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2013 Chevrolet Malibu First Impressions

The shore-hugging Cabot Trail around the northern tip of Cape Breton Island offers some of the best driving bits this country has to offer. Nowhere else can you experience that many curves and stunning ocean views in one visceral 298-km run.

It’s the kind of run best made with an Italian supercar, with an Italian supermodel -- your choice of gender -- in the passenger seat.

A 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, however, was beneath me when I did the Cabot Trail thing last week, as part of GM Canada’s press intro for the all-new, midsize sedan. However, the Malibu (almost) made me forget about the Italians. This is the current state of mainstream midsize sedans -- they have evolved into extremely capable and enjoyable conveyances.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu

Everything is New
Chevrolet overhauled the 2013 Malibu from top to bottom because it was on the schedule, and because this is not the time to stand around in this segment. There is a new Ford Fusion, new Honda Accord, new Mazda6, and new Nissan Altima already on the scene, or coming shortly. And other major players like Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima, are currently profiting mightily from their recent reinventions.

Once again the German-engineered epsilon platform, which also underpins Buick Lacrosse and the new Impala, forms the backbone of the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu. As platforms are want to do, this one is stiffer and larger than its predecessor. However, it just increased in width, not length and the total weight is actually up a bit.

It’s the first time Chevrolet will introduce Malibu to some world markets, and the first time its midsize player is essentially the same vehicle wherever it’s sold on the planet. According to GM Canada, the only North American-specific tweak is a softer suspension setting on the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu.

No V6 will be had, however, an all-new 2.5-litre “four” is the base engine in the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu. With direct injection and variable valve timing, it makes 197 horses and 191 torques.

The eAssist “mild hybrid” system, which first debuted on Lacrosse, is now optionally available on the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu LT models and standard on Eco models; it features the (older) 182-hp 2.4-litre “four,” 15-hp electric motor, and auto-stop. Not here yet, but coming soon, is the 2.0-litre turbo with direct injection -- good for 269 horsepower. Every engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu hybrid engine
The eAssist “mild hybrid” system features the (older) 182-hp 2.4-litre “four,” 15-hp electric motor, and auto-stop. (Photo: Mike Goetz)

Sheet metal on the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu is all new, featuring a look more consistent with other Chevrolets, and taillights that channel the Camaro’s.

The interior is also all new, featuring a prominent centre stack inspired by the one featured in the Volt. Other notable interior bits include a nav screen that slides up to reveal a very convenient cubby hole to stash valuables, standard Bluetooth, an in-dash info screen that you can scroll away on, and cool blue ambient lighting strips.

Much to Like
There is much to like about this new 2013 Chevrolet Malibu. After our rush around the island, I concluded that this is definitely a comfortable “North American” ride. However, even when pushed hard in corners and on rough pavement (to make the body undulate), the chassis underneath feels anchored and competent.

Steering feel and precision is really quite good, courtesy of the new rack-mounted electric steering system on the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu.

The new 2.5L is quiet, refined and uncomplaining. It revs eagerly for confident passing maneuvers. The eAssist package gives you an agreeable extra shot of torque, for even greater passing confidence and on-ramp acceleration fun.

The cabin in the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu is quiet and classy, with a nod to traditional motifs like raised seat stitching, woodgrain, and chrome accents. And the foldaway info screen is a great idea that actually works.

The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu also features good hip and shoulder room in the back. And every model has 10 airbags.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu dashboard
The cabin in the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu is quiet and classy, with a nod to traditional motifs like raised seat stitching, woodgrain, and chrome accents. (Photo: Mike Goetz)

Not So Much
Leading off the “not so much” list is the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu transmission’s self-shifting controls. Upshifts and downshifts are selected by buttons on top of the shift lever -- a maneuver that is both awkward and non-intuitive.

Also, the heated seats can only be had with the optional
leather seats.

The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu's eAssist option comes with extra weight, cost, complexity, and a smaller trunk. All this makes it a bit hard to justify, in my world anyways.

Other off-putting things to note: the driver’s right armrest is too far back and other competitors offer more rear legroom.

Wrap Up
The new 2013 Chevrolet Malibu is a handsome, well-equipped, completely modern sedan. And as our Cape Breton experience showed, it welcomes and rewards a chance to have some fun.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu front 3/4 view
The new 2013 Chevrolet Malibu is a handsome, well-equipped, completely modern sedan. (Photo: Mike Goetz)

They only thing it seems to lack is some charisma. And the midsize segment seems to be demanding some charisma of late -- because it keeps getting easier to nail down all the other stuff.

The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu has a great feeling of core strength and competency -- another strong Chevrolet product in the marketplace.
2013 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT Eco
chevrolet malibu 2013
2013 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT Eco
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