Special Coverage

Ward’s Auto Interiors Show

Since its launch in October, the redesigned-for-’08 Chevrolet Malibu has been flying off dealer lots with its dramatically different interior sealing the deal.

Ward’s editors are also sold on the cabin, voting it tops in the “Popular-Priced Car” category of the 2008 Interior of the Year competition.

The staff cited a number of new cues inside the Malibu, including blue lighting accents for instrument panel gauges, clever seat backs that provide rear passengers an extra 3 ins. (7.6 cm) of legroom and excellent fit and finish.

But overwhelmingly, their notes share one common thread: value.

“Material top-notch for a car in this price range,” writes Associate Editor Byron Pope on his scoresheet. “Great bang for the buck,” says Senior News Editor Eric Mayne. “Very high quality for the price,” Associate Editor Mike Sutton adds.

However, it does not appear General Motors Corp. has come far enough. Ward’s AutoWorld Editor-in-Chief Drew Winter notes, “Graining and gloss of lower door panel area drags everything else down.”

Associate Editor Christie Schweinsberg concedes the car rates far higher than its previous generation, albeit with one major caveat: “There’s still something about it that lends to an air of cheapness.”

But overall, the Malibu won extensive praise from the judges.

Two other big sellers for the editors: cocoa and cashmere. The Malibu’s classically elegant 2-tone leather trim on the top-of-the-range LTZ tester, which Executive Editor Tom Murphy calls “spectacular,” pushes it past the Hyundai Sonata, one of the competition’s biggest surprises.

The Malibu’s luscious latte interior – punctuated by 2-tone buckskin leather seats – was reminiscent of a rich, durable saddle.

GM designers have talked for years about the need for “harmonious” interiors that integrate complementary materials, that lend an upscale aura to a moderately priced vehicle and that suggest one team with one vision developed the cabin, rather than several studios working in different directions.

A harmonious interior also should be inviting and reward consumers for parting with their hard-earned cash, while reinforcing a brand’s attributes.

The past-generation Malibu’s interior didn’t say much about the Chevy brand. The new Malibu puts its chief rivals – the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord – on notice that Chevy is serious as a gunfighters’ duel about dominating its market.

jamend@wardsauto.com