Introduction

When the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu debuted, it was a stunning departure from the previous model, a quantum leap forward in terms of design, comfort and driving dynamics. That model aged well, and Chevy changed very little about it during a surprisingly brief five-year run. The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu is completely redesigned, representing an evolutionary rather than revolutionary advance for Chevy's midsize family sedan. But is it worth what turns out to be a substantial price premium over certified used versions of the previous Malibu?

Fuel Economy

The previous-generation Chevrolet Malibu was offered with a choice between a 4-cylinder engine and a V6 engine.

The standard 169-horsepower, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine was paired with a 4- or 6-speed automatic transmission from 2008 to 2010. Starting in 2011, the 6-speed automatic was standard on all trim levels. With the 4-speed automatic, fuel economy ratings were 22 miles per gallon in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg in combined driving. The 6-speed automatic provided better fuel economy: 22 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg in combined driving.

The redesigned 2013 Chevrolet Malibu is equipped with a new 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with direct fuel injection and 197 hp. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the new Malibu will return 22 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg in combined driving. Those numbers are essentially the same as the old Malibu, but the 2013 Malibu is making 28 more horsepower.

The upgraded engine for the old Malibu was a 252-hp, 3.6-liter V6 engine bolted to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy was rated 17 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 20 mpg in combined driving.

For 2013, the Malibu's more powerful engine choice is a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine generating 259 hp. What's more, this engine delivers 260 lb-ft of torque from 1,700 rpm to 5,200 rpm, making the Malibu feel particularly powerful. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard, and the Malibu Turbo is rated to get 21 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 24 mpg in combined driving, representing a significant increase over the old Malibu's optional V6 engine.

From late 2008 to early 2010, Chevrolet sold a hybrid-powered version of the previous-generation Malibu. It was a mild hybrid, unable to accelerate without firing the gasoline engine. Combined, the gas engine and the electric assist motor developed 164 hp, delivered to the front wheels through a 4-speed automatic transmission. The Malibu Hybrid was rated to get 26 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway and 29 mpg in combined driving.

For 2013, the Malibu Eco employs a hybrid power train, now called eAssist. The eAssist powertrain remains a mild hybrid but now uses a lithium-ion battery pack and a 6-speed automatic transmission. The combined horsepower rating is 182, and fuel economy measures 25 mpg in the city, 37 mpg on the highway and 29 mpg in combined driving. That combined driving rating is the same as the old Malibu Hybrid.

If fuel economy is your priority when choosing between a new or a used Malibu, there is no difference between the redesigned 2013 Chevy Malibu and the old Malibu when it comes to the standard 4-cylinder engine or the hybrid powertrain. Rather, the benefit of paying extra for the new car is additional horsepower without a penalty in miles per gallon.

When it comes to selecting between the old Malibu with the V6 engine and the new Malibu Turbo, the benefit of buying the 2013 model is clearer. Based on EPA fuel economy ratings, the new 2013 Malibu Turbo is significantly more fuel efficient than the old Malibu V6, and it offers a more useful and entertaining torque curve.

Safety

The previous-generation Chevy Malibu offered six airbags, a traction control system, a stability control system and 4-wheel-disc anti-lock brakes with brake assist as standard equipment. It also had OnStar telematics with a free six-month subscription to Automatic Crash Notification service, which activated if the airbags deployed, put a live operator in touch with the Malibu's occupants and dispatched rescuers to the scene of the accident.

The redesigned 2013 Chevy Malibu includes all of these features but adds four additional airbags and a more sophisticated braking system with cornering brake control and hydraulic brake-fade assist. The new Malibu is also available with rear parking assist sensors, a reversing camera, a forward collision alert system and a lane departure warning system.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the new 2013 Malibu is a very safe family sedan, getting a 5-star overall crash test rating from the NHTSA and a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS.

The previous-generation Malibu was also considered to be a safe car, earning a 5-star overall crash test rating from the NHTSA in 2008, 2009 and 2010, with the IIHS naming it a Top Safety Pick in mid-2010, 2011 and 2012. Prior to mid-2010, the IIHS determined the Malibu's rear-impact injury prevention capabilities as "marginal" in 2008 and 2009, and "acceptable" in early 2010. Also, after the NHTSA strengthened its crash test program for the 2011 model year, the Malibu's overall test result fell to an overall rating of four stars, thanks in part to a 3-star rating for front passenger protection in a frontal impact crash.

