Chevrolet's development of the 2013 Malibu was interrupted during the General Motors bankruptcy, North American president Mark Reuss conceded in an interview. The 2014 Impala's development came after the bailout.
"When we took a look at the car," Reuss says of the Malibu, "we knew we had to do something styling-wise and package-wise. You'll probably see something late this year."
The Malibu's emergency update is as aggressive as Honda's 2013 Civic face-lift. The Malibu needs it, with tepid reviews relegating the Chevy to rental-car status. Its design is a retrograde step from the previous Malibu, and the rear seat is tight and claustrophobic.
The '13 Malibu is on the short-wheelbase version of GM's Epsilon II platform, and the Impala is on the long-wheelbase version. When the Impala program began postbankruptcy, that car grew in size to create more separation from the Malibu. The new Malibu shrank a bit, designed in the context of the old Impala, which was closer in size. It appears that Malibu and Impala designers didn't share plans with each other.
Spy shots show the updated Malibu to have the new Impala's nose. The front end is urethane, which readily allows a new bumper beam and headlamps.
Inside, Chevrolet will either lower the Malibu's rear seat or use thinner cushions to improve the package. Although the latter is much more costly, it avoids the knees-up problem, so we're betting on that.
The early update will improve the car but won't propel it to the top of the segment. Unless Chevy shortens the Malibu's life cycle, which is a possibility, we'll have to wait for the 2018 model year for the Malibu's next shot.