Navigation and hands-free calling are available with OnStar. We've used OnStar navigation before, and it works reasonably well, although you have to be in a cell-phone-capable area. We prefer self-contained GPS systems built into a car's dashboard. For hands-free calling, you can get a phone number assigned to the car through OnStar, but then you need separate numbers for your cell phone and car. Again, we prefer a self-contained Bluetooth system.
The only other real tech piece in the car is the stereo, a system that comes with an MP3-capable CD player, XM satellite radio, and an auxiliary input jack. We've seen this stereo on other GM cars, such as the Saturn Aura. The radio display interface isn't pretty, but it works well. For satellite radio, it displays channel categories as tabs. You can press the Info button and see more information, such as song title, artist, or channel name. The system shows ID3 track information for MP3 CDs, although you have to push the scan button first. The system takes a little while to scan a CD, and you will have to rescan it every time you put the CD back in. An auxiliary input is mounted to the faceplate, although there aren't many convenient places around the dashboard for an MP3 player.
The stereo's sound quality is mediocre, at best. You can adjust the audio with equalizer presets, or choose your own settings for bass and treble. But the audio system doesn't have a lot of power, and its bass response is unimpressive. We found that, even with the audio settings tweaked, the audio was flat, delivering high and lows in a muddle with the midrange.
Under the hood
The exterior styling of the Malibu Hybrid is nice, presenting a modern and unique look for a sedan. The roofline has a nice contour, and the C pillars seem influenced by those on the Cadillac CTS. Prominent hybrid badges let the world know you are concerned about the environment. As for driving, the throttle doesn't deliver much get-up-and-go, but we were happy with the steering response.
Our first indication of the Malibu Hybrid's anemic acceleration came when we were entering a freeway. This particular on-ramp has a stop before you merge onto a long, flat section of road, perfect for impromptu acceleration testing. We stomped the gas, and the car eased forward, the four-speed automatic moving sedately up through its gears. We watched the speedometer needle gradually climb, finally making its way over the 60 mph mark in what seemed like a good 15 seconds.
The engine in the Malibu Hybrid is a 2.4-liter four cylinder, which is supposed to get some extra boost from its BAS system. On the Hybrid, you get a gauge on the instrument cluster showing when the BAS system is charging or when it is adding boost, but we didn't feel much extra power when the needle showed boost. The BAS system includes an auto-stop feature, which turns off the engine during traffic stops. We liked that the car went quiet when we stopped at traffic lights, and found that it restarted readily and smoothly. Unfortunately, the Malibu Hybrid only auto-stops when you are in Drive and use the brakes--it keeps the engine idling when you are in Park or Neutral.
While we weren't impressed with the car's pick-up, we like its handling. It wasn't fantastic, but after finding loads of understeer in the Mercury Sable and the Honda Accord, we were happy that the Malibu Hybrid went approximately where we pointed its front end. GM's Stabilitrack traction and stability control is standard on the Malibu Hybrid, along with antilock brakes.
We mentioned the unimpressive gas mileage for the Malibu Hybrid above. By comparison, the standard four-cylinder Malibu gets EPA numbers of 22 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway, 2mpg worse than the Malibu Hybrid. There is also a six-cylinder Malibu that is rated by the EPA with 18 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. For emissions, the Malibu Hybrid gets only a LEV II rating from the California Air Resources Board, the minimum rating and the same as the other Malibu models.
Our review car was a 2008 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid with no options. The car comes in with an inexpensive base price of $22,140. Add on the $650 destination charge, and our total was $22,790, making it one of the cheapest hybrids you can get. But you get what you pay for, and, as we've pointed out, we aren't terribly impressed with this hybrid system. For a comparably sized hybrid, you would get a much better, and more expensive, tech car with either the Toyota Camry Hybrid or the Nissan Altima Hybrid. Both alternatives use a much more capable hybrid system and have excellent tech options. GM has started rolling out its more capable two-mode hybrid system in its SUVs, and we hope to see this system appear in sedans like the Malibu.
For our tech rating, we give the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid a moderate score for its cabin gadgets, taking into account the OnStar contributions. For its powertrain, it scores about average, gaining some points for its handling and auto-stop feature.