2013 Chevrolet Malibu Review and Prices
The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu is the best car for you if you want a popular family midsize sedan that’s been redesigned as an international-flavored four-door.
The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu is all-new with fresh styling, additional features, and an all-four-cylinder lineup -- including turbocharged and electrically assisted engines. Following a European blueprint, the 2013 Malibu shrinks slightly compared with its 2008-2012-generation predecessor. The new Malibu is off to a slow sales start in a 2013 class that includes the redesigned Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, and Nissan Altima, as well as the segment-sales-champ Toyota Camry. Base prices for the 2013 Malibu begin near 2012-model levels, at around $23,000. But the top-line Malibu now starts near $31,000, some $3,000 higher than before.
Should you buy a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu or wait for the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu? Wait for the 2014 Malibu if you want to see whether Chevy acts quickly to update a car that’s been criticized for dull styling, middling performance, and tight rear-seat accommodations. Altered styling would be the likeliest change. Performance and accommodations can’t be changed without major modifications. So buy a 2013 Malibu if you’re satisfied with its looks and space – and don’t want to suffer the almost-inevitable model-year price increase.
2013 Chevrolet Malibu Changes back to top
Styling: The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu’s styling is more curvaceous than that of the car it replaces. It’s still recognizable as a Malibu, thanks to carried-over elements such as an updated version of Chevy’s horizontal-bar split front grille. A wider stance along with broader shoulders and a trunklid with molded-in spoiler help lend a more aggressive appearance.
The 2013 Malibu’s styling is handsome and clean-cut. But it seems a bit of a wallflower in a class that includes the more sophisticated-looking Fusion, the flashier Hyundai Sonata, the more-aggressive-looking Altima, and the more deftly updated Accord and Camry.
As it did with the all-new 2012 Buick Regal, GM turns to its German-designed Opel Insignia sedan as the basis for the 2013 Malibu. The 2013 Malibu is about 1.5 inches shorter in overall length than the outgoing version, though it’s 3 inches wider, which contributes to sportier proportions and several inches additional shoulder room.
The more noteworthy dimension is wheelbase, and the 2013 Malibu’s is a significant 4.5-inches shorter than the previous Malibu’s. Wheelbase is the distance between the front and rear axles and a key determinate of a car’s passenger legroom.
Chevy says the 2013 Malibu has just fractions of an inch less front and rear legroom than the 2012 model, though in practice, rear-seat knee clearance feels notably tighter than in rivals such as the Accord, Camry, Altima, and Sonata, and especially the Volkswagen Passat. And relatively small rear-door openings make for some challenging entry and exit, too.
Trunk volume in the 2013 Malibu depends on the model. The conventional-powertrain version has a generous 16.3-cubic feet, an increase of 1.2 cubic feet over the 2012 Malibu. In the electrically assisted 2013 Malibu Eco model, however, the housing for the electric-motor’s battery behind the rear seat eats into trunk space, reducing volume to 13.2 cubic feet.
Inside, the 2013 Malibu has a modern, sporty “dual-cockpit” layout with main gauges housed in rectangular binnacles similar to those in the Chevrolet Camaro. Malibu’s central dashboard section innovates with an articulated radio faceplate that swings up to reveal a 6-inch deep illuminated covered storage bin behind the 7-inch touch-screen radio display. Chevy says this is a U.S. first in a midsize car.
The 2013 Malibu’s cabin achieves an upscale feel with good materials quality, strategically placed soft-touch surfaces, and chromed accents. All but the least-expensive models come with ice-blue ambient lighting, adding to the premium impression.
Except for prominent engine roar in full-throttle acceleration, noise levels are pleasantly low. In fact, Chevy says generous use of sound-deadening materials make this the quietest Chevrolet ever.
The 2013 Malibu lineup is built around three general levels of trim – basic LS, volume-selling LT, and top-line LTZ -- plus two grades of the Eco model. Each offers one or more sublevels.
The base-powertrain 2013 Malibu comes as the LS in 1LS trim (there’s also a 1FL sublevel aimed at rental and commercial fleets). The base-powertrain Malibu also features the LT model in 1LT and 2LT subgrades and the LTZ in 1LZ and 2LZ trim.
