For The Associated Press
(AP) – The family-size, 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco hybrid sedan is the most fuel efficient Malibu ever, with a combined city/highway federal government mileage rating of 29 miles per gallon.
This is 11.5 percent higher than the combined mileage of any non-hybrid 2013 and 11.5 percent better than any 2012 .
Better still, the redesigned and re-engineered 2013 Malibu Eco received the top safety rating _ five of five stars _ in both frontal and side crash tests by the federal government.
In comparison, the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid received four out of five in frontal crash testing, as did the 2013 Toyota Prius and the 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. There was no posting for the 2013 Camry Hybrid crash test results.
While it may not be apparent from pictures, the new Malibu Eco also has significantly new styling, including a taller hood, wider track and a 4.5-inch shorter wheelbase from the 2012 .
Many of the changes stem from the five-seat switching to the front-wheel drive platform of the Buick Regal so the can be built at plants outside the that also build Buicks.
The styling and platform changes sweep through the entire 2013 lineup, marking the launch of the eighth-generation .
Additionally, the 2013 Malibu Eco uses the Regal’s mild hybrid powerplant that mates a 2.4-liter, gasoline four cylinder with an electric motor and lithium ion battery pack.
Starting retail price is $26,855 for a base 2013 Malibu Eco, putting it amid mid-size, hybrid car competitors.
Unfortunately, though, the major competitors have higher fuel mileage ratings from the government than does the new Malibu Eco.
For example, the 2013 Toyota Prius, the top-selling hybrid in America, carries a starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $24,795 and has a combined city/highway mileage rating of 50 mpg. The Prius is a five-passenger, mid-sized hatchback.
‘s mid-size, 2012 Camry Hybrid sedan has a retail starting price of $26,785, or $70 less than the Malibu Eco, and has a combined mileage rating from the government of 41 mpg. has not announced 2013 Camry Hybrid pricing.
Ford’s newly revamped Fusion Hybrid, while priced higher at $27,995, is rated by the government at 47 mpg.
The 2013 Malibu Eco also is $3,705 more than the base, non-hybrid 2013 .
But be aware the Malibu Eco comes standard with some equipment that’s extra on some non-hybrid . This includes rearview camera and power seat adjusters for the front seats.
In contrast to the Prius and other full hybrids, the Malibu Eco cannot travel on electric power alone, not even for short distances.
The ‘s onboard electric assist _ which Chevy calls e-assist _ supplements the engine power during acceleration, helping to bolster acceleration.
The test car, for example, accelerated acceptably on flat pavement and moved along well in city traffic. But the test Malibu Eco, with three adults inside, felt sluggish going up mountain roads.
The Ecotec four cylinder has direct-injection, which helps provide a somewhat peppy feel, but the engine seemed taxed in the test car, considering the weight of people and the battery pack it lugged around to work with the onboard, 15-kilowatt electric motor.
Drivers don’t ever plug in the Malibu Eco. Electric power is generated as the car travels. For example, regenerative brakes on the car help save braking energy that would dissipate and be wasted.
And gasoline is saved because the engine, which develops 182 horsepower and peak torque of 172 foot-pounds at 4,900 rpm, is shut down automatically at stoplights, when the car is stopped and idling curbside and other times when power is not needed.
Then, when the driver wants to move, the engine restarts automatically, and this stopping and starting was seamless in the test car.
Passengers could hear this four cylinder at work during acceleration, but because the Malibu Eco uses a regular, six-speed automatic transmission and not a continuously variable transmission, there wasn’t any drawn-out droning engine noise in the test car.
The tester, with 70 percent city travel and 30 highway driving, averaged just over 26 mpg, which isn’t that different from the mileage that was racked up in a non-hybrid, 2013 Mazda CX-5 sport utility vehicle.
Note that the Malibu Eco doesn’t include some of the electronic aides, such as Brake Coach, that Ford has in its Fusion Hybrid that provide feedback to drivers to improve their mileage.
Wind noise in the Malibu Eco was nicely muted. There was a bit of road noise from the tires, but it was not intrusive.
Overall, the Malibu Eco test car rode with a compliant, rather than firm, sporty ride, and the suspension kept most road bumps away from passengers. The car wasn’t wallowy, but there was noticeable body motion in turns and curves taken at a good speed. The electric, rack-and-pinion power steering felt a bit numb on center.
But the soft-touch, nicely grained plastics inside on the dashboard and doors was nice. There was stitching here and there as well as silver-colored trim pieces and all gave an unexpected upscale feel. The ceiling material texture added to the richer feel, as did the optional leather seat trim.
Be aware, though, that the Malibu Eco’s trunk has just 13.2 cubic feet of space, and it’s cut up around the battery pack back there. A non-hybrid has 16.3 cubic feet of trunk room.
Standard safety equipment includes plentiful air bags, electronic stability control and traction control.
Some 4,300 Malibus from the 2013 model year were recalled in May because a faulty sensor module could cause air bags to deploy without cause and seat belt pre-tensioners might not work during a crash.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)