EV-Motoring

2009 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid Review

Under The Hood

Like the original 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line, the 2009 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid is of the mild variety. This well-developed powertrain utilizes a (relatively) normal gasoline-fired engine and (mostly) conventional four-speed automatic transmission. The powertrain earns the Hybrid badge because of its motor/generator. Pop open the hood and you’ll see what looks like a standard General Motors’ 2.4-liter 4-cylinder Ecotec engine with a really big alternator hooked to the engine with a belt so wide it looks like it could drive a supercharger.

This motor/generator performs the function of an alternator (providing electric power for the Malibu’s ignition, lights, radio, battery charging, etc.). Additionally, it also works like an electric motor, delivering torque to boost the gasoline engine when the power is needed most (such as when passing or accelerating briskly from a stop). This latter function earns the powertrain its “hybrid” moniker because the electric motor “helps” the gasoline engine so that it uses less fuel in high-energy situations.

Aside from the Hybrid badge on the engine control module, there’s not much else that looks unconventional under the Malibu’s hood. This brings up an important fact; compared to other hybrid powertrains, the Chevy Malibu Hybrid is simpler solution to going farther on a gallon of gas. Single mode hybrids utilize purpose-built engines that are integrated with transmissions that are actually a combination of computer-coordinated gearsets and electric motors. The package is extremely complex, and not something that you’d want to let Larry down at the corner gas station would want to attempt to service.

As far as how well the Malibu’s hybrid system works, compared to the non-hybrid 2.4-liter four-cylinder standard on the Malibu LS (EPA city/highway mileage of 22/30 (with a combined rating of 25), the Malibu Hybrid improves mileage 13 and 18 percent respectively to 26 mpg city and 34 mpg highway (29 combined). The cost of this added efficieny is $3,050 when you compare the Malibu Hybrid to the closest conventionally-powered Malibu, the LT. (We’ll come back to these numbers in a few paragraphs…)

Sometimes manufacturers compromise performance to gain economy, but not in Malibu Hybrid. The gasoline engine produces 164 horsepower and 159 pound-feet of torque, with another 110 lb-ft of torque on call from the electric motor when the driver calls for maximum acceleration. The base Malibu produces nearly identical 169 horsepower, but this figure does not factor in the additional power provided by the Hybrid’s motor/generator.

While the Malibu Hybrid’s powertrain may appear conventional, it’s more than meets the eye. The engine and transmission both include numerous internal design changes that facilitate the improved mileage. For example, the transmission and engine are both engineered to be “back driven.” Simply put, when this Chevy is coasting, the front wheels aren’t just free-wheeling or spinning as they do on a regular car or truck.

In the Malibu Hybrid, when the driver lifts off of the accelerator pedal to coast, the front wheels are immediately turned into a momentum-driven regenerative power source; through the front driveshafts, the wheels drive the transmission that turns the engine that then turns the motor/generator. In this scenario, the motor/generator produces electricity to charge the Malibu’s on-board battery pack. The Malibu’s powertrain is able to instantly switch between sending power to the wheels to accelerate or maintain speed, and then recovering the kinetic energy of the car in motion to amp up the batteries for use farther down the road. Charged up batteries help reduce the amount of gasoline the powertrain needs, therefore increasing mileage.

The Malibu Hybrid’s batteries are a compact array of nickel metal hydride (NiMH) cells located in the front of the trunk. While the battery pack is small so it doesn’t take up too much trunk space, it does encroach on the trunk/rear-seat pass through, making it rather shallow.

Even though the Malibu Hybrid’s powertrain is not as complex as other types of hybrids, Chevrolet allays fears about the long-term durability of their system by covering key components for eight years or 100,000 miles. This is a strong consideration point as it helps keep up the Malibu’s residual value because used cars that still have warranty coverage are easier to sell.

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