By Bill Schaffer
With the annual flood of new and changed models, I don?t always get a chance to sample everything each carmaker is releasing.? However, Chevrolet recently gave a group of automotive journalists the chance to drive five of their new models at a program in Marin County, California.
The fun-filled event gave me a chance to spend a little time behind the wheel of these new and redesigned Chevy models: Malibu Turbo mid-size sedan, compact Equinox crossover, full-size Traverse crossover, mini size Spark five-door hatchback, and the very exciting Sonic RS.
I?m looking forward to spending more time in each of these vehicles later in the model year, but for now, here?s a quick overview of some of Chevrolets 2013 lineup.
Chevrolet Malibu Turbo ? I haven?t driven a Malibu in several years (my wife, Barbara, went to the introduction last December) so I was surprised by how sophisticated this car has become.? The exterior styling is crisp and clean with a distinctive Chevrolet look.? Inside, the driver gets an attractive working space with well-placed controls and large buttons.? I like to be able to manually shift but the only mechanism designers planned for was a thumb-operated toggle on the top of the console-mounted shifter.? When the shifter is in the ?drive? position, I had to move my arm too far back to shift easily.? Of course, if you are someone who doesn?t care about anything but P-R-N-D the system works fine.
The big Malibu news, however, is the introduction of the new turbocharged four-cylinder engine.? Rated at 259 horsepower this new Ecotec engine is beautifully executed with plenty of power, virtually no turbo lag, and no torque steer under normal driving conditions.? The engine is quiet and very smooth, plus engineers worked hard to give it a powerful exhaust note that adds to the driving experience.? Acceleration is quick hitting the 60 mph mark in 6.3 seconds, and the EPA says the fuel economy is 21 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.
The top of the line Malibu 2LTZ model I drove has a base price of $30,165.? A sunroof, navigation, advanced safety package and entertainment package adds $3,450.
Chevrolet Sonic RS ? Of the five new Chevy?s I drove, the Sonic RS wins my ?Most Fun to Drive? award because of its spirited performance and precise handling?it also looks pretty good too.?? Starting with the compact Sonic five-door hatchback engineers turbocharged a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, bringing the horsepower up to 138.? While that doesn?t sound like much, it makes a little 2800 pound compact potent and entertaining to drive.? To sync the power with the handling, they tweaked and lowered the suspension and added larger special design 17-inch wheels and tires.? Of course, they had to make it look the part too, so they added a new grille, front fascia with a deep air dam that makes the RS look even lower.? Plus it has a new spoiler, rocker molding, chrome exhaust outlet and power sunroof.? Inside, the black interior was dressed with leather surface front bucket seats with contracting red stitching and suede microfiber insets.? A sporty three-spoke flat bottom steering wheel replaces the standard wheel, the interior has some RS logos, and aluminum sport pedals.
Because the RS is a special model, it also was outfitted with Chevrolets, MyLink infotainment system with a seven-inch color touch screen.? Used with a smart phone and the system apps, the MyLink brings in Pandora and Stitcher internet radio.
Perhaps the most interesting feature though, is the full-function GPS navigator app, which uses the phone GPS to turn the MyLink into a full-function navigation system. ?There?s a $50 charge for the app, but it appears to be a bargain for what they say it will deliver. The system will then store the maps in the MyLink memory allowing the driver to access the information even when phone signal quality is weak.? In addition, MyLink has several other cool features.? For more information on MyLink go to http://www.chevrolet.com/mylink-vehicle-technology.html.
The Sonic RS pricing starts at $20,995 for the version with the six-speed manual transmission or $22,280 with the automatic.? Options on the car I drove included black granite metallic paint ($195) and a sunroof ($850).
Chevrolet Spark ? For first time buyers, city dwellers and anyone trying to cope with the high price of gasoline, Chevrolet is ready with the new Spark mini car.? This is Chevrolet?s, first small car sold in the North America.? It?s about the same length as a Mini Cooper.
The sporty-looking five-door hatchback looks like a three-door, but the nearly concealed rear doors make it easy to load friends and family in the rear.? The result is fun and agile transportation especially for city drivers, first time buyers or commuters looking for some relief from high fuel prices.
