Malibu mojo starts inside

Greg Migliore
News Editor Greg Migliore

By: Greg Migliore on 7/26/2011

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The current Malibu is a solid success for Chevrolet. It's one of the best-selling cars in its segment--and in America, for that matter. But in sales figures, and perhaps in public perception, the Malibu still lags competitors from Toyota and Honda.

If that is to change, it's going to happen from the inside.

The interior in the 2011 Malibu is rather nice. It has a handsome design, pleasing materials and is well laid out. But Chevy is clearly trying to win, not just be in the running anymore, and that's why increased attention was paid to sharply redoing the interior of the next-generation 2013 Malibu.

Early indications are it's strong, and Chevy is taking measures to get the word out. That's why I dropped by a special press event on Tuesday that focused exclusively on the interior. Now, I sat in an early version just before the New York auto show where the car was formally revealed. It's duly impressive, and this session reinforced my impression.

This could be a harbinger of things to come from Chevrolet, which has well-executed interiors in the Cruze and in its SUV lineup. There's nothing wrong with Chevy's sheetmetal or engines. But to actually win over customers who have been buying imports for decades, the cabin has to truly take a step forward. Most cars look fairly similar, meaning the interior holds considerable sway in purchase decisions.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Chevrolet
The interior of the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu features a new take on the dual-cockpit configuration.

After sitting in a lineup of similar competitors, the Malibu interior came out ahead in my unscientific rankings. The Camry and the Accord looked nice but a little tired, and the Ford Fusion was nice but not mind-blowing. The Hyundai Sonata has perhaps the best interior among this set, in my opinion, and the 2013 Malibu is inches ahead of it.

To be fair, Chevy rolled out the most recent models available and in similar trim to the LTZ (high-spec) Malibu. But it's unlikely that Ford or the imports will stand still, especially when the midsize segment is so fiercely fought.

I would argue that interiors keyed Ford's comeback in recent years. Simply put, the Fusion used basic elements such as ambient lighting, leather and other pleasing materials, blended in Sync technology, and served up an entry that quickly became a stiff import fighter. This is a similar opportunity for Chevy.

This Malibu looks expensive, just as high-quality as the Volkswagen CC that I drove to the General Motors Proving Grounds in Milford, Mich. That VW stickered for better than $35,000, and I doubt many Malibus will reach that price point, even with every conceivable option checked.

So what does this Chevy look like? As you can see from the picture, the interior employs the dual-cockpit layout, though

1965 Chevy Malibu Chevrolet
Chevrolet had a 1965 Malibu--like this one--on display at a press briefing.

Malibu interior design director Crystal Windham says it's more subtle than the last car. There's a two-gauge cluster in front of the driver that evokes the sporty nature of the Camaro, and the right side in front of the passenger is bisected by elegant trim. Intriguingly, Windham says her team tried to minimize buttons and make them easy to read. Intuitive, eh? But as a veteran of many test cars at AutoWeek, I can candidly tell you most products are befuddling or too complex for their own good.

The LTZ example I sat in also was equipped with a seven-inch touch screen that had a small storage space behind it, and a kind of vinyl that had been grained or “tipped” to look like leather. It fooled me.

“We're trying to look for the wow factor,” Windham said.

Chevy did that once--as evidenced by a 1965 Malibu that happened to be on display in Milford. Few cars actually wow people these days, but with its premium interior, the 2013 Malibu stands a chance.


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