First Drive: 2013 Chevrolet Malibu 2.5

Chevrolet introduced the all-new 2013 Malibu at the start of this year, but we've only been able to test the Eco model until now. Starting this summer, the midsize sedan will have another frugal engine option: a 2.5-liter I-4.

The new four-cylinder is expected to be the most popular engine that the 2013 Malibu will offer. Chevy estimates around 80 percent of Malibu buyers will opt for the 2.5, with the remaining 20 percent of them to be split between the Eco and upcoming 2.0-liter turbo-four.

New Powertrain

For the 2012 model year, the Malibu used a 2.4-liter inline-four cylinder as its base engine; that engine was rated at 170 hp and 158 lb-ft of torque. The 2013 model uses an all-new 2.5-liter I-4 that adds 27 hp and 22 lb-ft, totaling 197 hp and 180 lb-ft. Despite the extra power, Chevrolet expects the new powertrain to be marginally more efficient as well -- mileage estimates for the 2013 Malibu have been pegged at 22/34 mpg city/highway, which is one more mpg on the highway than the outgoing car.

Stacked up against the competition, the 2.5-liter Malibu is more powerful than all of its rivals, save the 198-hp Hyundai Sonata and the 200-hp Kia Optima. However, the added oomph comes at a cost -- the Chevrolet falls short of the competition with its 22-mpg rating in the city and 34 mpg on the highway.

An all-new six-speed automatic transmission is partially responsible for the extra mile per gallon on the highway. Compared to the six-speed unit in the 2012 model, the 2013's transmission has less internal friction and offers quicker shifts. Chevy carried over active grille shutters from the Malibu Eco to help reduce aerodynamic drag on the highway. Plastic shutters behind the lower intake close like venetian blinds to help direct airflow around (instead of through) the grille when cooling needs are minimal, meaning the car uses slightly less fuel.

On the Road

Once underway, the new I-4 is stronger and more refined than the outgoing engine and the 2.5-liter in the Toyota Camry, but it's not quite as robust and smooth as the Accord's four-cylinder. What Chevrolet trumps its rivals in; however, is low-speed serenity. The engine was almost silent at parking lot speeds, making us wonder if we had slipped behind the wheel of a Malibu Eco hybrid by mistake. That quiet bliss fades away quickly as acceleration builds and the four-cylinder makes itself known. The engine sounds a bit raspy under heavy load, but it never feels underpowered. Fortunately the six-speed automatic is buttery smooth, with shifts hardly noticeable at any speed.

Chevrolet has tuned the suspension to absorb as many road imperfections as possible, which results in a very soft ride. Handling characteristics, like the engine, fall between the Camry and the Accord: more confident than the Toyota but not as planted as the Honda. However, the softness becomes worrisome over mid-corner bumps that cause the Malibu to feel floaty and disconnected from the road. The electric power steering doesn't help this sensation - the steering is very light and overboosted, which is a common trait in this class.

High Style Option

Differentiating the 2.5-liter 2013 Malibu model from the already stylish Eco model are mirror-mounted indicator repeaters and the lack of Eco badging. Top-end LTZ models gain added brightwork, Camaro-esque LED taillights, and vibrant two-tone leather interior options. Other options for the 2013 Malibu include Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system, which comes with a seven-inch touch screen and lets passengers stream music via Bluetooth or USB; a reverse camera; and remote engine start.

Chevrolet will offer the 2.5-liter I-4 engine across the all trim levels (LS, LT, LTZ) and will go on sale this summer. Prices start at $23,150 including destination charges for a 2013 Malibu LS; stepping up to the Malibu LT nets MyLink as standard and costs $24,765; and the top-spec LTZ with LED taillights and standard 18-inch wheels retails beginning at $28,590.

On Sale: Summer 2012
MSRP (with destination): $23,150
Price as Tested: $28,590

ENGINE: 2.5-liter DOHC I-4
Horsepower (hp): 197 @ 6300 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 180 @ 4400 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic

DRIVE: Front-wheel

18-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels
P235/50R18 all-season

FUEL ECONOMY (city/highway/combined):
22/34/28 mpg (est.)

CURB WEIGHT: 3547 lb

Doors/Passengers: 4/5
Cargo volume: 13.2 cu ft
Legroom (front/rear): 42.1/36.8 in
Headroom (front/rear): 39.0/37.5 in

Related Articles