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2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid by Carey Russ +VIDEO


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Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid combines sophisticated looks with comfort and convenience, good performance, and excellent fuel economy

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

               • SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Research and Buyers Guide


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When you think “hybrid midsize sedan”, the first manufacturer to come to mind is probably not Chevrolet. So change your mind — the all-new 2016 Chevy Malibu Hybrid leverages technology from the plug-in hybrid/extended-range EV Volt to create a car that is not merely a good hybrid midsize sedan, but a very good midsize sedan, period. Smooth and efficient power delivery is wrapped in distinctive new styling, with more interior room than the previous-generation Malibu, on a suspension that successfully combines comfort with good manners.

The Malibu is all-new for 2016, and highlights GM’s engineering and styling prowess. Careful design, construction, and greater use of lightweight materials means that the new Malibu is about 300 pounds lighter than an equivalent model of the previous generation. That increases efficiency. As does the use, in the non-hybrid examples, of physically smaller turbocharged four-cylinder engines with direct fuel injection — less weight, equivalent or more power, and improved fuel economy with no sacrifice in performance. Most will have their front wheels driven by a 1.5-liter unit with 163 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque — equivalent to a naturally-aspirated 2.0 to 2.5-liter engine. Top trim levels get a 2.0-liter engine with 250 hp and 258 lb-ft, once 3.0 to 3.5-liter V6 territory. Transmissions are automatic, six-speed for the 1.5 and eight-speed for the 2.0.

In price and appointment, the Hybrid slots between the 2LT and Premier trim levels, although available options allow it to have nearly all of the features of the Premier. A 1.8-liter naturally-aspirated and direct-injected four-cylinder engines provides up to 122 hp and 129 lb-ft of internal combustion power, with a pair of electric motors for traction and energy generation and sophisticated electronic controls tying it all together seamlessly. Maximum system horsepower is 182; maximum system torque is 277.

Safety and connectivity are part of the deal here. All 2016 Malibus have keyless start, a driver information center, a backup camera, and tilt- and reach-adjustable steering wheel with audio, cruise, and phone controls. OnStar is standard (free trial, then fee), as is 4G LTE wifi hotspot capability, Bluetooth connectivity, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

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My Malibu Hybrid test car was equipped with nearly all of the optional equipment packages, which made it a comfortable, quiet, and efficient near-luxury car. At what was a near-luxury price a decade or more ago. With the exception of the Volt, GM’s earlier “light hybrid” systems were mostly unimpressive. They’ve certainly made up for that now and then some. The Malibu Hybrid boasts smooth power delivery, usually very quiet in operation, with excellent low- and medium speed acceleration. If the 40 mpg average I got during my week wasn’t quite up to the advertised 48 city, 45 highway, the same can be said of all other midsize hybrid sedans I’ve driven — which got between 35 and 40 overall. If you’re interested in a midsize hybrid sedan, the new Malibu Hybrid is worthy. Gasoline is cheap now, but that won’t last.

APPEARANCE: If you have to announce to the world that you’re driving a hybrid, this is not your car. Get a Volt. The only external difference between a 2016 Malibu Hybrid and its brethren is a discrete “H” badge at the top right of the rear trunk panel. Like other new Malibus, the Hybrid is a sleek, well-proportioned near-fastback with coupe-like lines. The double-stacked grille is familiar from some earlier generations, but is more defined here. Creases in the hood, cutlines in the sides, and an interesting, complex treatment of the lower front fascia give it a dynamic look. The rear is clean and cohesive, not at all an afterthought.

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COMFORT: Other than different main instruments, befitting the hybrid drive system, and a loss of about four cubic feet of trunk space to the hybrid battery pack there is no difference between the Hybrid and other Malibus. Styling is handsome and European-inspired, with very good use of differing colors, materials, and metallic trim. As equipped, my test car was a good place to spend the day, with options including the Leather Package, with leather seating, power and heating for both fronts, and a nine-speaker Bose premium audio system. The Convenience and Technology package added a color driver information center between the main instruments, remote starting, a leather wrap for the steering wheel rim, an upgraded MyLink with wireless charging, dual USB charging ports and a 120VAC power point at the rear of the console, and more. Audio choices are all current, don’t look for a CD player. The result is all of the convenience and connectivity expected in a well-equipped car today, and a high level of driver and passenger comfort. The tachometer is replaced by an energy use and efficiency display. The front seats score high on comfort and support, and the rear excels in leg- and knee-room. It’s not economy class on you least-favorite airline. Surprisingly, the rear seatback folds, although the hybrid batter pack immediately behind it means that there’s only about a foot of pass-through space. That battery pack also takes up some trunk space, but there’s still plenty for most family use. An inflation kit lives under the trunk floor here, but some other trim levels have a space-saver spare and there is a well for that.