The 2013 Malibu Eco is available in 1SA and better-equipped 2SA subgrades; they’re roughly equivalent to the 1LT and 2LT.
Malibus equipped with the turbocharged engine come in LT form with a 3LT package and in LTZ trim with a 2LZ package.
Cosmetic differences between trim levels are largely confined to such details as black outside mirrors on LS models versus body-color on the others. Fog lamps are standard on 2LT, 3LT, and LTZ models and on the Eco 2SA. All 2013 Malibus come with alloy wheels: 16-inch-diameter on the LS, 17-inches on the Eco model and 1LT trim, and 18-inches on the 2LT, 3LT, and LTZ. The 2LZ trim is available with 19-inch alloys.
Mechanical: The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu’s newfound European roots promise reassuring road manners and a composed ride. And its diverse engine lineup suggests technology in the service of performance and fuel economy. In reality, compromise seems to be the overriding theme.
Road manners are indeed predictable, but also wholly unexciting. Even with the 19-inch tires and the turbo versions’ handling-tuned suspension, the 2013 Malibu doesn’t invite spirited driving. It feels heavy and responds unenthusiastically in quick changes of direction.
Chevy follows modern fuel-saving practice and eliminates the engine drag of hydraulic power steering for an electric setup. The result in the 2013 Malibu’s case is steering neither really sharp nor overly natural-feeling in most circumstances.
Normal-sized bumps seldom jar this car. Its structure feels solid and high-speed composure is good. But as speeds increase, non-turbo Malibus can be ruffled by dips and imperfect pavement, suffering unseemly porpoising or wayward body motions.
The 2013 Malibu hews to midsize-sedan convention with a front-wheel-drive layout that concentrates the mass of the powertrain over the tires that also propel the car, resulting in good wet-surface traction. Sportier-handling rear-wheel drive is the province of more-expensive sedans, while the only cars in Malibu’s competitive set with all-wheel drive are the Subaru Legacy, where it’s standard, and the Ford Fusion and Suzuki Kazashi, where it’s optional.
As in the 2012 Malibu, the only transmission in the 2013 Malibu is a six-speed automatic. This is a new transmission, however, and allows manual-type gear control by toggling a section atop the console-mounted shift lever. Unfortunately, the lever is mounted fairly far rearward, so accessing the manual-shift toggle is a wrist-twisting exercise. It’s especially difficult if anything taller than a 12-oz can occupies the cupholders immediately behind the lever.
Eliminating a V-6-engine alternative in favor of four-cylinder choices only puts the 2013 Malibu in step with a midsize-class trend that’s also captured the Fusion, Sonata, and upcoming 2014 Mazda 6.
The 2013 Malibu’s base powertrain employs an all-new 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 197 horsepower and 191 pound-feet of torque (think of torque as the force behind acceleration, horsepower as the energy that sustains momentum).
This is among the most powerful base four-cylinders in the class. It replaces the outgoing Malibu’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder, which was rated at 169 horsepower and 160 pound-feet of torque. A member of GM’s “Ecotec” engine family, the 2.5 has direct fuel injection. This precision technology introduces fuel directly into the cylinders to maximize power and minimize fuel consumption and exhaust emissions.
The 2.5-liter is our choice for the best all-around Malibu engine. It has sufficient torque to move this car away from a stop smartly, to merge with fast-moving highway traffic, and to cruise quietly.
The new-for-model-year-2013 Malibu Eco uses a 2.4-liter four-cylinder augmented by GM’s eAssist technology, which draws its name from the electric motor assist it lends the gas engine. The eAssist is positioned and priced as a step up from the base 2.5-liter four-cylinder.
The system uses a small electric motor to deliver an additional 15 horsepower during rapid acceleration or when climbing steep grades. As with eAssist versions of the Buick LaCrosse and Regal, however, the eAssist Malibu is rated according to the gas engine’s output: 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque.
The Eco’s electric motor is powered by a lithium-ion battery pack charged through regenerative braking and energy captured during deceleration. Unlike “full hybrids,” the eAssist system can’t propel the car on electricity alone. Its principal function is to ease loads on the gas engine, thereby reducing fuel consumption. It also allows fuel delivery to be suspended in certain coasting conditions, frees Chevy to use a gas-saving final-drive ratio, and as in other hybrids enables the gas engine to shut off when the car comes to a stop, then restart when the brake pedal is released, without interrupting accessory function.
