June 6th, 2013 by Steve Cypher

Just a year after its introduction the Chevrolet Malibu gets a refresh in the hopes of boosting its lagging sales

The super segment

Time waits for no man. Nowhere is that phrase more evident than in the automobile business and no car niche is more important than the midsize sedan segment.

It’s here you’ll find the best of what manufacturers have to offer including mainstays such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. With the introduction of the Korean twins – the curvaceous Sonata and the sleek Optima – both Hyundai and Kia are also making their presence felt.

Taking a hard look at the increasingly competition (the company calls it part of the “super segment” that’s comprised of subcompacts, compacts, midsize sedans and small utilities), Ford decided to bring over and re-badge its European Mondeo. This gave the new Fusion close to a 5-inch longer wheelbase and much improved handling along with a healthy dose of its Kinetic Design language. Its sales are now nipping at the heels of the Altima, dealers are clamoring for more and Ford is increasing production to meet demand.

2013 Malibu

Lost in all this good news is the re-designed 2013 Chevrolet Malibu. Possibly due to its bankruptcy filing, The General chose the conservative route when it came to the midsize Chevy’s makeover. While year-to-date (through May) sales of the Camry, Accord, Altima and Fusion stand at 171,756, 155,183, 140,883 and 136, 833, respectively, Malibu sales stand at 89,812 (according to Automotive News).

Earlier this year I had a chance to take a 2013 Malibu 2LT for a test drive noting that: “neither its Chevy-generic snout nor its retro-but-clunky rear end will win any beauty contests.” As for the interior, “there is too much going on in the way of textures and finishes to give the cabin any kind of design cohesiveness.”

Things also didn’t get much better when it came to handling: “Once you throw it into a curve, however, the fun quickly recedes into the rearview mirror. Feedback through both the steering wheel and suspension is vague. You know you’re in a corner, but the neither the steering nor the suspension telegraph much of this information back to the driver.”

2014 Chevrolet Malibu

Honda faced some of these same issues and decided on a major re-engineer and freshening of its 2012 Civic. Chevrolet, it seems, is taking a page from the same playbook.

Last Friday Chevy made the following announcement:

Chevrolet today unveiled the 2014 Malibu – a roomier, more refined and more efficient execution of its midsize sedan. Updated styling, a revised interior, a new 2.5L standard engine and suspension enhancements highlight the changes. It goes on sale this fall.

The new and enhanced features include:

•    Revised front-end appearance
•    Roomier rear seat with 1.25 inches more knee room
•    Redesigned center console
•    New 2.5L engine with variable valve lift control and start/stop technology
•    Nearly 14 percent more torque from the available 2.0L turbo engine – 295 lb-ft of torque (400 Nm) – engineered for a greater feeling of power on demand
•    Suspension enhancements derived from the all-new 2014 Impala

Our take

The good

•    The front end is improved although it’s still pretty generic-looking
•    Changes to the suspension include rebound springs internal to the struts for “improved body roll control and weight transfer… contributing to a more precise, controlled feel – especially while cornering.” This could certainly help its overall road manners (since GM doesn’t supply us with evaluation vehicles we’ll have to reserve judgment on this).

The meh

•    With no changes the back end retains its clunky look
•    Changes to the center console are minor and the re-do fails to address the rest of the mish-mash inside

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