Chevrolet set out to make a stylish, functional midsize car when it produced the latest Malibu. It succeeded, and for the hybrid version of that car, you can add great fuel economy. The refined design of the Malibu can be attributed to improvements in the global midsized car platform used by General Motors. The new Malibu gains 3 inches in overall length and 6 inches in wheelbase length.
It has some sports car-like lines that suggest strong on-road performance. You might not be blown away by its performance ability, but for a family car, it holds its own. The fact that this is a hybrid is well advertised with badges on the rear and sides. Fuel economy, which is important to just about everybody today, is aided by the hybrid system, which turns off the engine when the car stops and starts it up again when it's time to accelerate. It also cuts off fuel supply when the car is slowing down, as well as taking other measures to boost fuel efficiency.
The Malibu Hybrid has an electric motor that's linked to a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission. Its EPA ratings are an impressive 26 mpg city, 34 highway, and our tester got close to 34 mpg in a mix of highway and stop-and-go driving.
Our week spent with the car gave us a nice respite from hitting the gas station every couple of days. It's fun to watch the Eco gauge light up when you are driving at maximum fuel efficiency, and you can try to keep it lit as long as you can just to amuse yourself. Oh, and because it's good for the environment and for cutting fuel consumption. Interior design is pretty nice, befitting a car significantly more expensive.
The instrument panel flowed nicely and the blue lighting of the gauges is easy on the eyes. Also, there's just enough subtle lighting elsewhere in the cabin to make it feel classy but not overly illuminated. The Malibu Hybrid is more expensive than a regular Malibu, as you might expect; the hybrid starts at $24,695. But GM says this year's hybrid model is better because of its new battery charging control software that trims the work rate of the engine.
It also features new 17-inch low rolling resistance tires, after using 16-inch tires last year. The Malibu Hybrid doesn't quite catch the Toyota Camry Hybrid's EPA rating of 33 mpg city, but it ties it with its 34 mpg on the highway. Plus, the Camry Hybrid is costlier, starting at $26,150.
The Malibu Hybrid's powertrain is based on GM's long-wheel based Epsilon platform, with the Ecotec engine and a 36-volt electric starter-motor-generator linked to a nickel metal hydride battery pack. It makes 164 horsepower, which is certainly adequate. The four-speed transmission shifts smoothly.
The Malibu Hybrid handles well, maneuvers gracefully through traffic and is surprisingly responsive. Thanks to its longer wheelbase, it rides extremely comfortably, so it's good for long trips. Another bonus comes from the fact that it has a $1,300 tax credit for buyers. The Malibu Hybrid is backed by a five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.