2014 Chevy Malibu - front three-quarter view

The Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix – an event that first returned to the Motor City last year, to somewhat embarrassing results – kicks off today, with the big race events happening Saturday and Sunday. But before any of Chevy’s Bowtie-badged race cars hit the track, we were able to get our first in-person look at the refreshed 2014 Malibu – a vehicle getting a host of upgrades after just one model year.

Until we actually get some behind the wheel time, won’t be able to tell if the mechanical upgrades have indeed made for an improvement over the coldly received 2013 model, but based on what General Motors executives told us at the unveiling this morning, things sound more promising. For starters, the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine gets a healthy boost in torque, swelling to 295 pound-feet from 259. What’s more, the chassis has been slightly retuned, following updates that Chevy engineers put on the larger Impala, and the base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine now benefits from start/stop, marking GM’s first application of this technology in a non-hybrid (read: eAssist) vehicle.

The base 2.5-liter engine now benefits from start/stop, marking GM’s first application of this technology in a non-hybrid vehicle

Visually, the tweaks to the Malibu’s front fascia are indeed noticeable, though we can’t say for sure if they’re actually improvements (the front-end styling was never a huge issue with the old car for us, after all). Still, the revised grille and headlamp treatment adds a bit more aggression to the schnoz, and the slimmer grille opening above the Bowtie badge does bring the Malibu more in line with the other vehicles in the company’s stable. No other visual changes have been given to the updated sedan, and that’s sort of a shame, since our only real design complaints concerned the rear fascia with its oddly squared-off, Camaro-inspired taillamps.

Inside, material fit and finish is mostly carryover, as is the overall design of the cabin. The big changes, however, will be noticed by rear occupants, where there’s an additional 1.25 inches of knee room. After sitting in the car during today’s presentation, we can say that the better materials on the front seat backs and more comfortable rear bench are indeed welcome changes.

Pricing has yet to be announced, but we expect that to drop closer to the car’s on-sale date this fall. For now, scroll down to read any details you may have missed, and check out our full gallery of live images, above.

Related Gallery2014 Chevrolet Malibu: Live

By Steven J. Ewing