of consumers’ shift from trucks and big SUVs to more fuel-efficient cars, GM put Chevy Malibu development on the fast track after the 2009 bankruptcy, and moved up its launch by more than half a year. The ’13 Malibu will go on sale not long after Super Bowl XLVI. It launches in ECO trim, with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder with eAssist as Chevrolet continues to build the old Malibu (Classic?) through the 2012 model year for fleet/rental. This ensures a launch with minimal dealer incentives and potentially higher average transaction prices (ATP).
About half a year later, Chevy will add an all-new 2.5-liter four-cylinder option. The only transmission offered for either engine is GM’s six-speed automatic. Chevy will offer a turbodiesel and a smaller four in other markets.
The new Malibu has been designed to be a global sedan, sold in China — it was unveiled at the Shanghai show, a day ahead of the New York International Auto Show — and throughout Asia, Europe, and the quickly growing markets in South America. In Australia, it will be the Holden Malibu.
It’s a big piece of the strategy puzzle that has Chevrolet becoming GM’s true global brand. In western Europe, the Chevy strategy pushes Opel/Vauxhall back to where it was in the ’60s and ’70s: an upper-middle, semi-premium brand like Buick.
Is it a Super Sport?
After its misadventure with the Malibu Maxx SS, Chevrolet issued an edict that only true performance cars could wear the storied badge. Thus, Cruze RS, but not an SS. What about the new Malibu?
“We’re studying that now,” says Mark Moussa.
2013 Chevrolet Malibu SS Concept
GM has proper engines. The 220-horsepower, 2.0-liter Ecotec Buick Regal CXL Turbo engine would be perfect for a Malibu RS. A Malibu SS would require the Regal GS’s high-output 2.0-liter turbo, which makes 270 horsepower at 5300 rpm and 295 pound-feet at 2500-4000 and gets a respectable 19/29-mpg with the optional six-speed manual. “I’d say, stay tuned,” Moussa hints. “You may be pleasantly surprised in the future.”
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