Driven: Five new 2013 Chevrolets

If you’ve always bought Chevys because you’ve always bought Chevys, I suspect you’ll like what the Bowtie brand is serving up new or substantially remodeled for next year. And if you’ve always avoided them because you’ve always avoided them, I encourage you to suspend your disbelief and go drive them, because you might come away impressed, as I recently did at the chance to drive five new 2013 Chevrolet offerings.

all photography courtesy Chevrolet/General Motors

The new Equinox

Equinox inside - nicer than before

2013 Chevrolet Equinox
If my count is right, this is the third generation Equinox. GM really got its timing right jumping on the crossover/utility bandwagon just as people were discovering these more carlike SUVs. The Equinox is Chevy’s two-row CUV; the first one was cute but underpowered and more than a little shy on interior comfort and refinement. That’s no longer the case. GM has given the Equinox a worthwhile freshening that includes a mild restyle, a major step up in the infotainment department, and an even bigger step up under the hood. GM’s excellent 3.6-liter V-6, cranking out over 300 horsepower, is standard, backed by a six-speed automatic transmission. The EPA rates it at 16/23, not stellar numbers but class competitive with other V-6 players. This new powertrain transforms the Equinox from a droning stone to a zippy, fine handling little rig. It’s such a nice size too; fine for the city and easy to park, but with a long enough wheelbase to offer acceptable rear seat leg room and a nice ride. The new center stack area, which can incorporate Chevy’s fabulous MyLink Radio, infotainment and nav system screen is handsome and nicely finished. My Link is offered on most Chevrolets, and you owe yourself a visit to a dealer for a demo, as it’ll pair with any device you can plug in or get near it, and the touch screen is bright, clear, and responsive. My tester based at $32,265 and topped out at around $36,000 including destination fees. A worthy consideration if you are shopping in the mi-30K price range, and want something more powerful than a small four-cylinder engine.

Malibu's look is way new and much better for 2013

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Turbo
As you may know, the Malibu gets a substantial design and equipment remodel for the new model year. It’s now really handsome, kinda sporty, and with a much higher quality cabin than ever before. This 2LZ Turbo replaces previous V-6 models, with a 2.0-liter turbo four that spools out 259 horses and will smoothly squirt the car to 60 mph in just a little over six seconds – with better mileage ratings than the old V-6s too. My fully loaded tester started at just over $30K, topping out at $34810 plus destination fee. And it was loaded loaded at that, with handsome and aggressive 19-inch rolling stock, nav, leather appointed seats, MyLink, and anything else you’d want in a mid-sized luxury sedan. I’ve not always been a fan of GM’s 2.0-liter Ecotec four cylinder engine; it always made good power, but at the expensive of smoothness, and it was too noisy. The engineers have tamed the engine’s grainy-sounding habits, and it was good fun to run this thing through the gears. The 6-speed automatic trans proved a good dance partner too, with responsive up- and downshifts in Drive, or the opportunity to use the manumatic shifter and shift it when I wanted to.
And talk about comfort; this car is super comfy with a dash and controls that really work. It’s a handsome cabin too, playing well against any premium Japanese, Korean, other American or even a few German competitors. So if you are even thinking about a new Optima, 200, Camry, Sonata, Altima or Fusion, you really should also at least go look at and drive a 2013 Malibu; its a solid player, and less costly than some of the others.

I'd gladly see the USA from inside this Chevrolet

2013 Sonic RS

Think of the RS as going SuperSonic (sorry, couldn't resist that...)

If you know your Chevys, you know that RS stands for RallySport, a sporty equipment and trim package designation that has been playing on Camaros and some other models for decades now. If you’re wondering what the RS treatment might look like on Chevy’s pint-sized Sonic sedan, think slightly compressed VW GTI. I mean it. The Sonic RS comes fully-equipped with few options, at $20,995. Your main choices are 6-speed manual, or an automatic, transmission (the price diff is about two grand for the auto) and you can also add a Sunroof and metallic black paint. Otherwise, the rest is all there, standard. The turbocharged 1.4-liter four is good for 138 horsepower, which may not sound like much, but this little guy doesn’t weigh a lot either, so you have weight to power ratio in your favor. The RS also includes four wheel disc brakes, a sporty calibration on the suspension, 17-inch rolling stock, lowered ride height, and a sportified interior treatment. And this little thing’s a hoot to drive. Its plenty zippy, bordering on fast, and it turns in handles, sticks, and stops with confidence. My only disappointment was that I didn’t get to drive it on a track so I could really hang it out. The sport exhaust thrums in your ear, and this car makes and carries speed with ease. If you love pocket rockets, and have a $20K budget, you really must drive one. It’ll make you smile, I promise.  This car was the “surprise and delight” among all the new Chevrolet’s I recently drove.

The RS really looks the business too

Worthwhile cabin upgrades complete the package; check out the square bottomed steering wheel and red trim

Take two - they're small!

2013 Chevrolet Spark
The Spark is Chevrolet’s micro sedan, even smaller than Sonic. In profile, it reminds me of a four-door Smart, if there were such a thing available. Power is a relative term here, but the 1.2-liter I-4’s 84 horsepower is enough to move it along like a real car. Of course it’s best suited to local commuting and urban assault work but it will safely maintain highway speeds when you need to. And it only costs around $17,000. You can choose between a 5-speed manual and 4-speed automatic, but the 28/37 EPA ratings, and just about everything else you’d want, including MyLink and 10 airbags, is standard. It’s relatively quiet and rides pretty well too. Rear seat room, enough, but just. Ditto cargo room. Hey, its really SMALL –so what do you expect? All in it’s a better car than you might think, and a worthy alternative to buying used if you are really on a budget and max mpg is everything.  One feature that really impressed me is the Spark’s MyLink system which becomes a really good, full functioned touch screen nav when paired with your SmartPhone and a one-time Bringo app download.

unfortunately this attractive young woman wasn't on hand to drive me around in the Spark

Traverse's new face is handsome and more along current Chevy family look

2013 Chevrolet Traverse
Chevy’s three-row crossover has been a sales success since its launch a few years ago, and GM has continued to upgrade it along the way. Now it gets a substantive mid-life update, with a nip/tuck nose and tail treatment, plus a reworking of the 3.6-liter V-6/6-speed automatic powertrain for more power, crisper and smoother shifts and better EPA numbers. The interior has also made the trip upmarket, and if you didn’t look at the badges, you’d think you were in a Buick or a Caddy. The suspension has also been retuned for better handling, control, and ride quality. If you liked the old Traverse, you’ll love the new one, and it should be on your list of three-row crossovers if this is the market you are shopping.

The Traverse is MUCH improved from this viewpoint