With so many stunning new looks worn by the latest batch of mid-size family sedans, the 2013 Chevy Malibu has a tough task ahead of it. Its exterior styling combines cues from a few bags of tricks, and the result doesn't connect as well as the radical departures from Hyundai or Kia, or for that matter, Ford or Nissan.
The new Malibu looks much smaller than it did last year, though it's not even a half-inch shorter overall. The front end is lower and the headlights are tapered in more effectively for aero smoothness, and there's a VW-like stagger to the grille and headlamps. The grille has a triplet of air intakes that add up visually to a more handsome look than before. The Eco models have their own front air dam with some pretty emphatic elbows embossed into the lower corners, and all versions have active aero shutters at the front to smooth airflow. A big Chevy bowtie seals the deal.
The aerodynamics start to have their way with the shape at the corners of the headlamps and at the small, set-off side mirrors. Down the sides, the Malibu picks up some subtle sculpturing, and by the time the sheetmetal wraps around the rear pillar, it's started to resemble Fortes and Camrys. The decklid and taillights are tiered like those on the last-generation Camry, too, but the rounded corners of the Malibu's high rear lamps bring it more in line with other current Chevys. GM cites a lot of Camaro influence in the Malibu's details, and it's easy to see some of the heritage appeal molded and shaped into the taillamps, but it's not altogether related to what's going on at the front end. Whatever its shortcomings in execution, the Hyundai Sonata's look is a dynamic calling card for the brand in a way this new Malibu shies away from being.
The cockpit delivers its details with more unity and more confidence. Big square-ringed gauges sit behind a thick steering wheel at a lower vantage point, and the center console gets a perimeter of glossy grey plastic that's identical to the stuff in the Volt--though the Malibu gets real buttons, not capacitive switches, to run its major functions. There's a large LCD screen front and center but also big, grabby knobs for major audio and climate functions. Designers took some visual heft out of the dash by cutting strakes across the surface and glinting it with metallic trim, but the dash itself doesn't seem thick enough to warrant the fuss. There's also some trim on the Eco model that seems to want to be woodgrain, except up close it's more metallic and woven in appearance. Taste points aside, it all feels good to the fingertips.