The 2013 Malibu Eco is also among the first vehicles in the midsize segment with a standard fuel-saving, active shutter system. Located in the lower grille, the system automatically closes airflow when air intake is least needed. When closed, the shutter system enhances aero performance by redirecting airflow around the front of the vehicle and down the sides, rather than through it. The shutter is open or closed based on engine coolant temperature and speed. For example, the shutters open when the car is traveling up a hill or in hot city driving; the shutters close at highway speeds when less engine cooling is required.
The eAssist powertrain works as advertised, delivering slightly better acceleration than expected of a modestly sized four-cylinder in a relatively heavy 3,600-pound midsize sedan. There’s little sensation of the onset of electric assist or of fuel shutoff during coasting. The stop-start system is not intrusive beyond a slight drivetrain shudder. It’s signaled, along with the various other Eco-powertrain modes, by a message displayed on a screen in the main instrument pod. The only untoward behavior is occasional nonlinear deceleration as the system captures regenerative braking to recharge the battery.
The turbocharged four-cylinder joined the 2013 Malibu line in the fall of 2012. It’s a 2.0-liter member of GM’s Ecotec engine family and in effect takes the place of the previous Malibu’s V-6. The turbo has 259 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. By comparison the V-6, a 3.6-liter, was rated at 252 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque.
The turbo four in the 2013 Malibu is kin to the 2.0-liter engine in the Regal Turbo model, where it’s tuned for 220 horsepower and 260-pound-feet of torque, and in the Regal GS, where it’s rated at 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. It’s also closely related to the 2.0-liter Ecotec turbo four in the rear-wheel-drive Cadillac ATS, where it’s tuned for 272 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque.
The turbocharged Malibu is in its element accelerating from midrange and highway speeds, where the ready torque comes on quickly to surge the car ahead. It’s by far the fastest Malibu, though not the most pleasant to drive. Blame turbo lag and torque steer.
The former describes a delay between pressing the accelerator and forward momentum. It’s annoying when you’re trying to move this car off the line quickly and especially when you need quick throttle response in city driving.
Torque steer is the tendency of powerful front-wheel-drive cars to veer from your intended line during quick acceleration from low or moderate speeds. It’s present in the Malibu turbo even from 40 mph or so and detracts from the sense of control a modern car – particularly one with European genes – ought to deliver.
Features: The 2013 Malibu is the most-connected Malibu ever. It’s the first available with a navigation system and a rear backup camera. It’s also the first with Chevrolet’s MyLink Touch hands-free interface to smartphone apps.
Every 2013 Malibu comes with a nice array of features. Air conditioning, power locks, windows, and mirrors, tilt/telescope steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, a driver’s seat with height and lumbar adjustments, and remote keyless entry are standard. So is satellite-radio capability. However, a USB iPod port and Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone connectivity are reserved for LT, LTZ, and Eco models.
Depending on trim level, other standard features or options available individually or in groups include remote engine start, a power moonroof and rear sunshade, leather upholstery, and forward-collision and lane-departure alerts.
All but the LS models have a 7-inch audio touchscreen and Chevy MyLink Touch. MyLink integrates online services such as Pandora Internet radio and Stitcher SmartRadio using voice and touch-screen controls via Bluetooth-enabled phones. It enables stereo audio streaming and wireless control of smartphones, building on the voice-activated Bluetooth capability. MyLink control menus display on the dashboard touchscreen.
Dual-zone automatic climate control and a driver-information screen in the gauge cluster are standard with 2LT, 3LT, and LTZ trim as well as on the Eco models.
A power driver seat is standard on Eco 2SA and 2LT and 3LT Malibus and is available on all but the LS. The LTZ has power heated front seats and is available with driver-seat memory. A leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel is standard on the Eco 2SA, and on the 2LT and LTZ models. Leather upholstery is standard on the LTZ and optional on Eco 2SA and 2LT and 3LT Malibus.
Every 2013 Malibu comes with the OnStar assistance system. It’s activated by a button on the inside rearview mirror and is manned round the clock by live operators. OnStar makes available such services as turn-by-turn directions and emergency response that includes stolen-vehicle slowdown and ignition block. Six months of OnStar service is included with the vehicle purchase; a monthly is fee required thereafter.
