Sit still in the auto industry and you might as well be running as fast as you can in the wrong direction. The Malibu is the longest running mid-size sedan in the industry, but it didn’t get to its eighth generation by resting on the success of previous models. Enter the 2013 Malibu Eco, Chevy’s most aerodynamic and fuel-efficient mid-size ever.

The Eighth Generation Malibu Eco isn’t technically a hybrid, although it has a lithium-ion battery that captures regenerative power through braking and coasting. The Malibu has a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that delivers 182 horsepower to a next-generation 6-speed automatic transmission.

The lightweight direct-injection engine is boosted by the Malibu’s eAssist system, which uses power stored in an air-cooled lithium-ion battery to provide electrical boost when possible. One of those “when possible” times is when the vehicle is stopped or approaching stopped. The Malibu Eco uses a battery-powered motor-generator when the engine shuts off during deceleration down to zero mph and at red lights, powering the air conditioner and other on-board electronics. During heavy acceleration, the motor-generator kicks in up to 15 extra horsepower. Chevy says the 0-60 mph time is 8.7 seconds.

Using this eAssist technology, Chevy estimates the Malibu will deliver 25 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway. Even better, if you ask me, is that the Malibu Eco can travel up to 580 highway miles with a 15.8-gallon fill-up.

Drivers can select from two modes in the Malibu Eco. In the “Eco” mode, the frequency and duration of the auto-stop feature is maximized, while in the “Comfort” mode the auto-stops are reduced to maximize cabin comfort. In other words, south Louisiana drivers are more apt to use the “Comfort” mode in mid-August.

Aerodynamics and reduced weight – two critical thieves of energy – have been vastly improved in the new Malibu. The Malibu spent days inside air tunnels to optimize aerodynamics, and underbody panels were added to keep air flowing below the car. The engineers redesigned the outside mirrors and tail lamps, and installed electronically-controlled shutters in the lower grille to close at high speeds to push more air over and around the car.

Chevy engineers used an aluminum hood and rear bumper beam, as well as low-mass carpeting, to save about 130 pounds compared to non-Eco models. The Malibu Eco has a curb weight of 3,620 pounds.

Inside, the Malibu is roomier and more comfortable than the previous model, and it has a larger trunk. Interior features include metallic, chrome or wood accents on the center console, instrument cluster and on doors. Soft blue ambient lighting is an elegant touch in the dual cockpit cabin. Seats are sporty and firm, with comfortable bolsters highlighted by contrasting French stitching. Chevy also says that with its new aerodynamics, minimal air leakage into the cabin, acoustic laminated glass and sound dampening applications, the new Malibu is the “quietest Chevrolet ever.”

Connectivity includes Chevrolet’s new MyLink infotainment package, which can integrate popular services like Pandora internet radio and Stitcher SmartRadio. Bluetooth enables hands-free use of the apps. Chevy anticipates good safety test results for the Malibu Eco, thanks to 10 standard airbags, stability and traction control systems and anti-lock brakes. OnStar is standard with a 6-month subscription.

First introduced in 1964, more than 8.5 million Malibu vehicles have been sold. It was GM’s top seller in 2010. The 2013 Malibu Eco will start at $25,995 (including destination charges) and will be in a global model for Chevrolet. It will be built at two U.S. factories (Kansas and Michigan), and in China and Korea. The new Malibu should arrive in showrooms early this year.


Engine -- 2.4-liter 4-cylinder with eAssist

Transmission -- 6-speed automatic

Horsepower -- 182

Test model base price -- $25,995

EPA mileage rating -- 37 mpg Hwy / 25 mpg city