2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid Quick Spin [w/video]
Like A Volt With No Plug
Engine1.8L I4 + 2 Electric Motors
Power122 HP / 129 LB-FT
Curb Weight3457 LBS
MPG48 City / 45 HWY (est)
The shared parts include the blended braking system, A/C compressor, the auxiliary power module, and most of the hybrid transaxle (what you might call a fancy electro-transmission). In the Malibu, the electric motors use neodymium magnets for efficiency and power, while the Volt has weaker ferrite magnets to reduce drag, and the Volt also gets an extra clutch to lock out the engine. The two use different batteries, with their size, power capabilities, and chemistry suited to the task for each vehicle.
Unlike most of the midsized sedan leaders, the Malibu has never had a full hybrid option. For a few years in the last generation, Chevy offered the Malibu Eco with a version of GM's eAssist mild-hybrid system, which featured a small motor-generator in place of an alternator hooked up to a bigger battery that could harvest energy during deceleration and add some back in when you hit the throttle; it also brought engine stop-start functionality to save a little more fuel. But it saved only a little fuel, so eAssist was nixed in favor of a more efficient four-cylinder with a standalone stop-start system.
- Mode switches between gas and electric are just as smooth as in the Volt. No shudder or weirdness in the throttle. It drives as much like a gas-only car as any midsized hybrid does.
- The blended braking system is also noticeably well sorted. There's no deadness in the pedal, no touchiness, and no artificial, wooden feeling when you step through the regen portion of its travel.
- There's nothing abrupt or jarring about any of the experience, and the Malibu's baked-in quietness helps to deal with noise from the somewhat coarse 1.8-liter gas engine. Engine startup and shutdown are noisy from outside, but much less noticeable from within.
- The 2016 Malibu is larger yet lighter. The hybrid weighs about 125 pounds more than a comparably equipped 1.5T. You don't notice the extra weight, but there is some space eaten out of the trunk by the battery. It's an irregular shape that mostly blocks the opening created by folding the rear seats, but there's still room to pass thinner objects like skis or lumber through.
- Ride and handling also mirror those of the gas cars. The steering has minimal feedback and decent weight, while the suspension manages lumpy pavement without any old-GM float. Like the rest of the lineup, it has a comfortable overall attitude.
- Styling is the same as on other Malibus, all of which look about the same, and none of which have a particularly cohesive design. 17-inch wheels are standard on the hybrid, and it rides a half-inch lower than a gas-only Malibu on the same size wheels to improve aero.
- Electric mode can kick in at speeds up to 55 mph and works for short stretches if you're judicious with the throttle. As in other non-plug-ins, you'll need help from the gas engine to accelerate in most situations. It also lets you start from a stop under electric power only, something the old eAssist system couldn't do.
- In an entirely unscientific and short test loop, we saw 44 mpg indicated on the car's trip computer. This at least suggests that getting close to the EPA numbers (48 mpg city, 45 highway) is possible.
We're not in love with the gas Malibu. Styling aside, this hybrid version is a more appealing sedan, in part because its competitive set is slimmer. The dynamic favorite Mazda6 doesn't offer a hybrid variant, the gas-electric Nissan Altima died long ago, and Honda hasn't brought the Accord Hybrid out of hiatus yet. The competition for now is limited to the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata twins, both of which lack the refinement of the Malibu, and the Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry, which benefit from the improvement that comes with multiple generations on the market. The Malibu beats the numbers of all of them (although the forthcoming Accord Hybrid could once again be the champ if its 50/45 mpg ratings carry over from 2015).
Judging by Prius sales, those looking for good fuel economy are less concerned with styling. That can only be a good thing for the Malibu.
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