Friday, May 18, 2012

This new 'Bu likely to grab a hold of you

Sacramento, California – Hey ’Bu, what’s new with you?

A lot, it turns out.

Proving the point that it’s never too early to look ahead in the auto business, I was handed a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco 2SA to wheel around for a week.

Confused by the name? It’s OK. What you need to know is that this is the first wave of release for the eighth-generation Malibu.

The North American-specific Eco name on the models tell you that this is a mild hybrid Malibu, with an electronic assist giving a hand to the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. That equates to an advertised 25 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway. Chevy says you’ll save a bundle on fuel with those numbers, and under the right driving circumstances over the long haul, that’s correct.

Fuel economy in this time of $4.25 gas in California gets my attention, of course, but the styling on this ’Bu is really something to behold.

Walking up to the car straight from the back end, you probably wouldn’t guess this is a Malibu. Yeah, the reworking is that extensive.

From the side, the car looks downright sporty. Chevy says it borrowed from the Camaro drawing board, and I can believe it looking at the results.

Am I imagining that this Malibu is somehow shorter than the previous generation? No, I’m not. An architectural change has produced a wheelbase that is 4.5 inches shorter.

So that wheelbase shrinkage probably manifests itself inside the car, right? Wrong. Chevy touts interior growth of three cubic feet from the previous generation. And yes, it feels like it. For whatever reason, I felt like I was in a full-size sedan when I was behind the wheel.

Roomy and comfortable. Yes, that’s the ticket. Controls within easy reach and easy to use. Fabulous. Room for real-size adults. Woo-hoo! Starting price of $26,845. Well, not too bad for a hybrid.

Start it up, and man, this thing is quiet. Is the electric assist doing everything? Can’t be. The engine and surrounding noise just isn’t penetrating the cockpit. Another plus.

So, let’s wind it up and … uh, wait a sec … just mash that accelerator and … uh, just one more moment. Wow, you really have to bury your foot in this thing to get decent acceleration. I’m talking darn near flat to the floorboard folks.

Yes, you’ll be saving on gas with this Eco liner, but it pays to remember that a heavy right foot will serve you well in some situations – tight freeway merges, for example.

Beyond that mushy gas pedal feel, the car drove for me like your everyday Malibu, which from me is high praise for any hybrid version of a car. And you get the pleasant understanding that virtually everything else about this new ’Bu is better than before.

This midsize nameplate has been selling well for a long, long time. That will likely continue in 2013 and beyond.

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