A report issued by AAA says that gas prices may just sink to a national average of below $2 per gallon for the first time since 2009. Looks like Chevrolet picked a terrible time to introduce the 2016 Malibu Hybrid. And that's too bad, as this fuel-sipping hybrid delivers an excellent ride wrapped up in a sleek little package.
The Malibu is Chevrolet's midsize sedan, slotting in between the compact Cruze and the full-size Impala. This year the Malibu is completely redesigned and features a whole host of safety features and driver's aids.
This is the first year the Malibu is offered as a full hybrid. Previous models were available as a mild hybrid, where the electric motor functions merely as a power booster to the gasoline powered engine. The gasoline engine in mild hybrids shut off during braking, coasting, and when stopped, saving fuel.
The first thing I noticed was how easily it switched from the electric motor to the 1.8-liter gasoline engine. It's very quiet and seamless, with no telltale jerk on the chassis.
The second thing I noticed was the new braking system. Many early hybrids suffered from a non-linear braking feel, a result of capturing the kinetic energy from the braking and storing it in the battery. The system has gotten better over the years, and the Malibu Hybrid shares the same blended regenerative system as the new Chevrolet Volt. The result is smooth braking from first touch to final stop.
Also borrowed from the Volt are the two electric motors and the transmission. However, the Malibu gets a larger engine and a smaller battery than its brother: a 1.8-liter four banger good for 122 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque and a 1.5 kWh battery. Combined, the electric motor and engine produce 182 horsepower. The Malibu can cruise at speeds up to 55 mph on electricity alone, but I found it difficult to do as it requires a very light touch on the throttle.
The Malibu can jump off the line quite quickly with all that electric torque behind it, but in the end the 122 horsepower isn't enough to maintain that kind of rapid acceleration. Still, it's a fun little burst of speed that can brighten up your day.
While most buyers of the Malibu hybrid won't be out for late-night drives on twisty roads, neither will they be disappointed in the handling of this mid-size sedan. The steering feels a tad light but it has a good on-center feel. The ride is neither harsh nor floaty, providing enough stiffness to keep the car from rolling too much in the turns while soaking up the bumps in the mean streets of San Fransisco. In all, it's a comfortable place to spend a commute.
The Malibu Hybrid's two drive modes are optimized separately for the city and highway speeds. The second mode helps mitigate the lower highway fuel economy often seen in other hybrids. GM-estimated fuel ratings are 48 mpg in the city, 45 mpg on the highway, and 47 mpg combined. That combined number beats the Hyundai Sonata, Toyota Camry, and Ford Fusion hybrids, and equals the combined rating of the Honda Accord hybrid.
Like the gas-powered 2016 Chevrolet Malibu, the Hybrid gets the same influx of safety features and aids, like Teen Driver, which helps new drivers by monitoring their trips and issuing a report card, adaptive cruise control, parallel parking assist, front and rear park assist, rear cross-traffic alert, front collision warning and braking, blind spot monitoring, and lane keeping assist.
The Hybrid fortunately wears the same sheet metal as the traditionally powered Malibu. The fleet-car look is replaced with a sleek and sexy design aesthetic, with a new Camaro-inspired front end. The longer wheelbase of the 2016 model gives more leg room to rear passengers, and the gently curving creases along the side impart a modern look.
Beware if you need to haul a lot of gear in the Malibu hybrid. The battery back sits behind the rear seats and takes up quite a bit of trunk space, reducing the volume from 15.8 cubic feet in the gas-powered model to just 11.6.
Inside a 7-inch touchscreen is standard, but a larger 8-inch screen is available. Opt for the larger screen if you want the MyLink navigation and Teen Driver systems. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. OnStar 4G LTE with Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities is standard and wireless phone charging is available.
The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu hybrid is a quiet and comfortable sedan that just happens to boast two methods of propulsion. It's the hybrid for those that don't want to be seen driving an eco-car, but still want the extra efficiency a hybrid can bring. Plus it has more safety features than other cars in its class.
The Malibu hybrid starts at $28,645 and is on sale now.