In Cars.com's $25,000 Family Sedan Shootout, the judges were impressed with the 2010 Chevrolet Malibu's roomy backseat that could fit three child-safety seats.
For 2013, Chevrolet gives us the all-new Malibu Eco, a fuel-efficient mild hybrid with redesigned exterior styling and an interior that GM says is more comfortable and spacious than ever. Comfortable, indeed; spacious, I'm not so sure. Despite a few inches added to its width and 2 cubic feet added to overall passenger volume, the 2013 Malibu's cabin felt cramped, particularly in the backseat. Some have speculated that the cramped rear is likely due to a shorter wheelbase. Whatever the reason, don't expect to fit three child-safety seats across this Malibu's backseat.
Despite this small decrease in family-friendliness, the 2013 Chevy Malibu Eco is worth a look when contemplated for what it is: a fuel-efficient, nice-looking and extraordinarily quiet midsize sedan at a decent price.
The Malibu Eco includes the debut of Chevy's MyLink multimedia system, which keeps you connected to friends, family, music and everything else you can't stand to be separated from even for a minute thanks to enhanced Bluetooth technology. Chevy also has done away with the six-cylinder version of the Malibu. A 197-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a 259-hp, turbocharged four-cylinder will hit the market later this year.
The 2013 Malibu Eco with its four-cylinder engine paired to a small supplemental electric motor handles well, feels solid and accelerates smoothly. Most impressive is it gets 25/37 mpg city/highway. With the addition of the Leather Package and a metallic paint job, my test car, an Eco Premium Audio trim, had a sticker price of $29,100, though the starting MSRP for the Malibu Eco base model is $25,235.
The Chevy Camaro served as inspiration for the Eco's exterior looks, which is notable in its taillights and tight rear end. Despite my enduring belief that everyone looks better with a tight rear, it doesn't quite work on the Malibu. Its aggression is a bit incongruous with the rest of the Malibu Eco's clean, safe and abiding lines.
The doors and step-in height are manageable for small children, and the trunk was light enough, though often finicky about closing, so two hands were needed more often than not. Daytime running lights, front fog lamps and halogen headlights are standard as are heated side mirrors and 17-inch aluminum wheels. The side mirrors are small and inflexible; I struggled for a few minutes to fold them in before entering a car wash.
The Eco's cargo volume is slightly reduced because the lithium-ion battery pack is stored in the cargo floor, leaving 14.3 cubic feet of trunk space. This translates into enough room for groceries and an umbrella stroller but not enough room for carrying gear for a family weekend in the mountains. There is no trunk release button in the cabin, so you have to open it manually or with the key fob. I like the flexibility of having a trunk release in the cabin, so I found this bothersome.
The Eco has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that has fuel-saving variable valve timing and eAssist technology in which a lithium-ion battery pack and small electric motor supplement the gasoline engine's performance, thereby delivering greater fuel efficiency. The engine produces 182 horsepower and has a six-speed automatic transmission. The 2013 Malibu Eco uses regular gas.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some
A combination of black leather and faux-wood and silver-colored plastic greets you upon entering the Malibu Eco. The center stack has sturdy controls and a standard touch-screen; blue-hued ambient lighting is standard, and all of this combines for a borderline upscale effect. The leather upholstery, which comes with heated front seats as part of the available Leather Package ($1,000), is comfortable and easy to clean.
As for interior storage, there are six cupholders, a good-sized glove box and a too-small center console. There is also a hidden compartment behind the touch-screen that in theory is clever, but in practice is often forgotten.
When it comes to operating the new MyLink system, the Malibu is teeming with options. You can control things through the touch-screen, the steering-wheel controls, voice commands or the center stack buttons. It's easy enough for a child to figure out and allows you to integrate myriad entertainment and communication options that come through your smartphone or USB-connected device.
My biggest issue with the interior is its lack of space, particularly in the rear. Installing two convertible safety seats is doable but leaves little room for even the tiniest of legs, not to mention a third passenger between the seats. The installation of a rear-facing infant seat decimates the front passenger's legroom. Fitting three adults in the rear seat is challenging unless they are all unusually petite.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
The 2013 Chevy Malibu Eco has five lower Latch anchors, with two sets in the outboard seats and the fifth anchor in the middle seating position. This setup allows parents to use Latch anchors to install their child-safety seat in every seating position. However, parents should not attach more than one Latch connector to each anchor. The anchors were surprisingly easy to access, though the stiffness of the leather upholstery made using them a little tougher than it should be.
The Eco hasn't yet been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the federal government.
The Malibu Eco has standard front-wheel drive and four-wheel-disc antilock brakes that are regenerative, meaning that any power lost during braking is captured, converted to electricity and saved for later use in the lithium-ion battery pack. An electronic stability system with traction control also is standard. The Malibu has eight airbags, including side curtains for both rows and knee airbags for the driver and front passenger. A six-month subscription to OnStar, including an Automatic Crash Response system, is standard.
My test car also came with the available backup camera; the image is displayed on the 7-inch touch-screen.