Saturday, February 9, 2013
Chevrolet Malibu 2.5L LTZ
Ikea furniture is really great, right up until it’s not. You buy it because it’s affordable and looks good in most settings and because anyone who’s ever played with a Lego set could put it together. But then you open the box and realize Ikea has misplaced the final dowel needed to assemble your Förhöja, or your coffee table won’t sit level without a stack of coasters under one leg, or your kitchen chair gives way when you sit down on it one day. In a way, that’s what Chevrolet’s nonhybrid 2013 Malibu is like—a decent package with flaws. Flaws you can’t ignore.
When we drove the new Malibu Eco last year, our reaction was an overwhelming “meh,” and that model subsequently finished sixth of six in a comparison test. The staggered 2013 Malibu introduction schedule now brings us a nonhybrid four-cylinder car—the mainstream model—to drive.
The 2.5-liter inline-four in this Malibu is one of GM’s second-generation Ecotec engines and replaces the previous car’s 2.4-liter as the base mill. It generates 197 hp and 191 lb-ft of torque, putting it near the top of the power rankings and top in torque among mid-sizers with naturally aspirated fours; those numbers represent increases of 28 hp and 31 lb-ft over the outgoing 2.4. Accompanying the output gain is a revised six-speed automatic that Chevy claims cuts shift times compared with the unit in its previous-gen ’Bu. The powertrain duo works pretty well together, pulling around the 3550-ish-pound Malibu well enough.
The Eco’s brake pedal, like those of most hybrids, has nonlinear feel and therefore isn’t very easy to modulate; the more conventional setup in this 2.5 fixes those problems, although it still isn’t particularly communicative. As a mainstream family sedan, we wouldn’t expect this to be terribly sporty, but the Malibu seems to resist enthusiastic driving more than most. The steering is numb, conspiring with a suspension setup that keeps the car from changing directions with any fluidity or urgency.
Drive the Malibu straight down the road, however, and things are fairly pleasant. The ride is smooth, and the car seems to prefer highway work. In that recent six-way comparo, the Malibu Eco’s interior was the quietest at a 70-mph cruise, and that doesn’t seem to have changed here. The 2.5-liter is remarkably hushed under normal circumstances, using disturbance-minimizing components such as a low-noise timing chain and direct-mounted accessories. And it all works, right up until you push the long pedal to the floor and watch the tach pass 4000 rpm. At that point, the drone of every four-cylinder you’ve ever flogged washes over you.
Other aspects of the interior let the Malibu down, however. Chevy’s dual-cockpit approach can make front occupants feel isolated and restricted. A reduction in wheelbase from the last generation sees rear legroom decrease by 0.8 inch; knee- and shoulder room see notable gains, but a lack of space for your stems makes the back seat feel cramped on anything longer than a quick jaunt.