A voice-activated navigation system is optional on the Eco 2SA and the LTZ models. It uses the 7-inch display. A rearview camera is included with the navigation system and is available separately from the navigation system on all but LS models.
Remote-vehicle start is standard on the 2013 Malibu LTZ, Eco 2SA, and 2LT and 3LT models. The LTZ Premium Package adds xenon headlamps and pushbutton ignition. A power sunroof is standard on the 2LZ model and optional on all but the LS.
Among new-to-Malibu safety features are lane-departure and forward-collision warning systems. Optional on 2LT, 3LT, and LTZ Malibus, lane-departure warning alerts if the car inadvertently drifts from its intended highway lane. Available on the LTZ, forward-collision warning sounds an alarm if sensors detect the car closing too fast on traffic ahead.
2013 Chevrolet Malibu Prices back to top
Base-price range for the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu is $23,150-$30,925. (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandated destination fee; Chevy’s destination fee for the 2013 Malibu is $760.)
The 2013 Malibu’s base-price range is within a few hundred dollars of key rivals such as the Fusion, Accord, Camry, and Altima. However, the upper-range Accord, Camry, and Altima come with V-6 engines that mirror the Malibu’s turbo four-cylinder for output but deliver power in a more linear fashion.
Malibus with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine begin with the LS and a base price of $23,150. The 2.5-liter LT model is priced from $24,765 in 1LT trim and from $26,000 in 2LT form. The LTZ with the 2.5-liter engine is tabbed the 1LZ and starts at $28,590.
Malibus equipped with the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder are the LT model in 3LT trim, starting at $27,710, and the LTZ in 2LZ trim, starting at $30,925.
Base price for the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco is $26,095 in 1SA trim and $27,705 in 2SA form.
Among notable 2013 Malibu options, the navigation system costs $795 but requires the concurrent purchase of one of several packages. These range from the $395 Advanced Safety Package (forward collision and lane-departure alerts) to the $1,900 Electronics and Entertainment Package (rearview camera, sunroof, upgraded Pioneer audio system).
Popular options include leather upholstery for the 2LT model; it retails for $1,000 but requires a $1,175 Electroinics and Entertainment Package, plus the $395 Advanced Safety Package. At the lower end, the LS is available with a $275 Protection Package (floor mats and a trunk cargo net) and the $295 rear-park assist system.
2013 Chevrolet Malibu Fuel Economy back to top
EPA fuel-economy ratings for the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu place it no better than mid-pack in its competitive set.
With the 2.5-liter four-cylinder the 2013 Malibu rates 22/34/26 mpg city/highway combined. Class fuel-economy leaders among comparable four-cylinders are the 182-horsepower Altima, at 27/38/31 mpg, and the 185-horsepower Accord, at 27/36/30. Both those competitors, by the way, use a continuously variable transmission (CVT) in place of a conventional automatic.
The 2013 Malibu Eco’s EPA ratings are 25/37/29 mpg city/highway/combined. The Eco costs only a little less than full-hybrid competitors – those able to drive exclusively on electric power for short durations – but it’s also less fuel-efficient. For example, the 200-horspower Camry Hybrid rates 43/39/41 mpg and starts at $26,965. The Fusion Hybrid rates 47/47/47 and starts at $27,200.
Fuel-economy ratings for 2013 Malibu models with the turbocharged engine are 21/30/24 mpg. Those are decent numbers, given this engine’s power. But they’re no better than those of turbocharged four-cylinder competitors. For example, the 237-horsepower turbo Fusion rates 22/33/26 mpg and the 274-horsepower turbo Sonata 22/34/26. Among V-6 competitors, the 268-horsepower Camry rates 21/30/25 and the 278-horsepower Accord 21/34/25. Incidentally, the previous Malibu’s V-6 rated just 17/26/20 mpg
Chevrolet recommends regular-octane gas for all 2013 Malibus.
2013 Chevrolet Malibu Release Date back to top
Sales of the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu began with the Eco model in the first quarter of 2012. The 2013 Malibu LS, LT and LTZ trim levels with the 2.5-liter engine joined the Eco model in summer 2012. Turbocharged versions became available in autumn 2012.
