2013 Chevrolet Malibu at the 2011 New York Auto Show

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  • Competes with: Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Toyota Camry
  • Looks like: Chevy believes in understated but refined design
  • Drivetrain: 190-hp (estimated), 2.5-liter four-cylinder with six-speed automatic transmission; front-wheel drive
  • Hits dealerships: Early 2012

When it debuted for the 2008 model year, the current-generation Chevrolet Malibu served as proof GM was serious about competing in the family sedan segment. The competitive landscape has significantly shifted — and intensified — in the few years since then, and Chevy’s answer to that is the redesigned 2013 Malibu. The new sedan’s styling is evolutionary on the outside but a bit more daring inside, and it gains a new four-cylinder engine. Look for it to arrive early in 2012. Pricing hasn’t been announced.

Dimensionally, the redesigned Malibu is similar in size to the Buick Regal, and despite having a shorter wheelbase than the outgoing Malibu, it’s a few inches wider. The new sedan’s front-end styling takes after the current one, with its split grille and wraparound headlights, but the overall design has more sculpting and detail, giving the car a more refined look. The design doesn’t stretch any boundaries, but it will wear well. Wheel sizes range from 17 to 19 inches, and all are aluminum.

Chevrolet exhibited more risk-taking with the Malibu’s tail. The back of the current-generation car is exceedingly bland, almost as if Chevy ran out of design funds when finishing the rear. Now the look is considerably bolder, thanks to square LED taillights that were inspired from the Camaro sports car, Chevrolet says.

Cabin styling continues one of the Malibu’s signature elements — a dual-pod dashboard — but new detailing that stretches across the dash helps accent the design. A dash bin is tucked behind the audio system screen, which flips up to reveal its contents. More Camaro inspiration can be seen in the tachometer and speedometer shrouds in the instrument panel. The cabin features ice-blue ambient lighting, and a navigation system is optional.

Automakers are rapidly increasing the connectedness of cars, and the new Malibu will be offered with Chevrolet’s MyLink entertainment and communication system. MyLink enables online streaming of Pandora and Stitcher SmartRadio content. Featuring a touch-screen interface, MyLink can also stream songs from a mobile device using Bluetooth.

The only engine Chevrolet has announced for the U.S.-bound Malibu is a 190-horsepower (estimated), 2.5-liter four-cylinder. It features direct injection and drives the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. Gas mileage figures haven’t been released as of this writing.

Notably absent from the Malibu’s spec sheet is a V-6 engine option. Competitors like the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima don’t offer a V-6, either, though both are offered with an optional turbo four-cylinder that produces V-6-like power but delivers better fuel economy. Chevrolet may very well offer a V-6 engine in the future, but a more likely scenario is the turbo four-cylinder currently available in the Regal.

A number of safety features are offered, and some of them, such as lane departure warning with forward collision warning, are more frequently seen on luxury cars. Additional available features include antilock brakes, an electronic stability system, side-impact airbags for the front seats, front knee airbags, side curtain airbags, rear-seat side-impact airbags and a backup camera.

The 2013 Malibu continues the trajectory of improvement that began with the launch of the current-generation sedan a few years ago, which is what the car needed in the face of new challengers like the redesigned Optima. Some important numbers — like estimated gas mileage and price — are still unknown, but based on what we’ve seen so far, the redesigned Malibu looks like a solid contender in the family car class.

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Mike Hanley has more than 20 years of experience reporting on the auto industry. His primary focus is new vehicles, and he's currently a Senior Road Test Editor overseeing expert car reviews and comparison tests. He previously managed Editorial content in the Research section. Email Mike Hanley

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