Dodge Avenger Rally Car
Photos of the redesigned 2013 Chevrolet Malibu and a rally-prepped, not-for-production Dodge Avenger have popped up on the ol' Internet recently, and they provide the perfect jumping off point for further analysis of the highly competitive mid-size sedan segment. Especially since both cars are suddenly working the same angle.
The Malibu Gets Mean
Frankly, I've got my concerns about the new 'Bu, although not so much about the car itself. One of the newly released pics is a standard front 3/4 shot of the car, providing a clear look at most of the forward-facing bits, and it's obvious the Hyundai/Kia focus on exterior design has made an impact here. While the current Malibu's exterior is sleek, sophisticated and restrained, the new vehicle's sheet metal is much more aggressive and detailed, especially at the front.
The headlamps are reshaped with a swept-back appearance, and it looks like there's an LED eyebrow cue that flows into the top of the front quarter-panel for a subtle design touch. You can also see just the hint of an arch worked into the top of the rear quarter-panel where it echoes the shape of the wheel well. Again, a nice bit of business.
I'm less impressed with the overly sculpted hood, which my gut says isn't going to look as nice in person as it does in the photo, and the grille/lower air inlet treatment seems cribbed directly from the GMC Terrain. The fog lamps are derivative as well, reminding me of the ones on the Ford Fusion.
But the bottom line here, as explicitly stated in the General's accompanying press materials, is the Chevy is going to leverage its performance traditions'”and Camaro and Corvette design cues'”to a significant extent on the new Malibu. Which, for those who are curious, is due for a big-time multimedia reveal at both the Shanghai and new york auto shows.
The thing is, my long-time issue with the current Malibu is that it wanders a bit too far into near-premium territory for a Chevy sedan. And while the redesign may be moving the car into a different, more athletic direction, I still think it's not mainstream enough to attract traditional Chevrolet buyers.
On the other hand, we've got the Avenger rally car, created to celebrate a partnership between the Chrysler Group, Mopar, Magneti Marelli (a Fiat-owned components supplier) and Shell (the oil company). That means it features all kinds of go-fast goodies, including a 300-hp version of the automaker's Pentastar V-6.
The party line here is that the vehicle, which will debut at the New York Auto Show, is designed to show off said goodies to help determine which ones will get into production. But the Avenger is a car that's been crying out for some kind of hi-po treatment, and going the full monte here by putting a version of the car itself into production would no doubt attract a nice chunk of customers.
In a way, the Avenger was the new Kia Optima before the new Kia Optima debuted. Say what you want about the car's mechanicals, the Dodge's aggressive, traditional American design, with its upright grille and bold exterior, always set it apart from its less-adventurous mainstream rivals. And remember, now the Avenger's hardware has received a relatively significant refresh for the new model year, giving hope that an R/T or SRT version (or a Mopar/Magneti Marelli model) could provide a driving experience that lives up to the way the car looks.
The Mid-size Design Revolution
As I implied above, one of the key drivers of success for Hyundai and Kia has been a more a dramatic approach to exterior design, and like all successful ideas, it's being copied by the competition. And once the 2013 Malibu hits the road, the mid-size segment will show a noticeable divide based on exterior design. On one side will be the new Chevy, Optima, Hyundai Sonata, Avenger and Toyota Camry, all of which boast clearly more dynamic exterior styling than those on the other side, the Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima and Chrysler 200.
And of these, a case can be made that the Malibu, Optima and Avenger all will go even further by positioning themselves as offering a dynamic driving experience.
Which is odd, because that's never exactly been a recipe for dynamic sales.