What's next for the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu back to top
Given Malibu’s recent pace of redesigns, expect the generation that launches with the 2013 model to have a five-model-year lifecycle, through 2018. That timeline suggests a midcycle freshening for model-year 2016 or so. Midcycle updates traditionally involve styling tweaks and perhaps minor mechanical updates.
Any lifecycle schedule of course depends in part on conditions beyond an automaker’s control. Malibu is one of GM’s best-selling cars and the corporation isn’t likely to risk falling very far behind its fast-moving competition by delaying improvements to this popular midsize sedan.
Calendar-year 2012 sales of 210,951 Malibus represented a 3-percent increase over 2011, a relatively poor showing in a resurgent car market that experienced an overall sales increase of 13 percent. Malibu again finished sixth in calendar-year sales among midsize cars, behind the Camry, Altima, Fusion, Accord, and Sonata.
Thus the likelihood that Chevy will pull forward Malibu’s midcycle freshening to model-year 2014.
2013 Chevrolet Malibu Competition back to top
Toyota Camry: The best-selling car in the industry’s highest-volume segment got a model-year 2012 redesign, stealing a beat on all-new 2013 versions of the Fusion, Accord, Nissan Altima – and the Malibu. The 2013 Camry continues as one of the larger cars in the midsize class, inside and out, and it’s roomier than the Malibu, especially in the back seat. It’s less sporty than the class norm, but assets include a sterling reputation for dependability and resale value. The engine lineup consists of a four-cylinder with 178 horsepower and ratings of 25/35/28 mpg city/highway/combined, a V-6 with 268 horsepower and 21/30/25 mpg, and a four-cylinder gas-electric hybrid with 200 horsepower and 43/39/41 mpg. Base prices for the 2013 Camry begin at $23,030 for four-cylinder models, at $28,055 for V-6s, and at $26,965 for the Hybrid. Toyota is working on a plug-in hybrid Camry developed in cooperation with electric carmaker Tesla, in which Toyota has a financial stake.
Honda Accord: The 2013 Malibu goes head-to-head with the first fully redesigned version of Honda’s highly regarded midsize mainstay since model-year 2008. The all-new 2013 Accord follows Malibu’s path with smaller exterior dimensions, though with no loss of interior space – an advantage for buyers who value a roomy rear seat. Sedan and coupe body styles return and both again offer four- and six-cylinder engines. The 2014 Accord line will also gain a plug-in hybrid model. A six-speed manual transmission is available with both the four- and six-cylinder engines. The four-cylinder (and the hybrid) use a continuously variable transmission, the V-6 a six-speed automatic. For the plug-in hybrid, Honda claims an all-electric range of 10-15 miles in city-type driving and a top speed of 62 mph. It says fully recharging the battery will take less than four hours using a 120-volt outlet and less than 1.5 hours using a 240-volt charger. Base prices for the 2013 Accord sedan start at $23,270 for the four-cylinder CVT and at $30,860 for the V-6 automatic. Coupes are priced slightly higher.
Ford Fusion: Just as General Motors leverages its European design arm to bring the Regal and Malibu to the U.S., Ford has its own global strategy: developing vehicles to serve multiple markets with minimal alteration. It’s served Ford well, bringing international versions of the Fiesta subcompact and Focus compact to the U.S., and it continues with the all-new 2013 Fusion midsize sedan. This Fusion shares its basic structure and engineering with the Ford Mondeo sold overseas and both have running gear designed to meet demanding European driving standards. Fusion’s curvy new look breaks with the outgoing model’s blocky styling. And Ford stretches the powertrain envelope by offering a quintet of four-cylinder engines -- and no V-6. Choices include a pair of four-cylinder turbos from Ford’s EcoBoost engine family, plus a “conventional” gas-electric hybrid and the coming Fusion Energi, a plug-in hybrid the automaker claims will be the most fuel-efficient midsize car in the world. Base prices for the 2013 Fusion begin at $22,495 for 170-horsepower versions, $24,495 for the 179-horsepower turbo, $30,995 for the 237-horsepower turbo, and $27,200 for the Hybrid. Pricing for the plug-in-hybrid was not announced in time for this review.
UPDATED BY CHUCK GIAMETTA