Thursday, May 23, 2013

2013 Malibu LTZ Turbo test drive review. Not pretty good anymore

About a year ago, I had the chance to test out an early Malibu Eco, and I thought it was a pretty good car. It looked pretty good. It ran pretty good. It handled pretty good. Everything was pretty good. I thought it would be an excellent alternative for someone looking to replace their aging Camry or Accord.

Recently, I spent a week with a 2013 Malibu LTZ Turbo. And this car is not pretty good. It is very good. Very, very good. I’ve read some mediocre reviews about this car from various sources, and all I can figure is that they were written by Chevy haters. This may very well be the best four-cylinder sedan I have ever driven. I wouldn’t just recommend this to someone with a Camry or Accord; I would also recommend it to people who actually care about how their car drives, feels, and looks. Needless to say, I came away impressed.

The magic comes from the 2.0-liter, direct-injected, turbocharged four-cylinder. I know—I can’t believe I’m saying it either. I’ve always lived by the “there’s no replacement for displacement” mantra, and V8s will always be my true love, but dang-it, this little four-banger is sweet. With 259-hp and 260 lb/ft of torque, this car flat-out moves. There is some occasional turbo lag upon hard takeoff, but for the most part it whooshes you away at great speeds instantaneously. Even at highway speeds it’s hard to believe this is such a small power plant. I thought I was going 75 at one point, looked down and realized I was going 90. Back ‘er down, cowboy.

It handles nice, too. Bigger wheels and a firmer suspension don’t make this ride like a ’74 Coupe DeVille, but it does take the corners pretty flatly, and for as much power as there is the torque steer is under control. They’ve really made improvements to this front-wheel-drive thing since that ’87 Celebrity station wagon my mom used to have.

This car looks substantial as well. That first Malibu Eco was OK, but the grey paint and 17-inch wheels on my particular test car didn’t exactly knock you off your feet. The Crystal Red Tintcoat on this LTZ model, combined with some attractive 19-inch five-spokes, really transformed this car into something much different. This is the kind of car that you look back on after you park it. Overall, this style of Malibu has been panned by critics for being innocuous. But if they had looked like this from the beginning, I believe those criticisms would have been nonexistent.

The thing I really loved about the Eco hasn’t changed here—the interior. These Malibus have a really attractive instrument panel, with contrasting accents and a small amount of reasonably convincing fake wood. The cashmere-colored seats in this car even had contrasting brown piping (Chevy calls it “Cocoa Fashion Trim”). I tend to want to sit low in the car, back in the seat, and have the steering wheel come to me. With the eight-way power seat and tilt-telescoping wheel in this Malibu, I was able to fit my oddball seating position perfectly.

Like most of General Motors’ cars these days, this one is available with lots of high-end techie stuff. A big ol’ seven-inch touch screen covered everything from phone functions to virtually any audio choice a person could ever want. It also handled climate control duties if you are so-inclined. If not, most of these functions can also be performed via old-fashioned buttons and cranks on the dashboard and steering wheel. Yes, there is a lot going on here. But unlike some cars I’ve driven recently, this setup is intuitive, easy to operate, and not overwhelming. Turns out you can provide modern technology without causing the operator to go into seizures.

The worst part about this car for me is the price. I honestly would love to own one like this, but at $34,595, it’s out of my price range. I’m not saying it’s not worth that—compared to other cars in this segment it certainly is. I’m just saying that I won’t be getting one until it’s five years old and offered at a dealer’s auction. But hey, I’m still excited at the possibility.

The Kansas City-built Malibu LTZ Turbo was one of the biggest surprises I’ve ever driven. It was much better than I expected, and I would recommend one to anyone looking for a fun-to-drive, quality family sedan. See my test car in the slideshow below, or click this link for a better version.


  1. Hey C,

    Do you like the Malibu LTZ ?? !! ??!!

    Just givin' ya a hard time !

    Don - Basehor, Ks

  2. That car is pretty. I may need to look at one of those next time.

  3. know I cant let an article on a new Malibu go by w/o reminding you that the reason you like it so much is that it is really a SAAB 9.3 with Bowtie badges! Even has the SAAB spec engine now....
    I'm sure it is a nice car, given the design architecture. Recommend one highly, but be careful about a used one here in a few years; most folk don't treat turbos right and if they havent, a cooked turbo is expensive to replace...

  4. I really like that, especially compared to a Camry !