It seems that as the market for midsize sedans continues to lose ground to crossovers and hatches, one of the best responses to keep things competitive is to release a hybrid version of your midsizer.
Hyundai did it with the latest Sonata, Honda with the latest Accord, and the Camry Hybrid has been around for pretty much as long as “hybrid” was even a thing -- so, there you go.
Chevrolet, on the other hand, hasn’t quite followed that script. Yes, there were the eAssist models, but those were as “light” has any hybrid you were going to get. And off course, there’s that elephant in the room -- the Chevrolet Volt -- whose EV chops have stolen the limelight from so many other compacts and midsizes in The General’s line-ups.
With the release of the all-new 2016 Malibu, though, that’s all about to change.
In addition to the availability of an all-new 1.5L turbocharged engine, the latest Malibu lineup is about to get hybridized. We were dispatched to Silicon Valley (makes sense) to put it through its paces.
Set to come to market a few months after the other cars, the 2016 Malibu Hybrid makes use of a 1.8L gas engine paired with a 1.5 kWh motor, good for an overall combined system power output of 182 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque. The biggest news, of course, is the car’s claimed ability to travel up to 50 mph (about 80km/h) on EV power alone; we saw 45 mph for extended periods, so it appears the claims are pretty accurate.
Chevrolet claims that, thanks to the Malibu’s two-mode system (basically two planetary gear sets are switched via a clutch), they’re able to have the car performing well both around town and on the highway by metering-out how quickly the gas engine spins. One gear set basically acts as an overdrive, the other as a low-range set of gears for when you need to accelerate through traffic.
The way the system switches between EV and gas modes is good too, without the sometimes harsh snap back to reality as the gas engine comes back online. Since the Hybrid makes use of regenerative braking, brake feel is never going to be quite at the level it is with non-hybrids, but at least the system in the Malibu isn’t as mushy as some of the competition. That’s a nice bonus for me, as strong brake feel is important in building driver confidence.
The 1.5L get a set of grille shutters behind the front splitter, but the hybrid adds an extra set behind the front grille, as there isn’t as much need for cooling. That’s pretty much it as far as body mods go; inside, it’s pretty much business as usual, save for the tach becoming a charge metre and the addition of a power cycle infographic on the infotainment screen.
No pricing has yet been announced, but don’t be surprised if the Hybrid sits above the top-tier Premier trim ($33,795) in the Malibu lineup.