2013 Chevrolet Malibu Turbo

SAN FRANCISCO — For too many years the midsize sedan segment has been populated by a group of plain-Jane’s that were adequate for the job, but quite honestly a little underwhelming when it came to styling and performance. If complacency was the disease then Chevrolet has found the cure.

It developed a new, direct-injected Ecotec 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that’s rated at 259 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, making it one of the most power-dense automotive engines in the industry. As if to make the joy complete, 90 percent of maximum torque is achieved from 1,500 rpm to 5,800 rpm.

Remember the early-turbocharged engines that experienced a lag on acceleration? Forget about it. With the Ecotec’s twin-scroll turbo there’s no turbo lag, and instantaneous performance is achieved at the stomp of a gas pedal.

DOHC with continuously variable valve timing optimizes the engine’s turbocharging system by adjusting valve timing at lower rpm for improved turbo response and greater torque delivery. (Editor’s note: high horsepower is nice to have but if the torque curve isn’t a big number at a low rpm then you’re just supporting the owner of your local gas station as he works to put his kids through college.)

The engine is mated to a six-speed Hydra-Matic 6T70 transmission. EPA estimated fuel economy is 21 mpg city/30 mpg highway/24 mpg combined.

The Malibu turbo is available as both a mid-level LT model and a more luxurious LTZ. The LT comes standard with 18-inch aluminum wheels, Chevy MyLink with a 7-inch color touch-screen radio, Bluetooth and USB port, dual-zone automatic climate control, remote start, ice-blue ambient lighting that’s really easy on the eyes and a host of other technologies – both safety and comfort. It also has a flat-bottom steering wheel.

The LTZ adds LED tail lamps, leather-appointed seats, heated front seats and available 19-inch aluminum wheels. Either wheel size gives Malibu a great stance.

The Malibu also comes with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 197 horsepower and in mild hybrid mode, which has been on the market since last February, with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine making 182 horsepower.

Suspension of the new Malibu Turbo is outstanding with barely a hint of head-toss, even on twisty, mountainous California highways. Among some of the safety equipment is Cornering Brake Control, Brake Assist, 10 standard air bags and available rearview camera system, Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning. It’s the first 2013 midsize car to earn double honors for safety, including a 5-star overall vehicle score from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Malibu lives in an awfully rough part of town with a lot of bullies for neighbors, like Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. From personal experience with all of them I can attest to the fact that the new Malibu holds its own.

It goes on sale this fall with an MSRP of $27,710 for the LT model and $30,925 for the LTZ. Both prices include $995 dealer freight charge.

— Al Vinikour