Rivals: Chevrolet Malibu vs. Ford Fusion vs. Toyota Camry...hybrid edition
Roadshow pits three popular mid-size hybrids against each other to see who win the trophy for best fuel-sipper.
Emme HallFormer editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Watch this: Hybrid Rivals: Ford Fusion vs Chevrolet Malibu vs Toyota Camry
I remember the days when hybrids were weird-looking cars that only the most green of the green eco-folks would buy. Well, those days are gone, as manufacturers churn out gasoline-electric versions of their most popular models, making them look almost indistinguishable from their gas-only counterparts.
For this turn of Roadshow Rivals, we've taken the hybrid versions of the 2017 Ford Fusion, 2016 Toyota Camry and 2016 Chevrolet Malibu and put them to the test to see which one takes the hybrid podium. We did a fuel economy test on the mean city streets, but we also spiced things up with a drag race at an abandoned air strip.
Third Place: Toyota Camry
The 2016 Toyota Camry hybrid has the biggest power output of our three rivals. The 2.5-liter engine on its own puts out 156 horsepower and an equal amount of torque. Add the 105 kw electric motor and the total power goes up to 200 horses, enough to thoroughly spank the Malibu and the Fusion in our drag race.
But when it comes to real-world efficiency, the Camry suffered a bit. Toyota claims an EPA fuel rating of 40 miles per gallon in the city, 38 miles per gallon on the highway and 40 miles per gallon combined. That's enough for it to go 680 miles on one 17-gallon tank of fuel, but the Camry returned 42.4 miles per gallon in our real-world testing loop.
We all agreed the Camry was the least pleasing to drive, with sloppy handling and a ride that left us all feeling disconnected from the road. While it came out on top in our drag race, it was slow to leave the line, relying on horsepower to make up the difference.
The Camry comes with Toyota's Entune system, which doesn't have anything to complain about, save for the absence of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but neither does it have any stand-out features. The 7-inch touchscreen responds to inputs fairly quickly and satellite radio, iPod connectivity and Bluetooth are all in the mix. In the XLE, trim blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control and lane departure alert are all optional.
The 2016 Toyota Camry hybrid in the XLE trim starts at $30,140, just slightly less than the Fusion.
Second Place: Ford Fusion
The Ford Fusion hybrid features a 2-liter four cylinder engine, good for 141 horsepower and 129 pound-feet of torque. When paired with an 88 kw electric motor, the total power output is 188 horsepower. While the Fusion came in last in our drag race, we all thought it was the most rewarding to drive, offering up a spry chassis and direct steering.
The Fusion has an EPA fuel rating of 43 miles per gallon in the city, 41 miles per gallon on the highway and 42 miles per gallon combined. However, during our 10-mile test of city driving, the Fusion returned an impressive 47 miles per gallon.
The Fusion features Ford's Sync 3 infotainment system, using an 8-inch LCD touchscreen with pinch-to-zoom capabilities. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both included, as well as voice recognition, and satellite radio. The system boasts crisp graphics and a quick response time.
The 2017 Ford Fusion in Titanium trim starts at $30,520, making it the most expensive of our three rivals. Expect to pay more if you want safety technology like blind-spot monitoring and lane departure warning or convenience features like adaptive cruise control and park assist.
First Place: Chevrolet Malibu
The big winner was the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu. The 1.8-liter four cylinder engine is helped along by a 76 kw motor, bringing the total output to 182 horsepower and 277 pound/feet of torque. All that twisting power made the Malibu pretty quick off the line at the drag race, but the more powerful Camry was able to pass it halfway through.
Though it came in as first loser in flat-out speed, the Malibu easily won the real world efficiency test, returning over 50 miles per gallon on the city driving loop. The EPA estimates the Malibu's fuel economy at 47 miles per gallon in the city, 46 miles per gallon on the highway and 46 miles per gallon combined, making the Chevrolet a frugal machine, indeed.
Standard tech in the cabin includes a 7-inch touchscreen loaded with Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto make it easy to pair your smartphone, and OnStar and a 4G LTE hotspot are all included in the base price of $28,645.
For an extra $1,195 Chevrolet will add park assist, forward collision alert, rear cross traffic alert, lane keeping assist and blind spot monitoring. Also available are a larger touchscreen, navigation and adaptive cruise control.
While not quite as fun and zippy to drive as the Ford Fusion, the Malibu proved itself to be a comfortable commuter. The steering felt a little light but the chassis was well sorted and the brakes were very linear, exhibiting none of the grabby feel that plagues many hybrids.
We gave the win to the Chevrolet Malibu hybrid first for its impressive fuel economy, but we also liked its looks, available technical features and easy ride. It also starts at less than the Ford Fusion or Toyota Camry hybrids.