By on April 12, 2011

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.

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35 Comments on “Does The New Malibu Trade Interior Space For Trunk Room?...”

  • avatar

    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.

    Impressions I got as well.  Chevy was horribly misguided in passing this car off as a serious competitor when it barely fits North Americans.

    Of course, GM isn’t going to build a North American specific platform, well, ever.

  • avatar

    I am renting a Malibu this week.  Overall, it’s a nice car, but doesn’t really stand out in any way.  It looks as if Chevy will address that next year by styling the ‘Bu as a 4-door Camaro. 

    My take on the rear legroom issue is that GM needs to create distance between small/midsize Malibu and Regal and the large/midsize Impala/LaCrosse.  Since they are all based on the same platform, stretching it for the Chinese market and for people who actually use the back seat makes sense.

    • 0 avatar

      Impala is the outlier platform-wise in GM’s midsized sedan bloat (it soldiers on with a “3rd Generation” W-Body platform, while the ‘bu is Epsilon-based and the Buicks ride on the Epsilon II platform), and it may hold the solution to the problem. If the Malibu shrinks, it helps move the Impala onto a long-rumored, Holden-developed, stretched version of Epsilon II (home of the future Cadillac XTS “flagship”) while maintaining some breathing room between the two. Problem is, it seems to me that GM needs the new Impala now worse than it needs the new Malibu… although a full fleet sales breakout might prove me wrong on that point.
      Meanwhile, in light of the SRX-3.6 story, I’m liking Conslaw’s guess (Malibu goes mild hybrid) a lot.

  • avatar

    It shoudn’t be any worse than the Regal, which it shares a paltform with. Stretched version ala LaCrosse was supposed to be the new Impala. Besides, who cares if the rear seat passengers are a little uncomfortable.

    • 0 avatar

      The people riding in the back care.
      If you are the driver and don’t care about your passenger’s comfort, then why are you even spending time with those people?

  • avatar

    In the other extreme, didn’t the Lacrosse compromise trunk space for rear seat comfort?  So GM could either make the Malibu bigger like Honda did with the Accord, or have it remain “small” and compromise SOMETHING.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Not really, as the Buick would wear different sheet metal, and can have different wheelbase / length. It’s not a Ford which shares sheetmetal and dimensions across all product.

      The Chevy (for America) carries:
      + 2 adults up front
      + 2 kids car seats in the rear
      + baby stroller & stuff in the trunk
      A larger trunk is more desirable due to American’s sheer volumes of stuff.

      The Buick (for China) carries:
      + 1 or 2 adults up front
      + 1 or 2 adults / older kids in the rear (esp. for China)
      + 1 or 2 sets of golf clubs in the trunk
      A larger rear seat is more desirable.

      Different cars on similar chassis.

  • avatar

    I’m guessing the reason is Eco-assist.  It reduces trunk room in the LaCrosse to a reported 10.9 cubic feet.  Chevy has to have room for Eco-assist and a reasonable trunk.

  • avatar
    SVX pearlie

    GM has a two-pronged approach in China:
    – Buick for passenger comfort
    – Chevy for owner value
    same as the US.

    The Chinese buying a Chevy Malibu vs a Buick Regal probably won’t be riding in the back, which is why GM can reduce the rear legroom in the Chevy. Like the US, the rear seat of a Chevy is for the kids.

    The Buick having a larger, more comfortable rear seat becomes a clear selling point as why you upgrade from a Chevy to a Buick.

    Where people would get squeezed is in Chevy taxi duty, but maybe for that role, the Impala or future Caprice works better.

  • avatar

    Bigger back seat in the Benz in China? A given.

    In the Jetta? hahahaha

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Give me better access to the trunk, larger lid, less mailslot.  That is all that is needed.  (And yes I have driven a Malibu LTZ and found it’s dynamics better than the Impala but that useless trunk opening is a deal breaker.) 

  • avatar

    Oh, excellent, another GM vehicle with six months arbitrarily chopped out of its development cycle. I’m sure this will end well.

  • avatar

    Anyone remember the Malibu Maxx?  Rear seat space sufficient to seat four people over 6’6″ and cargo 23 cubic feet of trunk space.  Of course, it looked like a 9/8ths-scale Toyota Tercel, but it was a really people-friendly car.  It wasn’t that long ago, either.

    Given the rear deck (or lack thereof) and steeply raked glass, I’m amazed that more automakers don’t just throw in the towel and sell hatchbacks.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I liked it.  Especially the Maxx SS!  3.9V6 in midsize hatch FTW! 

    • 0 avatar

      The Maxx SS had two problems: one was that it wasn’t remotely sporty to drive (the steering sucked, the suspension was pretty soft), and two was that it was saddled with most of the Malibu’s interior.  Nice seats, though.  It was a decent interior away from being a perfect Saab.**

      But it was supremely well-packaged, and in a straight line it’d beat the Mazda 6 V6 hatch while getting better mileage.  Mind you, the latter had great steering and a five-speed manual.  

