MALIBU, Calif. -- Rocking and rolling along a twisted twine of asphalt in the Santa Monica Mountains above Los Angeles, we're playing all of the curves in crinkled canyons like Encinal and Zuma that wiggle down to the Pacific Coast Highway at the exclusive beach community of Malibu, where movie stars and zillionaire dot-com moguls hang out.
Malibu the California beach colony, you see, works as our track to test the born-again creation of Malibu the car, Chevrolet's affordable mid-size sedan outfitted with a new fuel-thrifty light hybrid powertrain.
The Malibu nameplate first appeared in Chevy's lineup more than three decades ago and the Malibu Super Sport as a sporty coupe or sedan derivative of the mid-size Chevelle became a hot commodity, ultimately accounting for millions upon millions of car sales until its demise in 1983.
Then in 1997, the Malibu badge returned to Chevrolet in the format of a mid-size sedan with four doors and seats for five, two engine options and several trim designations with competitive price tags.
In the Chevy line for 2004, Malibu emerged as an entirely new car cast on GM's Epsilon platform. And in 2008 another generational iteration of Malibu rolled out on GM's global mid-size platform which forged a strong structure and set up refined driving dynamics.
Now for 2013 Malibu scores yet another complete redo inside and out -- it uses a front-wheel-drive platform designed in Europe, wears a sleek aerodynamic shell and brings an expanded-width passenger compartment dressed with fine materials and top-quality switchgear.
Malibu's new architecture chops the wheelbase by 4.5 inches and stretches the wheel track wider by more than two inches to enhance ride and handling.
A fully independent suspension employs MacPherson struts up front with dual-path mountings plus a hollow stabilizer bar, and a multi-link rear suspension with lightweight aluminum steering knuckles and hollow tubular stabilizer bar.
The rack-mounted steering system gets electric power assistance, which eliminates a load of hydraulic equipment and contributes to the efficiency of Malibu's engine.
Brakes include a large disc at every wheel -- ventilated front, solid rear -- linked to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and a brake assist system (BAS), plus electronic vehicle skid controls (VSC).
Malibu's revamped exterior is an aerodynamic package with a coupe-like silhouette, stub-nosed hood and a roofline tapering down toward the rear and shaping side window glass to triangles. Front and rear overhangs have been whittled away and the flared fenders on front and back corners convey an impression of strength and power.
Malibu's redesigned passenger compartment provides seats for five with a pair of buckets in front of a bench for three with the seatback split and folding to add room for cargo. The trunk measures to 16.3 cubic feet.
The increased width of the platform creates a larger cabin with more room for shoulders and hips. Malibu has 100.0 cubic feet of room for riders with headroom up to 39.0 inches and legroom to 42.1 inches.
The cockpit has trim accents in metallic, chrome or wood finishes around the console, dash center stack, instrument cluster and doors. Ice blue ambient lighting sets a stylish mood, and seats show ice blue French contrast stitching.
Malibu's 2013 powertrain options include a standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder Ecotec engine, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine upgrade, and a new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 'eAssist' battery booster.
First to arrive in the market is the light hybrid eAssist version which teams a thrifty but conventional 2.4-liter four-cylinder Ecotec engine that sips gasoline with a lithium-ion battery system and electric motor-generator to provide power assistance to the gas engine and improve fuel economy numbers.
The aluminum-block four-cylinder engine, with dual overhead cams (DOHC), direct injection (DI) technology and variable valve timing (VVT), connects to a six-speed automatic transaxle, GM's Hydra-Matic 6T40.
The lithium-ion battery system and electric motor-generator enable the Ecotec engine to shut off when the vehicle stops but automatically restart when the driver releases the brake pedal.
The Ecotec engine also ceases to run temporarily when the vehicle decelerates yet it kicks in again when the driver steps on the go-pedal.
The 115-volt battery contributes approximately 11 kW (15 hp) of electric power assistance and 15 kW of regenerative braking power.
Combined output for the Ecotec engine with eAssist equipment amounts to 182 hp at 6700 rpm with torque of 172 lb-ft at 4900 rpm.
The estimated fuel economy figures come to 25 mpg City and 37 mpg Highway.
Malibu Eco edition provides 17-inch alloy wheels with 225/55R17 all-season tires, dual-zone automatic climate controls, power controls for windows and locks and mirrors, cloth upholstery, split-folding rear seatbacks, tilting-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and a 6-speaker audio kit with AM/FM/CD/USB.
Chevrolet sets the MSRP for a 2013 Malibu Eco edition at $25,240.