MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Steering a course along broad Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis while passing the late superstar's Graceland estate, we're ensconced on leather in a most impressive new vehicle: Chevrolet's 2013 Malibu 2LZ, an affordable mid-size sedan packing a powerful turbocharged engine plus luxurious cabin appointments.
The Malibu nameplate first appeared in Chevy's lineup more than three decades ago with Malibu Super Sport as a sporty coupe or sedan variation of mid-size Chevelle. Ultimately, the label accounted for multiple millions of car sales until its demise in 1983.
But Malibu returned to Chevrolet in 1997 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 rolled out on GM's global mid-size platform which forged a strong structure and set up refined driving dynamics.
For 2013 the 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 2013 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 has 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), corner brake control (CBC) plus a traction control system (TCS) and electronic skid controls (ESC).
Chevrolet constructs the 2013 Malibu in four trim grades encompassing three high-tech Ecotec four-cylinder engines featuring dual overhead cams (DOHC), electronic throttle control (ETC), spark ignition direct injection (SIDI) technology and variable valve timing (VVT).
Standard plant for Malibu LS, LT and LTZ editions is a 2.5-liter cast aluminum four-in-line engine which develops 197 hp at 6300 rpm and 191 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm.
Transaxle is an electronically controlled 6-speed automatic, the Hydra-Matic 6T40 by General Motors. The federal EPA sets fuel economy numbers for this Malibu powertrain at 22 mpg city and 34 mpg highway.
Malibu Eco edition employs a 2.4-liter Ecotec engine with 'eAssist' battery booster. The lithium-ion battery system and electric motor-generator enable the engine to shut off when the vehicle stops but automatically restart when the driver releases the brake pedal, and the engine also ceases to run temporarily when the vehicle decelerates yet it kicks in again when the driver steps on the go-pedal.
Combined output for the Ecotec engine with eAssist equipment amounts to 182 hp at 6200 rpm with torque of 172 lb-ft at 4900 rpm.
The estimated fuel economy figures rise to 25 mpg city and 37 mpg highway.
Optional engine for Malibu LT and LTZ -- badged as 3LT and 2LZ -- is a 2.0-liter Ecotec four-pack fitted with a turbocharger (TC) and continuously variable valve timing (CVVT) apparatus. It runs up to 259 hp at 5500 rpm with 260 lb-ft of torque developing between 1700-5500 rpm.
Malibu's turbo plant links to a 6-speed electronically controlled automatic transaxle with Tapshift driver shift control, the Hydra-Matic 6T70. And it achieves EPA fuel economy scores of 21/30 mpg city/highway.
A revamped exterior design for Malibu 2013 amounts to an aerodynamic package with 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 forge broad shoulders which convey an impression of strength and power.
The redesigned passenger compartment provides seats for five with a pair of buckets in front of a bench for three with seatback split and folding to add room for cargo.
There are metallic, chrome or wood accents in the cabin plus ice blue ambient lighting.
Standard equipment for Malibu LS trim ranges from 16-inch alloy wheels and automatic headlights to a keyless entry system, air-conditioning, power windows and power door locks, cloth fabric seat upholstery, tilting-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, Bluetooth and OnStar connectivity plus a 6-speaker audio kit with satellite radio and CD/USB/iPod/MP3/AUX.
Top-trim Malibu LTZ features fine leather upholstery, front seats with 8-way power controls and heat elements, dual zone automatic climate system, color high-resolution Driver Information Center, auto-dimming rearview mirror, 18-inch alloy wheels, foglamps and remote vehicle starter.
Chevrolet marks prices for 2013 Malibu models from $21,995 to $29,700.