Under the Spark?s small hood is a 1.25-liter DOHC four-cylinder Ecotec four-cylinder engine.? With only 84 horsepower, it takes a while to get going and I doubt that it would be too comfortable running with the big dogs on fast-moving, crowded freeways, but for around town or commuting to the office, I think it would be great.? EPA fuel economy is rated at 32 mpg city and 38 mpg on the highway. ?To improve drivability and safety, the Spark is equipped with Hill Start Assist, which helps makes you feel like a pro when starting out on a hill.? It also has StabiliTrac, which helps avoid spinout and in the unlikely event of a crash, it has 10 airbags.
With three trim levels, LS, 1LT and 2LT, the Spark provides perfect dependable low budget transportation or for a few dollars more, some nice little extras.? Pricing ranges from $12,995 for the LS with manual transmission up to $16,720 for the 2LT with an automatic.
Chevrolet?s stylish compact SUV gets mid-term upgrades to improve drivability and technology.? For 2013, the Equinox gets a new direct-injection 3.6-liter V-6 as the optional and upper level engine, a new FE2 suspension package and 18- or 19-inch chrome clad wheels on upper level models.? The MyLink infotainment system also gets a multitude of new features.
Rated at 301 horsepower, the new V-6 engine has 14 percent more horsepower than the previous 3.0-liter V-6 and weighs in as the most powerful V-6 available on SUVs in this category.?? The standard engine remains Chevy?s direct injection 182-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder.? Both engines drive the front wheels with through a six-speed automatic transmission and both can be ordered with all-wheel drive. The transmission used in the four-cylinder models has an Eco mode setting to improve fuel economy.? The four-cylinder models also have an Active Noise Cancelation system.
The five-passenger Equinox has been a sales leader for Chevrolet with dealers selling 193,000 in 2011.? For 2012, sales are already up by 16.6 percent during the first eight months of the year.
Equinox comes in LS, 1LT, 2LT and LTZ trim level.? Pricing starts at $24,580 for the LS and peaks at $31,340 for the LTZ, which, can go to about $36,500 with all the options.
I?ve noticed that the Chevy Traverse is showing up on some of the TV shows I watch — Hawaii 5-O and the Mentalist.? They aren?t actually in the chase scenes, but they are in support scenes.
The Traverse is memorable because it looks good and kind of racy.? The Traverse debuted with the 2009 model year and still has yet to receive a major freshening.? For 2013, it does get an installation of the first front center side airbag, which adds a new dimension of safety in a side impact.? The airbag inflates when the Traverse is hit in the side.? The airbag is designed to protect the front seat occupants from colliding with each other.
As a crossover, the Traverse is more like a large comfortable station wagon than an SUV.? The Traverse has seven or eight-passenger seating making it perfect for a large family, or one that needs buffer space between siblings.
Chris Perry, vice president, global Chevrolet marketing describes it best, ?Traverse is an ideal partner for busy families.? Having enough space for the kids, their friends and their cargo can help everyone enjoy the journey.
The interior has upgraded materials with soft-touch surfaces on the doors and instrument panel accented with contrasting stitching and chrome and silver accents.? At night, the available ambient blue lighting gives it a more opulent look.
The Traverse center stack gets a new 6.5-inch color touch screen radio for 2013 with MyLink or MyLink with Navigation infotainment.? The MyLink is controlled by buttons and the touch screen with large icons that are easy to touch, even when the vehicle is moving.? Owners can seamlessly integrate their smartphone to set up hands-free calling through the audio system and Bluetooth streams Internet programs like Pandora and Stitcher.
The Traverse ride and handling has been improved for 2013 with the use of rebound springs in the front struts to increase roll control.?? I found the ride to be exceptionally smooth and quiet plus it handles quite well, but I?d avoid chase scenes.
Traverse offers utility-like towing capacity of up to 5,200 pounds (2,358 kg).? Fuel economy is rated at 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway.
Some new available safety features for 2013 include Side Blind Zone Alert and Rear Cross Traffic alert systems, which are standard equipment on the LTZ.? All models also have a standard rearview camera system for backing up more safely.? Standard hill start assist brakes are also standard equipment helping the Traverse avoid rolling forward or backward when the driver takes his/her foot of the brake when starting on an incline.
Traverse comes in four trim levels: LS, 1LT, 2LT and LTZ and each is available with all-wheel drive.? Prices range from $31,335 for the LS front wheel drive and go up to $43,250 for the LTZ AWD.? Adding all the available options like rear seat entertainment, chrome assist steps and the dual SkyScape sunroof can bring the price into the $47,000 range.
Traverse not only looks good on the TV programs, it would look good in most driveways, too.