As a result of the NHTSA's upgraded crash test parameters in 2011, the redesigned 2013 Chevy Malibu is the safer of the two vehicles, thanks to its 5-star overall crash test rating from the NHTSA and its expanded list of standard and optional safety features. The old Malibu, however, is nearly as safe a vehicle in its own right.

Reliability

According to Consumer Reports, the Chevy Malibu's reliability record is average, though it should be noted that the engines and transmissions are generally trouble-free.

This average reliability history makes a new 2013 Malibu's 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty, 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty (8/100 for eAssist components) and 5-year/100,000-mile roadside assistance program with courtesy transportation all the more appealing; however, the 2013 Malibu's engines are new and unproven, and Chevy's certified preowned (CPO) vehicle program is impressive.

Every previous-generation Chevy Malibu that meets CPO requirements passes a 172-point inspection and is documented with a detailed vehicle history report. The CPO Malibus come with a 12-month/12,000-mile bumper-to-bumper limited warranty, and a 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty backed up by 24-hour roadside assistance. Chevy also throws in a free trial of OnStar telematics service and satellite radio, and 2 years/30,000 miles of free scheduled oil changes, tire rotations and vehicle inspections. Plus, consumers selecting a CPO Malibu can return it within three days or 150 miles with a money-back guarantee.

We're going to call this one a draw. The previous-generation Malibu might rate average in terms of reliability, but the powertrains are reliable and Chevy's certified preowned program benefits are mighty impressive. The new 2013 Malibu provides a longer basic warranty but does not include free oil changes and tire rotations, and the redesigned car is equipped with new, unproven powertrains.

Value

As this article is written, 2008-2012 CPO Malibus range in price from $10,800 for a 2008 Malibu LS with almost 75,000 miles on the odometer to $24,900 for a nearly new 2012 Malibu LTZ with fewer than 3,500 miles. Compare these prices to new 2013 Malibus, which are priced from $23,150 for a Malibu LS with no options to $35,200 for a Malibu LTZ with every option.

Interest rates are commonly higher for used cars than they are for new cars, but through the end of 2012 Chevrolet is offering short-term loans on CPO Malibus with a 1.9 percent interest rate. Add all the benefits associated with Chevy's CPO program and the clear advantage in terms of value goes to the old Malibu.

Technology

The new 2013 Malibu is available with three features that are increasingly difficult to live without, and several options that are nice to have. In our opinion, the addition of a reversing camera to the 2013 Malibu's option list is the most important upgrade over the old car. But we also can't overlook the importance of Chevrolet MyLink technology, which allows for easy smartphone pairing, Bluetooth hands-free calling and music streaming and the operation of mobile applications via the in-dash color touchscreen.

Additional technology upgrades offered with the redesigned Malibu include active electronic grille shutters to improve aerodynamics and highway fuel economy, a forward collision alert system, a lane departure warning system and rear park assist sensors.

As is normally the case with a complete vehicle redesign, the 2013 Malibu proves to be more technologically sophisticated than the old Malibu.

AutoTrader's Recommendation

The redesigned 2013 Malibu is an improvement over the previous-generation Malibu, but the new car's upgrades are incremental rather than monumental.

Combined fuel economy ratings for the standard 4-cylinder engine and the hybrid powertrain are identical. The two cars are evenly matched in terms of reliability. The old Malibu protects occupants in a collision almost as well as the new Malibu, and the old Malibu represents an outstanding value. The new Malibu Turbo offers significant gains over the old V6 engine in terms of fuel economy and is more fun to drive. The new Malibu also offers more sophisticated safety and infotainment technology than the old car.

For most people, that's not a compelling enough argument to spend thousands of dollars extra for the new 2013 Malibu. However, there are a few exceptions. If you're buying the Malibu Turbo, or really want a rear parking camera or Chevy MyLink hands free technology, the new 2013 makes sense. Not so much because it represents an incredible value, but because older Malibus just don't have those features. If saving money is more important than extra horsepower or having the latest in-car tech, we'd suggest giving a CPO Malibu a close look before paying a premium for the redesigned model.

author photo

Christian Wardlaw is passionate about the cars, trucks, and SUVs people actually buy, not the models about which they fantasize. An industry veteran and former editor-in-chief of Edmunds.com, this father of 4 loves to inform and entertain everyday car buyers.

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