      ** the Saab guys I knew at the time were pretty pissed that GM offered the then-new 9-3 as a sedan only, but gave Chevy a hatchback Malibu.  WTF?

      • 0 avatar

        I think more Americans would have bought the Maxx if it didn’t look so much like a Renault 16.
        Great in concept. Execution on the other hand….

    • 0 avatar

      @psarhjinian: As a matter of fact, I had a Maxx for three years, it was a completely practical car, which is why I’m sure it was A: a bad seller, and B: removed from the market. Something about the US market, we don’t embrace practical cars, period. That boxy (Opel) body is what gave such incredible room. I’m not sure what your benchmark is, but the worst of the car’s handling was the ever numb EPS. The rest of the car did as well as a car with a 112″ wheelbase can do. Put a dachshund and a border collie in one of those doggie agility tests and see which one does better…
      The wheelbase is what’s germane here, the current Malibu has the 112″ wb, which gives plenty of legroom as noted. I’m 6’1″ 265 lbs., and I don’t feel at all cramped in the back of current Malibu. The sloping rear window contributes to a cozy feeling, though. One of my acquaintances has the previous gen Malibu with the 108″ wheelbase, I’m still not cramped in that car. Maybe that previous gen boxy body really helped with the feeling of spaciousness? Maybe I’m really flexible for my age?
      Until we get some solid numbers from GM and what the car will equipment the car will carry, we’re really just speculating. I’m willing to wait until next week.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    GM has never been good at rear seats. My father once leased a 1972 Cadillac Eldorado, which was monster, 226 inches long, with front wheel drive. You would have thought it had copious room in the back seat. But, no, it did not. it was tiny and cramped.

  • avatar

    I have had the rear seat problem for 4 years. 3 years ago I bought an 04 Merc S500 as it was the only car I liked that could fit 6’2″ to 6’4″ people in the rear with the driver and the passenger in front being above 6′ as well. No SUV (sacrifices cargo room for rear seat) or other  ‘large’ sedan would accommodate. Maybe an Audi A8 LWB or Jag XJ or New Taurus/Ford 500 would be appropriate. I don’t believe the previous Panther platforms had enough room in the rear unless the driver was under 5’10”. I want space between my knees and the seat in front when in the rear seat… Not shimmy in and hope the indentations in the rear of the front seats provide enough room. My passengers knees would get seriously disjointed getting into most of the vehicles.
    Even when you think of kids in the rear in booster or child seats, there legs end up sticking out straight forward and need room. For taller front or taller passenger front riders, this causes a bit of a problem in the rear. It isn’t a matter of Americans being fatter, it’s a matter of being mostly taller…. Leg room in front AND rear is the theme.
    It seems most car manufacturers sacrifice this…

  • avatar

    We have a 2010 Malibu LTZ.  We really like the car and it’s a sharp looker (Summit White, Black Leather interior). To me, the rear seat is fine.  My 6’4″ brother sat behind me (I’m 6’3″) on a 200 mile drive once and he didn’t complain.  The mail slot trunk is only an issue when we’re getting massive strollers in and out.  Admittedly, that is a pain.  There has been no other situation in which I’ve noticed an inconvenience with the trunk opening.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      The mail slot trunk is only an issue when we’re getting massive strollers in and out.  Admittedly, that is a pain.  There has been no other situation in which I’ve noticed an inconvenience with the trunk opening

      Don’t golf, huh?  (Yeah I know I’m only 33 yrs old but being able to get my clubs in and out of the damn trunk is important.  Heck I’ll even likey take the clubs with me when I go car shoping.) 

    • 0 avatar

      I had a rental Malibu while on a Florida vacation a couple of weeks ago. Although the trunk opening is smaller relative to my cavernous Impala, I was still able to fit (OK, force) my golf clubs inside a travel case into the trunk, two giant suitcases and two carry-ons when we left Orlanda airport. One seat had to be flipped down to accomplish this, and the third carry-on had to ride in the back seat as the trunk was completely filled. Of course, this same load fit more easily into the Celica hatch with both rear seats down on the way to Halifax International. For true trunk insanity, look no further than the new Camaro. Giant trunk lid, kitchen sink-sized opening.

  • avatar

    These are rental cars, packing 4 persons worth of luggage is the priority.

  • avatar

    I would be willing to bet that the 2013 Malibu will trade the non intrusive strut trunk hinges for goose neck versions that the Regal and LaCrosse utilise. This way the opening will be larger but the actual volume will stay about the same making the trunk appear larger and easier to get things in and out. Meanwhile the shorter length will rob a an inch or two of rear legroom but the greater width will make back seat passengers feel less hemmed in. One has to wonder how Hyundai can have the least amount of rear seat legroom on paper at 34.6″ in it’s Sonata yet the darn thing feels like a limo compared to cars like the Malibu/Regal/Altima/200/Avenger etc. If GM propely utilizes the interior space of the new Epsilon there should not be an interior space issue as with the 97 cu. ft. rating of the current car.

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