A redesigned 2013 Chevrolet Malibu wasn't the only treat that Chevrolet had for mid-size sedan shoppers at the New York auto show this week. Chevrolet also trotted out the Chevrolet Malibu Eco, a fuel mileage-oriented hybrid option that rides on the same completely redesigned platform as its traditional gasoline sibling.
The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco borrows its drivetrain from the Buick LaCrosse and Buick Regal eAssist models. At its core, the Malibu Eco makes use of what General Motors calls a 'light electrification'? system in order to enhance fuel mileage through the judicious application of battery assistance during certain driving situations. The system consists of a lithium-ion battery and a 15 horsepower electric motor that works in concert with a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder Ecotec engine that automatically starts and stops when the vehicle is at rest to prevent idling. The direct-injection gasoline motor also features a fuel cut-off while the Malibu is slowing down, and its regenerative braking system keeps the battery topped up without the need for plugging in.
The eAssist mild hybrid technology used in the Chevrolet Malibu Eco is essentially transparent, with no real indication from behind the wheel that the vehicle is operating with an electric horsepower boost or not. In fact, from a driver's perspective the biggest difference between the Malibu Eco and the standard Malibu would be the silence from the engine bay while the vehicle is sitting at a stop light.
And, of course, the fuel mileage. Chevrolet claims that the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco is the most fuel efficient mid-size sedan ever built by the company, and while official EPA ratings have yet to be released, the automaker claims that the hybrid will see 26 miles per gallon in city driving and 38 miles per gallon on the highway. Chevrolet estimates that a full tank of fuel will give the Malibu a range of up to 550 miles. These figures are on par with what Buick has been able to achieve with its eAssist models, and are quite solid when taking into account the fact that the four-cylinder motor found under the hood of the Malibu Eco generates a healthy 180 horsepower.
Helping the Chevrolet Malibu Eco hit its reported fuel mileage numbers are a number of aerodynamic improvements that have been made to the sedan's body structure. The underside of the car has been smoothed so as to reduce drag, and the Eco bears the same active aero system found on the standard Malibu that closes bottom grille shutters at certain speeds in order to further lower the automobile's wind resistance. Drivers of the green-friendly Malibu model are also coached by the vehicle's ECO gauge on the dashboard, which monitors driving style and attempts to help owners modify their habits in order to improve overall efficiency.
The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco is an interesting step forward for the domestic brand, and the vehicle immediately puts vehicles like the Toyota Camry Hybrid and the Nissan Altima Hybrid on notice. Although the Malibu Eco might lag behind both of those vehicles in terms of city mileage, it tops them when it comes to highway cruising, and if Chevrolet can keep the base price below the Camry's MSRP of $26,675, it could have an interesting fight on its hands in the green family sedan segment.