My, my, late for the morning commute. Just a quick slurp of coffee; don’t spill it on the tie again, and darn it, where did I leave those car keys?
Oh, that’s right: I don’t actually have an office to go to.
But with a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu waiting at the curb — Detroit’s gray-flannel, workaday answer to the Toyota Camry — you’ll forgive me for overlooking that fact.
The redesigned Malibu faces a daunting traffic jam, with multiple midsize rivals already on the streets, shined up and ready for water-cooler warfare.
Three new hotshots are already jostling for promotions: the formidably redesigned 2013 Honda Accord, Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima. They join fresh upstarts like the Hyundai Sonata, the Kia Optima and an American-made Volkswagen Passat. The Camry sits quietly in its beige cubicle, never rocking the boat, yet outselling the rest year after year. And a new headhunting Mazda 6 is now patrolling the margins for sporty rebels and outliers who wouldn’t be seen in a Camry.
Into that scrum comes this eager new Malibu, waving its resume and offering its usual pleasantries, but not making the strongest impression.
Sure, the Malibu is soft- spoken and well mannered, and it performed any task I asked of it with little complaint. Chevrolet says the Malibu is the quietest car it’s ever made, and the cabin does soothe the ears in the manner of an entry-priced luxury car.
And yet, especially for a class underdog, I expected this revamped Chevy to bring something more to the office party, some claim to specialness — in styling, fuel economy, technology, anything. Instead, the Malibu does only what’s expected, and it loses points on rear-seat comfort. The sedan lands smack in the middle of its class — hello, Camryville — with a muffled thud.
Charmingly or not, depending on your view, the Malibu has tried to improve its formerly staid wardrobe. Taking cues from its macho Camaro sibling, always so smooth with the ladies, the Malibu mimics that sporty car’s winking rectangular taillights and puffed-out haunches. A coffin-lidded trunk and grooved hood seem inspired by BMW.
Yet the scent of a General Motors committee meeting wafts over the exterior styling. It’s as though three different design teams put ideas on the table, which the bosses then blended into a compromise that avoided screaming matches but left everyone grumbling.
The interior, with its distinctive two-tiered dashboard, is more focused and thereby more successful. From the shotgun seat, New Yorkers who rode in my test car were impressed by the cabin’s layout and materials. The available two-tone interior adds visual interest, though getting black and brown to work together is tricky, especially in plastic rather than natural materials. I have no argument, however, with the optional ambient blue lighting that spills from the dash and door panels, a genuinely luxurious touch.
Aside from the base LS model, all Malibus feature Chevy’s new MyLink radio. These infotainment units feature a seven-inch color touch screen that’s easier to use than Ford’s stubborn MyFord Touch units, but are also less functional. MyLink uses a Bluetooth smartphone connection to control external portable devices with commands from the screen, the steering wheel or voice recognition. The system includes Pandora and Stitcher Internet radio apps. The radio also pivots outward to reveal a hidden, illuminated storage cubby, perhaps the car’s most distinctive feature.
But in one oversight, you can’t get an embedded, screen-based navigation system at any price — or even the Bluetooth-based Bringo navigation app that’s available in the much less expensive Chevy Spark and Sonic. The fallback is an OnStar subscription — free for six months on the Turbo test car — which uses a live operator to send turn-by-turn directions, including voice prompts, into the car via a small display in front of the driver.