Quiet and beautiful, Chevy’s new hybrid turns heads with 37 mpg on the highway
GM’s aggressive advertising campaign for the midsized car during March Madness broadcasts suggests it’s playing catch-up with competitors, but the Malibu Eco rolling into dealerships now is unhurried and refined.
In fact, it’s beautiful.
The crystal red and tastefully chromed car turned heads as I drove around Metro Detroit — perhaps because it didn’t look so much like the Malibu people have come to expect from rental fleets.
The familiar Chevy family badge-shaped grill is bracketed by aggressive-looking halogen projector headlights. The fenders and hood feature more deeply sculpted lines. The rear deck and rectangular tail lights were inspired by Chevy’s Camaro.
The all-new interior of the Malibu Eco iscomfortable, quiet and stylish.
Its eAssist lithium-ion battery and small electric motor generate fuel economy by engaging without the driver’s notice, replacing the need to apply as much gas to counter an incline or make routine traffic maneuvers. It also saves fuel with a smooth operating automatic start-and-stop function. The engine falls silent a second after the car comes to a full stop. Using stored energy, the engine springs back to life a second after the brake is released.
The purpose of the electric motor isn’t to act as a mini turbocharger substitute. It gives the Malibu its best fuel economy in the model’s 35-year history. This system earns an outstanding midsized EPA-estimated 25 mpg city and 37 mpg highway. A 2012 Malibu with the same engine got an EPA estimated 22 mpg city and 33 mpg highway.
Chevrolet needed to make this bold play with the Malibu Eco, even if it meant bringing the most expensive in the lineup to market first. The base model and other trim levels, including one with an optional 250-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine, won’t be available until July.
Though priced higher than the base models of its competitors, the well-appointed Eco is the first Malibu ready to go up against the new Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry. While sales in the overall midsized market grew in February, Chevy’s share fell behind its competitors, according to Kelley Blue Book.
New materials give the dashboard a soft-to-the-touch, heavily pebbled texture. A small canopy over the driver’s instrument cluster has a stitched seam.
The model I drove had a $1,300 package option that included leather seats with heaters. The passenger seat was as adjustable as the driver’s (a standard eight-way power seat with adjustable lumbar support). The two-toned cocoa and beige interior was striking. After dark, the front seats are bathed in ambient ice blue light that reflects from a horizontal band of chrome running the length of the dash.
The car is shorter in length and wheelbase than last year’s model, but 3 inches wider and claims to have more interior room. Space up front is generous with easy access to dual zone temperature controls and Chevrolet’s voice-activated MyLink, with hands-free smart phone interconnectivity.
A 7-inch color touch screen is one method of controlling access to the nine-speaker, 250-watt Pioneer audio system and its CD, XM satellite and Internet radio options. The system has auxiliary plugs for portable music devices, and a USB port for portable computer input. A video image of what’s behind the car plays on the center screen when backing up.