With the introduction of the ninth-generation Chevy Malibu, reactions have gone from disdain to acclaim. Its Canadian market sales are already up 17% over the first six months of 2016, good for 4th place in the segment (6th last year).
It would be nice to think the new Malibu Hybrid is playing a more significant role in the car’s upwardly trending numbers than it probably is, this after all being the first of its kind to drive solely on electricity, with a modified powertrain borrowed from the second-generation Chevy Volt.
“Modified” is the key word as the 2016 Chevy Malibu Hybrid isn’t a plug-in hybrid. Instead, it utilizes GM’s Voltec two-motor power unit combined with a larger 1.8L (up from 1.5L) 4-cylinder engine and smaller 80-cell 1.5kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The internal combustion portion is responsible for 124 horsepower and 129 lb-ft of torque, whereas mixing in the electric motors brings total output up to 182 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque.
Before getting pumped up about the hybrid’s 17lb-ft advantage over the top-line, conventionally powered Malibu Premier’s 260 lb-ft of twist, I need to tell you that the 2.0L turbocharged car’s 250 horsepower makes for a lot more zing. Hybrid buyers shouldn’t feel hard done-by, though, especially when it comes to fuel economy.
Chevy claims best-in-class efficiency of 5.0L/100km in combined city-highway driving, whereas the new 2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid is said to be good for just 5.6, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid not quite as thrifty at 5.6 or 5.8 depending on trim, the Toyota Camry Hybrid also trim-dependent albeit not as stingy anyway at 5.9 or 6.0, and the Kia Optima Hybrid the least efficient with trim-respective numbers equaling 6.3 and 6.5. The Malibu Hybrid even beats the smaller Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid’s 5.3L/100km combined rating.
A 136kg weight loss program aside, if I were choosing one single reason for this overachieving personality, I’d point to its EV ability. The 2016 Chevy Malibu Hybrid is capable of electric-only propulsion up to 85 km/h, which is much higher than the class average. Of course, you’ll need to charge up the battery through lots of regenerative braking before attempting such a feat, but even without paying much attention to brake use, I regularly experienced pure EV motive power off the line when going easy on the throttle, and I also enjoyed silent electric motoring in the 30-65 km/h range quite often. By comparison, most competitors relieve themselves of battery-only propulsion at around 20 km/h, so it only makes sense the Malibu Hybrid is friendlier on fuel.
I should also mention the powertrain incorporates Chevy’s first Exhaust Gas Heat Recovery (EGHR) system, which means exhaust heat warms the engine as well as the cabin, reducing engine warm-up times while making cold-weather efficiency more consistent.
Also notable, with the windows lowered, I could hear an eerie spaceship sound designed to warn pedestrians of the car’s otherwise silent EV mode approach. However, that soon melded into the surrounding white noise of city life and therefore was mostly forgotten throughout the rest of my test week. I truly wondered about my sanity when I started hearing the sound of a moped coming from the side window, mind you. Once again with the windows down, there was a distinct, scooter-like buzzing sound that wound up when gaining speed before tapering off upon slowing.
Being an F1 fan, I’ve learned that hybrids aren’t always the best way to make a car sound exciting, but this is an entirely new level of lame. Considering that a Maserati V8 has been clinically proven to woo the fairer sex, the 2016 Chevy Malibu Hybrid has got to be a mechanical turn-off. On second thought, we should all buy one for our teenage boys.
With that in mind, the Malibu can be had with “Teen Driver,” a new device that automatically activates safety features while also managing speed warnings, radio volume limits, and more, plus it provides a driving habit history. I’m certainly glad this wasn’t available when I was 16.
Those regularly hooked up to their big-screen smartphones will like the Chevy Malibu’s graphic interfaces. My top-line tester featured a large colour multi-information display within an extremely attractive gauge cluster, the left dial filled with real-time efficiency and charging info instead of the usual tachometer. Meanwhile, Chevy has gone to the popular tablet-style infotainment touchscreen (8” diagonal in my case) atop the dash for improved visibility along with superb resolution and rich colours. What’s more, the rear-view camera provides handy guidelines for pinpointing parking manoeuvres. The MyLink system also incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for easy phone set-up and use.
My car’s audio was upgraded to a 9-speaker Bose system that produced superb sound, while standard satellite radio provided near endless listening possibilities. The standard menu also features passive keyless access and push-button ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, dual-zone automatic HVAC, OnStar telematics, all the usual active and passive safety kit including 10 airbags, plus much more.
Even though a large battery gobbles up cargo space, you still get the convenience of standard 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks that expand an abbreviated 328L trunk through a narrow bulkhead passageway. Hey, as long as I can load in my skis, the Malibu gets my seal of approval!
OK, I’m a slightly harsher critic than that, but I must admit the new 2016 Chevy Malibu Hybrid passes most other criteria with flying colours. Designers finished more dash and door panel surfaces in harder plastics than most competitors, but common touch points are even softer and cushier than usual. I’m fine with the trade-off as the leather-like detailing on the dash, doors, and console makes for a truly upscale ambiance. This is joined by gorgeous satin-silver metallic trim highlighting other key areas, plus nice glossy inlays that aren’t even trying to imitate faux wood or carbon.
My tester had every conceivable option including a Convenience and Technology package with remote start, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, the colour multi-info display and larger 8” infotainment touchscreen noted earlier, wireless device charging, a 120V household-style power outlet, and more. The Leather and Convenience package added gorgeous saddle brown leather upholstery, 6-way power adjustment for the front passenger seat, heated front cushions, and the aforementioned Bose audio upgrade. Other options included sporty alloy pedals and accurate navigation.
Additionally, the Driver Confidence package really lives up to its name by earning the 2016 Chevy Malibu Hybrid an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating via low-speed autonomous emergency braking, front pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assist, forward collision warning, and rear cross-traffic alert. The automatic high beams plus front and rear parking sensors enhance overall confidence.
All other trims get a 5-star safety rating from the NHTSA, while the Malibu is the highest-ranked midsize car in J.D. Power’s latest 2016 Vehicle Dependability Study. Chevy ranked 5th in the same third-party analytical firm’s 2016 Initial Quality Study, although the Malibu wasn’t recognized. However, Consumer Reports’ 2016 report card on reliability wasn’t so kind to Chevrolet with an 8 out of 11 full-line brand ranking, the only bowtie model to win its category being the larger Impala.
At least the new Malibu looks like its older sibling, which is a good thing. Its wheelbase doesn’t quite stretch to the bigger sedan’s dimensions, but the midsize model delivers more comfortable rear seating than its predecessor, another reason why it’s selling so well. If you’re in the market for a spacious family sedan, the Malibu is a good bet. And thanks to this electrified version’s fabulous fuel economy, it’s probably worth its slightly elevated price of entry.
That price would be $28,850 plus freight and dealer fees ― about $3,600 more than the slightly less equipped Malibu LT. Only you can decide if its HEV powertrain, electromechanical parking brake, dual-zone auto climate control, and tire inflation kit is money well spent, but it’s a very good car either way. It ups interior refinement over the Camry Hybrid, is a smoother operator than either the Sonata Hybrid or Optima Hybrid’s single-motor HEV system, and most importantly takes the title of best-in-class fuel economy from the Fusion Hybrid.
Simply put, the new 2016 Chevy Malibu Hybrid provides an ideal combination of the midsize hybrid segment’s best attributes.