Maybe that’s why they call it a New York minute, but the Big Apple’s 2011 auto show has just witnessed the unveiling of a car with a model year 20 months in the future: the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu (incidentally, the original Malibu was introduced to the world at the 1964 New York show). It might take a set of eagle eyes and perhaps some reading glasses to work out the differences between this and the current model. Probably best to carry on reading.
Running contrary to the general trend of cars becoming bigger with every successive generation, this one is shorter. Its wheelbase (looking at a car from the side, that’s the distance between the center of the front wheel to the center of the rear wheel) is reduced by 4.5 inches, making legroom just a little more snug, but it still seems pretty spacious in the back. By way of compensation, the car is almost three inches wider, so shoulders, hips and elbows will feel a little freer.
The subtle changes in styling have resulted in “one of the most aerodynamic sedans in the mid-size segment” according to Bryan Nesbitt, executive director of design for parent company General Motors. This hints at a quiet cabin as well as decent fuel consumption numbers (still TBA).
The best consumption, though, will come courtesy of the 2013 Malibu Eco model. This has an “eAssist” system that might be called a mild hybrid, but Chevy describes it as “light electrification” (the 2012 Buick Regal has the same setup). It has a battery pack and an electric motor, it gathers energy when braking, and deploys a start/stop function for the engine. The electric motor helps out when needed, to alleviate the 2.4-liter engine’s workload.
In practice, this works out to 26 mpg in the city, 38 mpg on the highway and a possible range of 550 miles from a 15.8-gallon tank. Which is good enough for the Malibu Eco to be called “the most fuel-efficient mid-size sedan Chevrolet has made in its 100-year history,” according to Mark Ruess, president of GM North America. The cabin materials also seem high-class for the company it keeps (Toyota Camry/Honda Accord).
In the regular Malibu, one engine will be available (in the United States, at least), a 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 190 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. This connects to a six-speed automatic, the sole transmission for American customers. GM promises a comprehensive list of safety features, including lane departure warning, and Reuss said that “all the driving aspects have been improved.”
Production of the 2013 Malibu begins next year, with the Eco coming first. This new generation will be virtually the same in each of the nearly 100 countries where it will be sold. “Every continent except Antarctica,” said Ruess.
COLIN RYAN has driven hundreds of cars thousands of miles while writing for BBC Top Gear magazine, Popular Mechanics, the Los Angeles Times, European Car, Import Tuner and many other publications, websites, TV shows, etc.