Review: 2016 Chevy Malibu Hybrid
– Detroit, Michigan
The Chevy Volt is a great car for saving gas, but it won’t fit everyone’s lifestyle. The Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid, on the other hand, might have a wider appeal: It’s roomier inside, it doesn’t ever need to be plugged in, and it’s also $5,450 cheaper than a Volt (though the Volt is eligible for various tax breaks).
Whereas the last Malibu Hybrid was a so-called mild hybrid system that brought only minor efficiency gains, the new car is a much more thorough attempt to make Chevrolet’s midsizer more save at the pump. Its two-motor hybrid drivetrain is related to the one in the Chevrolet Volt, although the Malibu’s battery is considerably smaller. That means the car doesn’t operate primarily as an EV – the twin electric motors can only power the car short distances at up to 55 mph – but more as a traditional hybrid, with motors aiding the 1.8-liter gasoline engine. That’s enough to make it one of the most efficient non-plug-in cars you can buy today. Better still, the Malibu Hybrid isn’t any worse to drive than its non-hybrid versions.
- The Malibu Hybrid is seriously efficient. Though I only averaged 41 miles per gallon compared to the EPA rating of 46 mpg combined, that’s a great figure for a car of this size used in lots of urban driving. The 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid is the only non-plug-in midsize sedan that posts higher figures, with 48 mpg combined. By contrast, the thriftiest non-hybrid version of the Malibu, with the car’s 1.5-liter turbo-four engine, achieves only 31 mpg combined.
- Hybrid or not, the 2016 Malibu is a huge leap forward. Lighter and roomier than before, the new Malibu is more satisfying for drivers and more comfortable for passengers. The cowl sits low to maximize forward visibility, so the interior feels bright and roomy at all times.
- Nothing on the Chevrolet Malibu betrays it as a green-minded fuel-sipper. Automakers sometimes insist on turning hybrid cars into rolling billboards for electrification technology – striking green or blue paint, unusual wheels, huge badges everywhere – so it’s nice to see that the Malibu Hybrid is subtle about its powertrain. On the other hand, this could be a negative for some buyers who want their neighbors to know they’re taking the moral high ground by driving a hybrid.
- There’s nothing about the driving experience that gives this away as a hybrid, either. That’s a good thing. The regenerative brakes have a smooth, predictable feel, without grabbiness or sponginess as they switch from charging the battery to engaging actual brake pads. The engine is smooth and almost inaudibly quiet when it is running, and there’s no shaking or jolting through the cabin when it restarts. Light but accurate steering, straightforward controls, and a composed suspension make the Malibu even more pleasant to drive.
- Trunk space falls from 15.8 cubic feet in the regular Malibu to 11.6 in the Hybrid because the battery pack sticks out from the trunk floor behind the rear seats. Most buyers will still find the truck big enough, but it’s worth checking how much luggage space you need first before buying, especially if you’re planning to use the pass-through to carry big stuff. This problem, incidentally, affects most hybrid midsize sedans.
- Anonymous styling really lets down the fact that this is a new, much-improved Malibu. The new Chevrolet corporate face does little to spice up the the broad expanses of uninterrupted Silver Ice Metallic on this test car. It’s so much less immediately recognizable than the Chevy Cruze and Impala, both cars that demonstrate Chevy can design eye-catching mainstream sedans.
- Though Chevrolet says the Malibu Hybrid can drive on electricity alone at up to 55 mph, you’ll need a seriously light foot to do so. Glancing at the Energy page on the eight-inch infotainment system reveals that the gas engine almost always kicks on by 20 mph or so, even when driving gently with the battery charged. If you want silent, gas-free commuting, the Volt’s a better choice.
Photos: Jake Holmes / Motor1.com