It takes only a quick scan of the Malibu Hybrid’s window sticker to see its appeal. At a base price of $22,790, the Chevy undercuts the hybrid versions of the Nissan Altima and the Toyota Camry by some $3000, making it one of the least expensive hybrid vehicles in America. The Nissan and the Toyota each return an impressive 34 mpg in the EPA combined fuel economy cycle, while the Malibu manages only 27 mpg. But driving pleasure is a different story. The Japanese sedans both feel compromised in their pursuit of ultimate economy, but the Malibu Hybrid has a smooth, unobtrusive powertrain and a nicely tuned chassis. The Chevy also wins in the steering department, although its electrically assisted rack won’t keep Porsche engineers awake at night. Furthermore, the Malibu’s acceleration suffers due to the long gearing of its antiquated, four-speed automatic transmission. GM needs to integrate its six-speed automatic, posthaste. Overall, though, the Malibu Hybrid drives just like the four-cylinder Malibu. And that’s high praise, indeed.
Just as Saturn does for its Vue and Aura hybrid models, Chevy uses a relatively basic hybrid system for the Malibu. An electric motor replaces the alternator and can modestly boost power under acceleration. It can also act as a generator. Additionally, this motor/generator restarts the engine after it shuts down at stoplights. A battery pack linked to the motor takes up minimal trunk space.
While the Malibu Hybrid offers only a 2-mpg improvement over the conventional Malibu, the system’s simplicity, low cost, and passive nature are appealing. Factor in the hybrid tax incentives, and you’re almost getting something for nothing.