September could officially be declared ?mid-size sedan month? with virtually all-new versions of Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Mazda6 all being unveiled.
You might have actually seen a new Malibu on the streets. I spotted a U.S.-plated one on the 401 a month or so ago. In the U.S. the mild-hybrid version went on sale this spring.
But in Canada, all models are on sale now, starting at $24,995.
The new car is, as before, based on the German-engineered Epsilon II platform, also shared by Buick Lacrosse.
Styling isn?t a huge departure from the old car, although broader shoulders give the new one a more planted look.
Inside, uprated materials feel soft to the touch. Fit and finish are markedly improved.
The new platform is wider than before, but with a shorter wheelbase. Rear-seat legroom is therefore down a shade and less than many of the top competitors. Given how seldom anyone, let alone an adult, rides in the back seat of a car these days, I don?t see this as a major problem, especially as hip and shoulder room are increased.
Lots of kit, with Bluetooth, OnStar, six-speaker sound system, aluminum wheels, 5-year/160,000 km powertrain warranty (60,000 km longer than some competitors) and no fewer than 10 airbags standard even on the base LS trim level.
There will be three powertrains in Malibu, all with four cylinders.
A new-as-it-gets 2.5 litre twin-cam 16-valver with variable valve timing and direct fuel injection will be the most popular choice. Its 197 horsepower trails Sonata and Optima by just one, but outclasses everyone else?s base engine; peak torque of 191 lb.-ft. is class-leading. Fuel consumption is very competitive.
The ECO variant has the same mild-hybrid system used in Buick Regal and LaCrosse eAssist models, the older 182-horse 2.4 L four teamed with a small electric motor/generator in place of a conventional alternator which pumps an additional 15 ponies into passing manoeuvres, and enables the idle stop-start function.
It is rated at 8.1 l/100 km city, 5.3 highway, which is pretty good, although the new Nissan Altima at 7.4 / 5.0 is even better ? and doesn?t have a hybrid component or even direct injection.
Coming in Malibu this fall will be a 2.0 L direct injection turbo four, with 269 horsepower. This will be quicker than the former V6 option, but get substantially better fuel economy.
All Malibus have a six-speed automatic transmission.
Suspension is by MacStrut up front, multi-link at the rear. Four-wheel disc brakes and electrically-assisted power steering are standard.
As noted, the first impression of the 2013 Malibu is ? Business Class Upgrade.
It just looks and feels like a nicer place to be.
The front seats are multiply adjustable and comfortable.
My first mount had the ECO powertrain. Whether this would be worth the $1,245 to $1,615 additional hit (it varies with trim level) to get the reduced fuel consumption depends on how much and where you drive; my guess is that it might pay off for the typical Canadian driver.
It also brings the idle stop-start function which always makes sense to me and a sort-of turbo-like boost from the electric motor in passing situations.
But most of the time, you?ll be driving behind the older motor. My other tester, an LTZ-level with the new 2.5 L, offers a better overall drive, with good mid-range performance and decently quiet running even as revs rise.
The auto-box occasionally exhibits a bit of roughness on downshifts, but for the most part plays its role well. Manual override is available by pulling the lever back one notch from D to M, then toggling a rocker switch in the top of the shift knob.
The European suspension has been softened up for tender North American tushies, but the car still handles patchy pavement and low-frequency undulations with composure.
You wouldn?t expect sports car steering feel on a family car, but the electrical power assist on Malibu is actually pretty good.
A lot of effort was expended in making Malibu quiet and it pays off. There?s a bit of tire noise, perhaps caused by the pebbly pavement surface texture the road builders specced for the often-rain-soaked Cabot Trail, but intake, exhaust and wind noise are well-controlled. As always, a stiffer body structure is a prime contributor here.
There?s some useful technology available, including (other than on the base LS trim) cool ambient dashboard lighting and a seven-inch colour screen for the Chevrolet MyLink system, which integrates various infotainment and communications functions. This thing practically grabbed my cellphone from my hand to pair it to itself, unlike the systems in some competitors (Ford?s MyFord/SYNC).
Push a button at the base of this screen and the whole thing pivots upward to reveal a hidden storage bin. Wallet, cellphone and small camera ? neat place to hide them.
One thing I didn?t like about the instrument panel-mounted Driver Information Centre which you page through various menus by rotating the end of the turn signal lever. The trip odometer is buried in one of those pages, rather than always being visible.
Malibu was, if memory serves, the first mainstream car to offer factory remote start and the new one continues to do so. This allows you to fire up your car on cold mornings ten minutes before you get in, to the massive detriment of both the engine and the environment.
I don?t know that the 2013 Malibu immediately launches itself to the front of the peloton that is this large and hotly contested market segment.
But I?m not sure it has to. Customers in this bracket tend to be ?import? or ?domestic? buyers; not a lot of people cross-shop Chevy versus Nissan or Honda.
General Motors? marketing might and broad-based dealer network will ensure Malibu gets its share of attention; I don?t doubt it will also gain its share of happy owners.
2013 Chevrolet Malibu
PRICE: LS, $24,995; 1LT ECO, $27,940; LTZ, $30,650.
ENGINE: 2.5 L inline four, dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing and lift, direct fuel injection; ECO version features mild-hybrid electric motor/generator
POWER/TORQUE: 197 hp/191 lb.-ft.
FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100 km: 9.4 city, 5.9 hwy.
COMPETITION: Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda6, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Passat
WHAT’S BEST: Quiet interior; sophisticated European styling; significantly improved interior fitments; high level of usable technology
WHAT’S WORST: Transmission occasionally less than perfectly smooth; rear-seat legroom trails the class; bears the shame of introducing remote starters to the mass market
WHAT’S INTERESTING: ECO version might actually be a hybrid that pays for itself