The Chevrolet Malibu got a Shanghai send-off, this week, marking a significant shift in strategy for not just that most American of mid-size sedans but for the Chevy brand itself.
The top-selling passenger car for the largest General Motors division, the Malibu will undergo a significant update for 2013, just three years after it was named North American Car of the Year.
The new version of the sedan will borrow some key styling cues from the wildly popular Chevrolet Camaro, including a more sculpted, coke bottle-style shape, while the interior will be larger and significantly more refined, more in line with cabin benchmark Audi. Meanwhile, the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu will deliver improved fuel economy, company officials noted.
But one of the most significant changes has nothing to do with the features or content of the 2013 sedan. The outgoing Malibu is sold in just 20 countries, mostly in various parts of the Americas, North and South. Going forward, it will be offered in more than 100 national markets, reflecting the ongoing transformation of Chevrolet into a global, rather than U.S.-defined brand.
(For more on the transformation of the Chevy brand, Click Here.)
“This will be the first time we’ve brought out a Chevrolet of this size in many regions,” noted the division’s Product Marketing Manager Russ Clark. “We’re taking it global.”
That’s not to say Chevy is turning away from the U.S. , especially with Malibu. The home market is still the largest in the world for cars in the so-called D-segment, of which Malibu is one. If anything, the GM marque is hoping to gain even more traction in the midsize market long dominated by Japanese nameplates such as Toyota Camry and Honda Accord – though the 2013 Malibu will be going up against tough American competition, such as the Ford Fusion, the hybrid version of which was named North American Car of the Year in 2010.
The 2013 Malibu might look familiar but there are a significant number of changes in the design, a number of which are aimed at improving aerodynamic efficiency. That includes a built-in rear spoiler – a “Bangle-butt,” in industry parlance, named after the former BMW executive who came up with the high decklid.
Still further aero tweaks will be made when a special high-mileage version of the next-generation Malibu launches. These include special grille shutters that can close when the demand for engine-cooling air is low.
In fact, such features will result in a car effectively as wind-cheatingly efficient as the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, Malibu chief engineer Mark Moussa told TheDetroitBureau.com.
That will help the high-efficiency Malibu to yield about 35 mpg on the highway, he noted. But even the mainstream model, with a 190 horsepower 2.5-liter Ecotec inline-four engine is expected to deliver more than 30 mpg on the highway.
The revised dimensions of the 2013 Malibu should be well-received by buyers, who will get more leg and shoulder room. The downside is that the curved, more coupe-like roof results in limited headroom in the rear seat, which could prove a problem for those much over 6-feet tall.
In keeping with current trends, Chevy engineers have put a significant emphasis on refinement, the ’13 Malibu using such niceties as laminated side glass to reduce interior wind noise.
Meanwhile, the cabin has been significantly elevated in terms of fit, finish and the use of upgraded materials, giving it a near-luxury class appearance.
Safety gear includes a wide range of brake-related technologies, including electronic stability control and panic brake assist. Eight airbags will come standard, and Malibu buyers will be offered the option of adding two more for the rear seat.
The new model will launch early next year. Pricing has yet to be announced.
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