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Monday, August 15, 2011

We Poke and Prod a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Interior and Find Lots of Squish and Understated Splash

Chevrolet pulled the sheets off of its 2013 Malibu sedan at this past April’s New York auto show, but it wasn’t until yesterday that we were able to examine the car’s insides. Chevrolet had previously supplied a few press shots of the interior, and the production-intent version is largely the same, with the placement of a few buttons being the only significant change. Our first impressions of the final interior design and materials are positive.

Relative to the current-gen Malibu (one was on hand at the press event), the shapes and forms flow together more cohesively and it’s a little more geometric in design. The window sills and upper portions of the doors and dashboard are crafted from nicely grained soft-touch material, while the padded armrests and styled door inserts come in stitched leather or cloth—the final coverings weren’t on hand for our judgment, however. As for spaciousness, the 2013 Malibu’s rear-seat legroom does seem to have taken a hit relative to the current model’s as a result of the 2013 ‘Bu’s 4.5-inch reduction in wheelbase, but it’s still fairly roomy.

The fake wood lining the armrests, center stack, and steering wheel is rendered in what Chevy calls a “more modern” pattern, eschewing traditional wood graining and burling, but it really just looks like faux zebra hide slathered in several coats of shellac. It’s the only major misstep, and is standard on LT and LTZ trims; only the base LS is spared. A Chevy representative acknowledged that the design team would have preferred a low-gloss finish, but customer feedback indicated Malibu buyers liked shiny better. Too bad.

Moving beyond the chintzy “wood,” the Malibu’s interior features classy, blue ambient lighting and sparingly applied chromed plastic. The plastics are all nicely finished, and panel gaps are tight and consistent—bearing in mind that these were specially prepped prototypes—and the switchgear moved with well-damped precision. The Chevrolet MyLink touch screen had sharp graphics and a quick-reacting interface, and a brief demo showed that it appears to be much more straightforward than Ford’s fussy MyFord Touch system.

Chevrolet laid out what to expect from the three trim levels at launch, and even the base LS interior is rather attractive, despite being available only in basic black. The LT and LTZ trims will offer three interior color schemes paired with the simulated wood; the LT offers the choice of leather upholstery or cloth seats with vinyl bolsters, while the LTZ is leather only. If you order a Malibu LT or LTZ with what Chevy calls a “fashion” color scheme, your leather seats get snazzy contrasting piping like the car in our photos. The 2013 Malibu will go on sale early next year, by which point we should be able to report whether we like driving the car as much as we did sitting in it.

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