DETROIT – A refresh of the Chevrolet Malibu sedan just 16 months after a major redesigned model hit the market reflects a new aggressiveness by General Motors that was absent in the years before bankruptcy, says Mark Reuss, president of GM North America.

“We’re not going to stand around and be complacent,” Reuss tells journalists at the ’14 Malibu’s introduction here.

“It’s the biggest segment of the market,” he adds. “We gotta hit a home run every time.”

The midsize-car segment represents the No.2 group in the industry behind booming midsize cross/utility vehicles.

The Malibu currently ranks No.5 in the segment, with sales through the first four months of the year down 11.9% to 70,913 units from 80,456 in like-2012. The Toyota Camry was the top seller through April.

GM reportedly went with an early refresh of the Malibu to address sagging sales as soon as possible. Before bankruptcy, the cash-strapped auto maker likely would have resorted to discounts to move a struggling product off dealer lots, a strategy that in the long run costs more in incentive spending than a midcycle enhancement.

Reuss says GM went to customers who bought a competitive model for feedback on the ’13 Malibu’s shortcomings.

“We went to the people who avoided the car,” he says, noting the chief complaint was a lack of rear legroom and tight ingress/egress in the second row.

The redesigned Malibu gains 1.25 ins. (3.2 cm) of rear knee room, achieved by a deeper scallop in the back of the front seat and deeper seating position for the rear passengers. Rear seats now are more bucket-like for better comfort. GM also improved ingress/egress and added more cushion to the rear of the front seats to protect rear passengers who hit their knees entering or exiting.

The auto maker tinkered with the center console by moving the cupholders to a more convenient position and cleaned up the base of the center stack by moving power outlets. GM also did away with some of the contrasting materials used on the previous model’s console, which made the interior look too busy.

The exterior includes a revised front end, meant to give the grille greater road presence and create a more unified design.

The Malibu’s powertrain now includes the latest update to GM’s 2.5L 4-cyl. engine by adding the new variable valve-lift technology introduced just weeks ago on the ’14 Chevy Impala large sedan. The system improves fuel economy, lowers emissions and enhances low-rpm torque.

The engine also adds a basic stop/start system, using learning from the auto maker’s more-sophisticated eAssist powertrain. GM expects upwards of a 5% gain in fuel economy, putting the Malibu at an estimated 23-35 mpg (9.4-6.7 L/100 km) city/highway.

The Malibu’s top-of-the-range 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl. engine gets recertified for ’14 and adds 14% more torque, peaking at what GM claims is a best-in-segment 295 lb.-ft. (400 Nm).

Suspension updates, brought over from the new Impala, are expected to provide a more-refined driving experience, and new GM safety items such as blindspot protection and rear cross-traffic alert are now available.

The redesigned Malibu will arrive at dealers in the third quarter from assembly plants in Detroit and Fairfax, KS. Pricing has not been released.

GM pulled the ’13 Malibu ahead to March 2012 to beat other midsize cars coming to market in the competitive segment. But powertrain choices included only the 2.4L 4-cyl. engine with eAssist. The volume 2.5L 4-cyl. unit did not arrive until August 2012. Expected sales results still have not materialized.

jamend@wardsauto.com