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2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Colin Ryan May 2016

The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid doesn't follow the usual rules. Other than a tiny "H" badge on this midsize sedan's trunk lid, there are no special styling flourishes. It runs on decent tires, instead of those low-rolling resistance things that affect ride and handling adversely. The gasoline/electric powertrain is as smooth in operation as it is efficient. And there are few compromises, which we will go into a little later.

An all-new generation of Malibu (the second) made its debut for the 2016 model year, and this particular variant benefits from the same improvements in refinement, safety and technology as the rest of the range.

Money Spent

The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid starts at $28,645 and is based on what would be the LT trim in the regular Malibu sedan, which is one step down from the top, so the equipment list includes 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry with push-button starting, LED daytime running lights, heated mirrors, cruise control and an 8-way power adjustable driver's seat.

The infotainment system revolves around a 7-in touchscreen and includes 4G LTE connectivity with a Wi-Fi hot spot for up to seven devices, a USB port, Bluetooth, satellite radio and a 6-speaker audio setup. For greater smartphone integration, both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are compatible.

From a safety perspective, the Malibu Hybrid comes with 10 airbags and a rearview camera as standard. A blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assistance and forward-collision monitoring with automatic low-speed braking are all on the options list.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has given the regular 2016 Malibu its best overall score of five stars. Front- and side-impact protection both received top marks.

Fuel Saved

The whole hybrid enchilada consists of two electric motors, a lithium-ion battery pack and a 1.8-liter/4-cylinder gasoline engine. Much of the technology developed for the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid is also in the Malibu Hybrid, although there's no plugging in with this car.

A combined output of 182 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque goes to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates fuel consumption at 47 miles per gallon in the city, 46 mpg on the highway and 46 mpg combined. Those figures for the city and combined cycles are easily the best of the class, and only the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid can achieve better economy on the highway with 48 mpg.

The hybrid system doesn't provide a way of selecting electric mode only, but it can take the car up to 50 miles per hour before the gasoline engine is called up for duty. As is customary with hybrids, the engine will shut off when the car is not moving and fire up again when required. On either occasion, there are no accompanying jolts or shudders. It's refinement all the way, along with a satisfying amount of thrust. Building up to freeway speed happens quickly enough, and overtaking doesn't involve that mixture of planning and dread that often comes with less powerful machines.

Those EPA numbers can also be improved upon without really trying. Shifting the lever into L1 or L2 means greater levels of regeneration when lifting off the throttle. It's possible to average 48 mpg over a journey that takes in a variety of conditions.

Heat from the exhaust system is redirected and used to bring both the engine and the cabin up to their desired temperatures, so less energy is directed to those tasks. Just to be clear, no exhaust gases come into the engine or cabin -- only the heat.

Miles Covered

Regenerative brakes in hybrids and electric cars usually have a tendency to feel strange, but these have what Chevrolet calls a blended action and feel pretty much identical to the brakes of a regular car, but they still gather energy that would otherwise have dissipated.

The cabin is comfortable, roomy and quiet (although concrete surfaces bring some road roar). The ride quality is serene and unruffled, and power delivery is responsive and capable. This car is no high-performance freeway blaster, but it takes a lot of the drudge and quite a bit of the expense out of commuting. The only small complaint is that some of the cabin materials show signs of cost cutting.

So ... Those Compromises

Trunk space is somewhat curtailed by having to accommodate the hybrid system's battery pack. While the regular sedan can hold up to 15.8 cu ft., this variant offers 11.8 cu ft. Though this is not exactly a deal breaker, the extra annoyance is that this battery pack is still in the way, even with the rear seats folded down.

And this isn't necessarily a hybrid-specific complaint -- most new cars come with electrically assisted steering with no appreciable information coming up to the hands -- but the Malibu Hybrid does have an odd steering feel. When you turn the wheel, it seems to go from extremely light to meaty to heavy, without many increments in between.

Parting Shots

The Malibu Hybrid also enjoys the Teen Driver system, which allows parents to set boundaries on things such as speed and audio system volume. Admittedly, looks are subjective, but a little more flair and presence in that department (to differentiate it from the nonhybrid version) wouldn't have gone amiss. In the final shake-up, though, this is a well-rounded car that's a pleasure to drive -- and it happens to be a hybrid, as well.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid: First Drive Review - Autotrader