As a result of its becoming an international citizen, the new Malibu has a 4.5-inch shorter wheelbase than the 2012 model but is 2 inches wider.
Gone are the predecessor's long, flowing lines that imparted a sense of elegance to a nameplate that hadn't seen sublime styling in decades. The new Malibu has a more pugnacious, muscular stance that seems cautiously conservative next to the more daring Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima and Ford Fusion.
Initially, the front-wheel-drive Malibu is being offered only in Eco trim, which employs a revised version of GM's mild hybrid "eAssist" system.
The term refers to a system that uses a 182-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine teamed with a 15-hp electric motor-generator and six-speed automatic transmission. The eAssist driveline never runs solely on electricity like a full hybrid. Instead, the electric motor merely aids performance, allowing a lower-powered gas engine and fewer batteries to be used. This improves fuel economy by 12 percent, at a lower cost than full hybrids, according to GM.
Chevy engineers took other steps to improve fuel economy by designing the car with aerodynamic underbody panels and by using electronically controlled shutters in the lower grille that close at higher speeds to push air around the car.
The car's solid platform and dynamic personality make it rewarding to pilot. The ride is absorbent, insulating passengers from road shocks, yet still communicating that you're traversing broken pavement.
The spacious cabin is as quiet as a college library on Saturday night, with materials that are a clear cut above the outgoing car. The instrument cluster reflects the car's smartly designed balance of sport and elegance. The gauges are clear and easy to understand.
The Malibu gets a much-needed high-tech upgrade with Chevy's new MyLink infotainment system, which seamlessly integrates online services such as Pandora Internet radio and smartphone applications, using voice commands or touch-screen controls through your Bluetooth-enabled phone.
For those who want comfort, a modicum of driving fun and a fuel-efficient ride at a modest price, the Malibu Eco may fill that perfect spot in your garage.
CHEVROLET MALIBU ECO
Base price: $25,995 (including destination charge)
EPA fuel economy rating: 25 mpg city/37 highway
Engine: 2.4-liter DOHC four-cylinder with 11 kW electric motor
Wheelbase: 107.8 inches
Length: 191.3 inches
Weight: 3,620 pounds
Cargo space: 14.3 cubic feet
Bottom Line: Comfort, a modicum of driving fun and a fuel-efficient ride, all at a modest price.