2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco review:

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco

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Just below the touch screen, you may notice an odd switch. Flipping this causes the entire display and the bezel surrounding it to swing up, revealing a secret cubbyhole for storing your bric-a-brac. This little nook would be perfect for tossing your smartphone or MP3 player into while driving, if only Chevrolet's interior designers had had the foresight to put the Malibu's 12-volt power outlet or auxiliary inputs in there. Instead, all of these connections are located below the armrest in the center console, which makes the cubbyhole sort of redundant. However, having space you don't need is better than needing space and not having it. I'm sure you'll find something to shove in there.

Navigation is not standard on the Chevrolet Malibu Eco but can be added after first adding a Leather Interior package and a Navigation package. Unfortunately, once you spec Nav, you'll lose MyLink, so choose wisely.

MyLink users aren't left completely lost and alone. Like most GM vehicles, the Chevrolet Malibu Eco is equipped with standard OnStar connectivity and six months of free service. I was able to dial in to the OnStar system to request navigation to an address and have turn-by-turn directions beamed into the vehicle. While navigating under OnStar guidance, I could see visual prompts for turns on the MyLink interface and on the smaller auxiliary display in the instrument cluster and spoken prompts were read to me aloud. However, there is no visible map. Also, requesting a destination via OnStar takes about 2 to 4 minutes when using the automated portion (less so when talking to an actual person), so it's not exactly as convenient as punching the address in yourself. Still, if you only occasionally use navigation and plan on subscribing to OnStar for the safety and convenience features, skipping GM's navigation in favor of the everyday convenience of MyLink seems to be the best way to go.

You can't get both the MyLink system and navigation. Fortunately, OnStar is there to fill the gap.

Pioneer premium audio system
Our Malibu Eco was actually a Malibu Eco 2SA, rolling in the 2SA option package, which includes power seats, a rearview camera system, a Universal Home Remote, leather trim on the steering wheel and shift knob, fog lamps, and a Pioneer Premium Audio System.

Audio quality from the 9-speaker, 250-watt Pioneer system was good, but I'm not sure that the Malibu's cabin was up to the task of containing the sound. Even at quarter volume with the three-band EQ set at Flat, I noticed an irritating rattle coming from the rear end of the Malibu with each bass kick during the song "Send It On" from artist D'Angelo's album "Voodoo." This R&B track features a combination of a strong bass guitar track and a powerful bass drum kick that underlie a quiet brass section and a subtle lead guitar melody that you'll easily miss if you're not listening to it. Well, it was missed in the Malibu -- lost under a torrent of rattling interior panels that wouldn't go away until I tuned most of the bass out of the EQ curve. I experienced a similar problem with rattling while listening to the track "Tomorrow Comes Today" from Gorillaz's self-titled debut album -- a song that is driven by its bass guitar track, but isn't what I'd consider to be bass-heavy.

Switching over to music that isn't as bottom-heavy seemed to be exactly what Pioneer and Chevrolet's sound engineers wanted me to do. Rock music that's driven by guitars, pianos, and vocals seemed to be this rig's strong suit. Ben Folds Five's "Fair" from the album "Whatever and Ever Amen" came in loud and clear with excellent forward staging, drums that didn't overwhelm, and crisp sound from Ben's vocals and his lead piano, even when the accompanying vocals and distorted guitar wail begin to swell. When I was done with my testing, I ended up listening to most of Spoon's discography simply because its type of music sounded best on this Pioneer system.

Oddly, when I switched over to more sonically complex electronica and pop tracks, the rattling did become less prevalent. However, that's most likely due to the fact that these types of music often come with built-in distortion and past a certain volume, the Pioneer system is simply capable of overpowering the buzzing with sheer brute force. For example, I heard nary an out-of-place buzz while listening to Skrillex's "Right In" from the album "Bangarang," but that's likely due to the fact that the song is primarily composed of distorted bass hits and buzzing mids.

Those of you who enjoy talk radio or audio podcasts, or who want to really take advantage of that Stitcher Radio integration with your smartphones, will be satisfied by the stereo's quality. The same center-channel speaker that helped with the staging of the piano rock's vocals helped to place my favorite podcast presenters front and center where I could hear them clearly.

In sum
The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco is a handsome-looking sedan and a comfortable freeway cruiser. It's definitely a good buy for the money, but it's maybe not the best buy.

It starts at a base price of $25,235, but our 2SA package bumps the price up to $25,845 with the addition of power seats, rear camera, and that Pioneer audio system. The only other major options are a $1,300 Leather Interior package and $1,020 Navigation package that you don't really want to sacrifice MyLink to get. Our tester was equipped just the leather package and a $195 upcharge for its Black Granite Metallic paint, which brings our as-tested price to $29,100 (including a $760 destination charge.)

GM claims that the eAssist technology is a lower-cost system for those who don't want to go full-hybrid, and the Malibu does work out to about $5,000 less than the Camry. However, for the difference in fit and finish, fuel economy, and cabin technology (it's got navigation and infotainment), I'd say that's $5,000 well spent on the Toyota.

Tech specs
Model 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco
Trim 2SA
Power train 2.4-liter, direct-injected gasoline engine with eAssist, 6-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 25 city, 37 highway, 29 combined mpg
Observed fuel economy 24.7
Navigation OnStar voice-guided navigation
Bluetooth phone support yes
Disc player single-slot CD
MP3 player support standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection, iPod connection, Bluetooth audio streaming
Other digital audio SiriusXM Radio, CD/MP3, Pandora Internet Radio, Stitcher Radio
Audio system 9-speaker, 250-watt Pioneer audio system
Driver aids rearview camera, cruise control (non-adaptive)
Base price $35,235
Price as tested $39,100

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