Although Maldonado became a grand prix winner with his triumph in Spain last year, he was also involved in a string of incidents during the season, picking up a number of grid penalties for driving misdemeanours.
But Coughlan believes Maldonado had an epiphany in late 2012.
"If you take the last quarter of the season, he seemed to realise what was involved to be a top class racing driver," Coughlan told AUTOSPORT.
"He looked at himself and there were no penalties in the last third of the season and he did some great races."
Coughlan highlighted Maldonado's fifth place in Abu Dhabi, despite a KERS failure, and recovery from a poor first lap to ninth in the United States as evidence of his maturity and progress.
"I still say Abu Dhabi was a better race for Pastor than Barcelona," said Coughlan.
"Austin was another one; he raced very strongly towards the end."