Chevy Malibu Gets Some More Punch

2013 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ.

For reasons I was never completely clear on, Chevrolet chose to introduce the Eco version of its redesigned 2013 Malibu first. The Malibu Eco uses a mild hybrid battery assist system as well as other tricks to help it garner pretty impressive fuel economy numbers of 25 city and 37 highway.

But the driving dynamics of most any vehicle labeled as “eco” are never going to be what you’d call fun, and for many people who just want to drive from point A to point B, that’s fine. For the regular Malibu (added to the line a few months after the Eco) Chevrolet recently furthered the engine choices available with a turbocharged 2.0 liter four cylinder that makes 259 horsepower. (This engine is used in other GM models, like the smaller Buicks and Cadillac ATS.) This raises the fun factor a bit.

I recently tested a Malibu Turbo, and one of the first things I noticed about it is that it just says “Malibu” on the back. No logo whatsoever to indicate what’s under the hood. And while some press materials GM’s public relations folks sent with the car indeed refer to it as the Malibu Turbo, the copy of the window sticker that was also included just called it a Malibu 2LZ.

You wouldn’t even necessarily know that you’re in a turbocharged car when you drive it, which is a good thing. There are no loud “whooshing” noises nor exhaust rumble, and the power curve is very straightforward and linear. The engine is mated to an excellent 6-speed automatic transmission, and acceleration is very good.

The turbo engine option essentially replaces the V6 that was the top power choice in the previous Malibu, and is available on LT and LTZ trim levels. The base engine for 2013 is a 2.4 liter four cylinder, making a strong 197 horsepower, and the overall goal with the engine lineup is to offer up more miles per gallon.

Most every auto maker will be doing this in the coming years, as government mandates will require higher average fleet fuel economy. One way to keep medium and large size cars enjoyable to drive — yet fuel efficient — is to develop smaller engines with turbochargers. By the year 2020, the majority of new internal combustion cars will be built with some kind of turbo engine.

The Malibu with the turbo option isn’t what you’d call a performance car, even though it accelerates very well and handles somewhat crisply. A telling aspect of this car and its mission is the way a driver can manually select gears in the automatic transmission. There are no paddle shifters on the steering wheel, nor even a manual gate for the shift lever. Just a button on top of the knob with + and – on it. A bit clumsy to use, and as such, Chevrolet seems to be saying “Just leave it in Drive.”

It may not be a sport sedan, but it’s a very nice sedan nonetheless. The top-grade LTZ trim gets you wonderfully comfortable seats, stitched in a nice pebble grain leather. The interior of the test car also had a $150 option called “fashion trim,” which means a two-tone combination of black and “brownstone.” It took me awhile to get used to those colors inside a metallic red car, but it does actually work. This interior would look especially handsome inside a black car.

New exterior styling works well to please the eyes too, including taillights inspired by the ones on the Camaro, and just enough splashes of chrome to give the car a premium appearance. My test car also had an upgrade package (in addition to the LTZ trim) that included a really handsome set of 19” wheels which give the car a nice aggressive look.

Finally, a new option with this generation of Malibu is called the Advanced Safety Package. It includes forward collision warning as well as lane departure warning, each of which could really help avoid a crash. For $395, it’s a steal, especially within the car’s fully-loaded as-tested price of around $34,000.

Oh, and the car had a turbo under the hood. You wouldn’t know it from the outside, but it’s there, and it works. Not to make the Malibu a high-performance machine, but to help make it just a really nice car.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave

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