The Chevrolet Malibu is getting a quick makeover as General Motors tries to address criticism of bland styling and so-so performance.
The 2014 version of the car, which goes on sale this fall, gets a new engine in the base model that boosts gas mileage, more back-seat legroom, a restyled front end, an updated interior, and suspension changes that will improve the car’s handling, GM said.
The rapid revamp comes just a year after the current version of the Malibu reached U.S. showrooms. In midsize cars, the largest piece of the U.S. auto market, the Malibu looks old when compared with new versions of the Ford Fusion and Honda Accord. The gas mileage of the base model, an important selling point, now lags behind the top performers in the segment.
Malibu sales are down 12 percent through April, while Fusion sales are up 25 percent and Accord sales have risen more than 26 percent, according to Autodata Corp.
“The midsize sedan segment is the most contested in the industry, and we’re not sitting still with the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu,” GM North America President Mark Reuss said in a statement.
GM is putting an all-new 2.5-liter, 196-horsepower, four-cylinder engine in the base version of the Malibu. The motor has about the same horsepower as the current model, but it has a new valve system that lets the engine use less fuel under low loads such as freeway driving. The new car also has technology that shuts off the engine at stop lights and restarts it when the driver releases the brake. As a result, mileage in city driving goes from 22 mpg to 23 mpg, and highway mileage rises a mile per gallon to 35.
Designers also changed the front-end to make it look more like the sleek new Chevrolet Impala. The Malibu gets a more modern grille with chrome accents and a hood that slopes downward. Engineers also gave back-seat passengers 1.25 inches of added legroom, mainly by trimming and reshaping the back of the front seats. The chassis and suspension, including new springs inside the front struts, will cut body roll in turns and improve the ride, GM said.
The car also gets side blind zone alert and rear cross-traffic alert as options, helping it to compete in the segment.
General Motors Co. had to make the changes once it became clear that the Fusion, Accord and Nissan Altima were ahead in styling, performance or gas mileage, said Larry Dominique, a former Nissan product planning chief who now is executive vice president of the TrueCar.com auto pricing website.
“It’s too important of a segment not to be competitive,” Dominique said.