When I reviewed the current Chevrolet Malibu, I was generally impressed with GM’s effort in a highly competitive segment, but I had a few complaints. One of those complaints had to do with the ‘bu’s back bench, which prompted me to note
the rear seats seem like almost an afterthought compared to the well-appointed front row. Low seat height, a relatively narrow bench and unsupportive seating make for a poor combination
With images of an updated Malibu making the rounds of the blogosphere, and the Detroit News reporting that its production has been pulled ahead by six months by the order of Dan Akerson, you might think GM had taken the opportunity to improve the Malibu’s second-row shortcomings. But, according to Automotive News [sub]’s product editor, Rick Kranz, it seems that GM has done the opposite of improve rear-seat interior space… because of yet another of the ‘bu’s shortcomings.
In a blog post rather than a news piece, (indicating that GM has not yet officially announced these numbers), Kranz points out that the updated 2013 Malibu is now a global product, and that as such, it’s been altered to serve the needs of consumers in markets outside of the US. Kranz notes:
My understanding is that the passenger compartment will be a little bit tighter… While the overall exterior dimensions are essentially the same as those of the 2011 model, 4 inches have been trimmed out of the wheelbase. Those inches have been shifted to the trunk area. The trunk area also is taller. The bottom line: The 2013 Malibu has more trunk space.
As Jack Baruth (among others) has pointed out, the current Malibu’s small, access-hampered trunk does not win it many friends among family sedan shoppers, so GM’s decision to cut from the rear legroom in order to improve the trunk makes a certain amount of sense. But, opines Kranz
Now this would seem to suggest rear passengers will give up legroom comfort to create a bigger trunk. I would think Americans prefer more rear legroom.
So, can the Malibu afford to give up a few inches of length? At 37.6 inches of rear legroom, the outgoing Malibu bests the Nissan Altima (35.8) and Hyundai Sonata (34.6), while basically matching the Ford Fusion (37.1) and Honda Accord (37.2). Of its direct competitors, only the Toyota Camry enjoys a significant advantage in rear legroom, at 38.3 inches. Even if the new Malibu lost the full four inches that Kranz implies it could in a worst-case scenario (which it likely won’t), it would still be just an inch shy of the Sonata’s 34.6 inch mark.
Go back to reviews of the Malibu, here at TTAC and elsewhere, and you’ll find that complaints about the ‘bu’s cramped rear seat accommodations rarely focus on legroom (although one blog item by BusinessWeek’s David Kiley blast’s the Malibu’s lack of legroom as a taxi). Hip and shoulder width, as well as the “low seat height, relatively narrow bench and unsupportive seating” that I found lacking, tend to dominate negative impressions of the Malibu’s people-carrying talents. In short, if Chevy’s engineers were able to keep rear legroom losses to three inches or fewer while improving the vehicle’s width and the quality of the rear seat, we’d tend to call the compromise largely worthwhile (pending a full test).
Here’s what doesn’t make sense about Kranz’s shortened-Malibu rumor: as a newly global car, GM definitely tweaked the Malibu with an eye towards its largest market, China. But, as Bertel has explained time and again, Chinese car buyers (especially buyers of relatively upscale foreign cars) tend to put an inordinate amount of importance on rear legroom, as many upwardly mobile Chinese prefer to hire a driver while staying camped in the back seat. It was for this reason that Volkswagen stretched the rear legroom of its China-oriented 2011 Jetta by some 2.7 inches, to a current-Malibu-beating 38.1 inches. Ironically, GM’s China-centric global strategy seems to suggest more rear legroom, rather than less, would (or at least should) be on the agenda as it re-engineered the Malibu to be a global vehicle.
Perhaps we should just wait for GM to release specs for the new ‘bu (planned for a week from today) before we start bemoaning American-market compromises in the name of global tastes.