2017 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid: Invisible economy
Dec. 8, 2016
Chevrolet’s popular midsize Malibu sedan is now available with a hybrid engine and powertrain, designed to use as little fuel as possible. It’s heavier and $3,600 more expensive than its conventional sibling, however – is it worth the extra money?
Pros & Cons
- + Good fuel efficiency
- + Comfortable, spacious interior
- + Understated styling
- - Pricey base model
- - Trunk space
- - Only comes in a high-end trim
There’s nothing offensive about the 2017 Malibu – it’s a good-looking sedan. It’s fairly forgettable but that’s not a bad thing, because it isn’t a polarizing, love-it-or-hate-it design. The creases in the doors have a modern, attractive curve, and there are no strange kinks in the pillars. It helps the word MALIBU is stuck to the front of the doors in large chrome letters, to remind you what you’re driving.
There’s a very small badge on the right side of the trunk that shows the letter H in a stylized blue leaf, and that’s the only real indicator that this is not the regular Malibu. Purists might notice a difference in the active shutters of the radiator grille, but are there really any Malibu purists? And would you want to meet one?
The cabin of the tester was very nice indeed, but then the cabin of the tester had the full $5,960 optional leather and convenience package installed. This meant good quality, thick leather on the seats and wheel, in a muted interior that comes together well in a practical, intuitive package.
There’s only one trim level available for the Malibu Hybrid; it’s based on the Malibu LT edition, which is the highest of three trims for the regular car with the 1.5-litre engine. This is too bad for less-affluent tree-huggers, but it stands to reason the hybrid will be equipped with the most expensive of the packages because hybrid purchasers tend to be more well-heeled. They’re willing and able to spend some money to help the environment (and perhaps salve their conscience), but they also want to be comfortable while doing it.
Suffice to say that the seats are supportive and the wheel is pleasingly thick to hold. Like most American cars, everything seems a bit overstuffed, but plenty of people like that. The dashboard is attractive and the instruments are clear. A large central screen provides all the information you need, including navigation and audio controls, but thankfully, there are still knobs and buttons to control most major functions.
There’s room in the back for three adults – at a pinch – and they’ll not complain about a lack of headroom and legroom. Dimensions in the cabin are identical to those in the regular Malibu. They might complain about a lack of cargo area in the trunk for their bags, though, because the hybrid battery eats into the available space: it’s about three-quarters of the luggage capacity of the regular Malibu, dropping from 447 litres to 328 litres. The battery creates a shelf area at the back of the trunk, as if a large box was pushed back in there, but you won’t notice unless you need the extra space.
The Malibu is one of the most discreet hybrid cars on the market. Some, like Priuses, shout at onlookers that they’re saving gas, while others fill their dashboards and display screens with buttons and graphics to show their drivers how clever they are. The Malibu does none of this, but then, the Malibu also works in the old-fashioned way: it uses its hybrid electric motor solely to reduce fuel consumption. There’s no extra power for acceleration, or high-speed gas-free coasting. Just, well, regular driving. And if you don’t switch over to the displays that show how the power is being divided, you might never know you’re in a hybrid.
The technology is pretty clever, using the same electric motors, transmission and regenerative braking system that are found on the plug-in Chevy Volt. The hybrid lithium-ion battery is much smaller, though, at just 1.5 kWh compared to the Volt’s 18.4 kWh pack. It shows, too: while GM proudly declares the Malibu Hybrid can accelerate up to 85 km/h on just its hybrid electricity, it will take a very, very light foot and a very, very long run up to get to that speed. You won’t be popular with other drivers, that’s for sure.
You’ll be warm, though. The Malibu Hybrid heats up quickly because it recovers the hot exhaust gases and uses them to warm the cabin and the engine, bringing everything up to temperature and peak efficiency more rapidly than most other vehicles.
Together with all this stuff you won’t notice, there’s plenty of connectivity that you will. Like a regular Malibu, the car can be configured as a wifi hotspot for improved reception – for a regular subscription charge through GM, currently $15 for 1 GB/month, or $70 for 10 GB. It also includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which let you just plug in your smartphone and use its apps hands-free, including navigation and messaging. It’s really simple and it’s becoming an essential tool to combat distracted driving.
Here’s the thing: you’ll never know you’re driving a hybrid, and that’s good. Hybrids can have a reputation for grabby brakes (the regenerative system), or sluggish power (the small engines), or harsh handling (the low-rolling-resistance tires), but there’s none of this with the Malibu Hybrid. Your passengers will never realize they’re not in the conventional car unless you tell them.
They probably won’t care, of course – this isn’t a Lamborghini or Rolls-Royce – but that’s their problem, not yours.
Most hybrids also have a drive mode switch for eco and regular and sport, but there’s none of that with the Malibu. What you see is what you get.
The engine’s actually bigger than the regular Malibu: it’s a 1.8-litre direct-injected four-cylinder that’s mated to the Volt’s two-motor drive unit, and the whole thing creates 182 horsepower. Compare that to the regular Malibu’s 1.5-litre engine that’s good for 160 hp. The extra oomph, however, is there to handle the extra 164 kg added by the battery and electric motor. That’s a lot of additional weight – the equivalent of two adults, or filling the trunk with bags of sand.
The hybrid is still far better on fuel consumption than the conventional Malibu, however. The official combined rating is 5.1 L/100 km, compared to the conventional Malibu’s 7.8 L/100 km. The hybrid is best in the city, where the electric motor can kick in more often (4.8 L/100 km compared to 8.8), but it’s good on the highway, too (5.5 compared to 6.5). And all this with no change in driving characteristics.
General Motors claims the Malibu Hybrid’s consumption is the best in its class, and there seems no reason to doubt this. Compare it to the Volkswagen Jetta hybrid (5.3), Ford Fusion hybrid (5.5), Toyota Camry hybrid LE (5.7) or the Kia Optima hybrid (6.3), and it’s clearly on top of its game.
The only real question here is whether you’re prepared to pay for the hybrid’s additional fuel-saving technology. It doesn’t qualify for a rebate anywhere in Canada, and it’s not entitled to a green licence plate that will let you into Ontario’s HOV lanes, but it will save you gas.
The savings are actually pretty simple to work out. Say you’re like me, and you currently spend a bit more than $6,000 on fuel in your mid-sized car. If you buy a regular Malibu, its 2017 technology will probably bring that down to $6,000 even, assuming the price of gas doesn’t change too much. But a Malibu hybrid will bring it down to about $4,000 a year – more if most of your driving is in the city, less if it’s mostly highway.
If you’re prepared to pay for the comforts of the Malibu LT (heated seats, rear-view camera, nine-speaker Bose sound system), then the otherwise-invisible jump to the Malibu Hybrid will cost you an additional $3,605 at the showroom, plus taxes. It’ll take you a couple of years to save that money in fuel, and longer if you drive less, but after that, it’s money in your pocket.
The Malibu Hybrid is one of the most practical hybrids on the road. It’s simple in its premise: save fuel without costing too much extra in additional fancy technology, and without compromising the ride and drive.
Ultimately, the only real compromise will be in the trunk’s cargo space. If you can live with that, and you’re happy to drive a Malibu for more than three or four years, then the Malibu Hybrid is a very viable choice indeed.