Not long ago, I reviewed the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu 2.5 -- the 197 hp mass-market version of Chevy's mid-size sedan. I found the car pleasant enough, despite the oddball interior styling. But my biggest complaint was the almost complete lack of driver appeal. It's quiet, it's comfortable, and it's about as interesting as an afternoon spent watching C-SPAN.
It seems like Google had barely finished crawling that article when I got the invitation to drive the Malibu Turbo, which features a 259 hp version of GM's turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0 liter engine, along with a slightly stiffened suspension. And while the turbo is nice -- 0-60 in 6.3 seconds according to GM, 90% of peak torque available from 1,500 to 5,800 RPM, and only a slight penalty in fuel economy -- it's the suspension tweaks in the LTZ model (improved shocks and 19" wheels) that make all the difference.
Small change, big difference
The Malibu LTZ Turbo rides and handles like a mid-size sedan ought to. It's firm enough to give valuable feedback, yet not so hard that you'll regret buying the car (*cough2013HondaAccordcough*). Torque steer (the tendency of powerful front-drive cars to pull to one side under hard acceleration) is minimal, and the tur-'Bu is as quiet and serene as the 2.5 liter model. A sports car it isn't, but for common people like you and me -- those who want a comfortable car, and aren't entirely resigned to mediocrity -- it's spot-on perfect.
This made me both very, very happy and very, very angry, so I did what any self-respecting journalist would do: I ranted to my press-preview drive partner. "Why didn't they put this suspension on all the Malibus?" went my rant. "Why doesn't every Malibu drive like this? Why did they put me in this position of driving the Malibu and telling all my readers how soft and miserable it is, and then five minutes later have me drive the one that actually does things right?"
I looked expectantly at him for his response, which was to ask one of the Chevrolet PR people if perhaps he could drive with someone a bit more stable.
The price of excellence
Even more rant-a-licious is the fact that the version I like is the most expensive one. While you can get the turbo motor in the mid-level LT, it's the 2LTZ model that drives the best -- you know, the one that costs $30,295. The good news is that the cake-icing 19" wheels are a no-cost option. The bad news is that, near as I can make out, they are only a no-cost option if you buy the $1,350 Electronics and Entertainment Package (premium stereo, rear-view camera, universal home remote). In case anyone is still reading, that puts our total up to $32,275. Problem is, you can get just as good a ride-and-handling balance in a $21,650 Volkswagen Passat or a $22,495 Ford Fusion, and you can get much better handling (at the expense of ride) in a $24,180 Honda Accord Sport.
Am I overreacting?
It's entirely possible that I'm over-reacting. Most of my colleagues have simply dismissed the Malibu as anonymous and boring, closing their reviews with some watered-down, non-advertiser-alienating comment along the lines of "...but if you want a roomy, comfortable, non-offensive mid-size sedan and your idea of excitement is an afternoon spent watching C-SPAN, then the Malibu is the car for you."
Codswallop, says I -- the Malibu LTZ Turbo is a ray of hope in an otherwise dull model lineup. If GM could simply make all of the Malibus drive as well as the LTZ Turbo, I could muster enough enthusiasm to cheer up a small Belgian village. Until then, I'll save my cheerleading for the Fusion and the Passat. -- Aaron Gold
What I liked about the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Turbo:
- Everything I like about the regular Malibu, plus it doesn't put me to sleep
What I didn't like about the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Turbo:
- Only the expensive one drives this well