Chevrolet's Malibu has impressed auto writers, and apparently, the public too. It is one of the best looking new cars around, quality appears high, and prices are still relatively reasonable. A hybrid model should make things even better, shouldn't it?
Well, the Malibu Hybrid is not GM's answer to the Prius. It does use a gas engine and electric motor in tandem, it's true. It does generate its own electricity for the motor using regenerative braking. The gas engine stops running at stoplights, at least if the air conditioning is either off or turned to the special hybrid setting. But my Amber Bronze Metallic test car averaged 22 miles per gallon on an EPA rating of 24 City, 32 Highway. The most recent Prius I tested delivered 42 mpg.
Also, despite a comfortable ride and pleasant handling, the Malibu Hybrid felt slow when attempting to drive up the somewhat steep hills in my neighborhood. Acceleration on the level, open road was also leisurely. The hybrid offers 164 horsepower and 159 lb.-ft of torque from its 2.4-liter engine. That's not that much for propelling a 3,537-pound car.
The base LS model non-hybrid Malibu generates 169 horsepower from its 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and 160 lb.-ft. of torque and its posted fuel mileage is just two mpg lower than the hybrid. What gives?
Perhaps a peek at the EPA's Green Vehicle Guide will give us a compelling difference between the two Malibus. Nope, the Hybrid gets a 6 on the Air Pollution score and an 8 on the Greenhouse Gas score. The standard car? 6 and 7 respectively.
The Hybrid wears its own badges on the outside, offering bragging rights to hybrid ownership. Sadly, there's not that much to be excited about.
And that's really too bad, because the Malibu is a real improvement over its predecessor(s). With Ed Welburn directing design at GM, the look of the corporation's cars has improved year after year. I was always pleased when I approached the Malibu in the parking lot. It has neatly distributed mass and really doesn't have a bad angle on it.
The Malibu's interior impresses with its movement, shapes, colors and textures. The dash is an exuberant sweep, defined by silver and chrome accents. Plastic textures, long a problem in GM vehicles, are handsome and feel substantial. Fit and finish are apparently flawless. My Coco/Cashmere interior (brown/tan) looked and felt better than the car's price might suggest. Even the audio system, with its standard XM Radio, had 30 station presets.
And safety is top notch. The Malibu gets a highest possible score of five-star crash ratings from frontal and side crashes for the driver and all passenger locations. There are airbags aplenty and the electronic watchdogs of four-wheel disc brakes with antilock and the Stabilitrak stability control system with traction control.
As a GM vehicle, the Malibu Hybrid comes with OnStar. Using hands-free calling, you can take care of numerous issues, from the inconvenience of locking your keys inside the trunk to the automatic accident response system. That system calls you if the airbags deploy and if you don't answer, medical help is dispatched to your location.
GM is especially proud of OnStar's new Turn-by-Turn Navigation feature. You simply call and ask for directions and the system downloads them and talks you step-by-step to where you want to go. It's like a navigation system that you don't have to program yourself. And OnStar sends you a monthly vehicle diagnostics report on your car via email.
Prices are all pretty reasonable. The non-hybrids start at $20,550 for the LS and work up through two LT levels to the LTZ model with its standard 252-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 at $27,745. My Hybrid carried a price tag of $22,790, including shipping.
So, the Hybrid costs you about $2,000 more than the base LS, and includes some upgraded features along with the hybrid system. If you're willing to live with fuel economy in the low to mid 20's, it's a good deal, but if you're looking for higher numbers, you'll have to search elsewhere.