SAFETY: Standard safety equipment in the 2016 Chevy Malibu ensures that it meets or exceeds Federal standards. There are 10 airbags, dual front and front knee and side seat and roof-rail for both rows of seating. The latest version of GM’s Stabilitrak electronic stability control system improves control in tricky situations. Optional safety technology includes low-speed front automatic braking, front pedestrian braking, automatic high-beam headlights, front and rear park assist, side blind-zone and lane-change alerts, lane-keep assist, following distance indicator, forward collision alert, and rear cross-traffic alert, all part of the Driver Confidence Package, and Teen Driver, which alerts parents to the key fob user’s maximum speed and any warnings.




RIDE AND HANDLING: I’d rate the Malibu Hybrid’s road manners as solidly “middle of the road”, not sports but not overly-soft traditional American luxury either. Its fully-independent MacPherson strut front, four-link rear suspension is a fine example of proper calibration to combine comfort and maneuverability. Spring and damping rates are properly matched so road imperfections are dealt with and done with. The electrically-assisted steering is weighted well and allows muted road information through to the driver. Good four-wheel disc brakes are supplemented by the hybrid system’s regenerative braking, in a totally transparent manner. There is nothing different-feeling at all, although moving the shift lever to L1 or L2 on a long descent will invoke more regenerative braking, saving the mechanical brakes a bit.

PERFORMANCE: Chevrolet is vague on specific details of the Malibu’s hybrid system. Which should be a non-issue for buyers as there’s nothing to be done with or to it other than occasional feeding of unleaded regular gasoline. As in every 400+ miles. It feels far more electric than internal combustion, and is far more electric, especially at lower speeds and lesser rates of acceleration. You can tell when the engine switches on and off by noise, not vibration, and only under flat-out acceleration is it noisy — in the manner of a small four-cylinder engine matched to an automatic transmission. It’s nothing objectionable. Electric motors develop maximum torque as soon as they start to rotate, so unsurprisingly a little care should be taken with the throttle at ultra-low speeds. That 277 lb-ft of torque makes itself known. Acceleration in city traffic is very good. With a 0-60 time around 7.5 seconds, short onramps are not going to be problematic. Over 65 mph or so acceleration drops off, again a non-issue for American driving. It will cruise happily in the fast lane, even up steep grades. My average fuel economy for the week was 40 mpg, but there were city and surface road trips that returned over 50, even with hills involved. Hybrids are sensitive to driving style for economy. Note that although the Malibu Hybrid can operate in dedicated EV mode for short distances, it’s not really meant for that. There’s Volt for that niche.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid combines sophisticated looks with comfort and convenience, good performance, and excellent fuel economy.

SPECIFICATIONS

2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

Base Price $ 28,645

Price As Tested $ 33,370

Engine Type DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with continuously-variable valve timing and direct fuel injection

Engine Size 1.8 liters / 110 cu. in.

Horsepower 122 @ 5000 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 129 @ 4750 rpm Electric Motors 76 kW for traction, 55 kW for electricity generation

Maximum system horsepower 182

Maximum system torque (lb-ft) 277

Transmission Gasoline-electric hybrid

Wheelbase / Length 111.4 in. / 193.8 in.

Curb Weight 3457 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 19

Fuel Capacity 13 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires P225/55R17 95H Goodyear Assure

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc plus regenerative braking, ABS, ESC, and brake pre-fill standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent four-link

Drivetrain transverse front engine and motor, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 48 / 45 / 40

0 to 60 mph 7.5 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Leather Package — includes: heated driver and front passenger seats, 6-way power front passenger seat adjuster and power lumbar, Bose® premium 9-speaker audio system $ 2,140

Convenience and Technology Package — includes: remote starter system, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, 120VAC power outlet, color Driver Information Center, Chevrolet MyLink® radio with 8” color touchscreen, wireless charging, dual USB charging-only ports in rear of center console, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob $ 895

Driver Confidence Package — includes: low-speed front automatic braking, front pedestrian braking IntelliBeam® automatic high-beam headlights, front and rear park assist, side blind-zone and lane-change alerts, lane-keep assist, following distance indicator, forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert $ 1,195

Chevrolet MyLink Infotainment — includes: Bluetooth® streaming audio, voice-activated technology for radio and phone, Apple CarPlay™ capability, two USB/charging ports $ 495


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