EV-Motoring

2009 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid Review

Inside The Malibu Hybrid

While there are significant changes under the Malibu Hybrid’s hood, you’ll be hard pressed to find much different from the driver’s seat. We think this is a good thing because it helps make hybrids seem “like a regular car” as opposed to something different and/or unacceptable to the masses.

This noted, we like the Malibu Hybrid’s interior as much as the standard Malibu. This new Chevy is easily the equal if not superior to its archrival, the Toyota Camry. There is ample room for five, plenty of convenient storage options, material quality is high, and fit-and-finish is good. Style wise, the sweep of the dash is attractive, the three-gauge instrument cluster presents its information with high-contrast markings, and there are little details that we appreciate such as the soft LED lighting of key areas like the door handles and console.

As far as interior changes that are specific to the Hybrid model, you’ll need to look closely at the instrumentation. On the right side of the gauge cluster you’ll spy a charge indicator that shows when power is being added to or sucked from the onboard battery pack. When you’re driving, you’ll often see a telltale light that illuminates “ECO” (for economy) when you’re driving in a frugal manner — beating the EPA’s fuel-economy figures. For those who pay attention to the tachometer, it has a position below zero rpm. Interesting, eh? The needle points there when the gasoline engine stops to save fuel, such as when you’re waiting at a traffic light.

Unlike the detailed power-flow graphic instrumentation found in a Toyota Prius, a Camry Hybrid, or the hybrids from Ford (the Escape and Mercury Mariner), the Malibu Hybrid’s lack of geek-directed info was a bit disappointing. We’d like to see more about what the powertrain is doing because we have observed that graphics informing a driver about energy consumption can modify driving behavior for the better (like a fuel economy school marm).

On the Road

The 2009 Malibu Hybrid performs much like any other Malibu, only you’ll go farther on a tank of gas. Like the interior, having the driving experience being “normal” is a key element of hybrids going mainstream. The driving public won’t accept a car that drives “funny.”

Early hybrids did, including the first generation Saturn Vue Green Line. For example, the 2007 Vue decelerated notably when the driver lifted off the accelerator. The sensation was almost as if the brakes were dragging. Not so in the Malibu Hybrid. Virtually everything about the driving experience is just like a well-balanced, modern sedan. The Malibu starts conventionally, with no unfamiliar noises or physical sensations. Under acceleration, the 4-speed automatic shifts smoothly.

Like other hybrids, the gasoline engine shuts down when the Malibu is at rest. It is a funny sensation to have the engine just stop, and it took a few drives before the panic of “the car just stalled” quit causing momentary panics. Of course, there is no need to re-key the ignition.

As soon as the driver begins to lift his or her foot off of the brake pedal, it is at this exact moment that the motor/generator sparks into action. To smoothly rouse the gasoline engine back to life without the abruptness of a traditional starting sequence, the motor-generator spins the engine’s crankshaft up to idle speed, allowing the Malibu to drive away smoothly.

To be perfectly clear, when the Malibu’s engine stops to conserve fuel, the vehicle remains fully functional; the air conditioning and radio keep working, and all accessories are fully operational. The car is “running” even though its gasoline-fueled engine is not. Power for the accessories comes from the aforementioned battery pack.

The generator/motor also provides additional torque when maximum acceleration is called for. Unlike current single- and two-mode hybrids, however, the Malibu Hybrid does not run any distance on pure electric power; the motor-generator is a hybrid “helper.”

Even though the Malibu Hybrid is a green machine, it’s not a gutless eco weenie. The car is easily capable of cruising 20 over on the interstate if your inclined to drive that quickly. And while its acceleration won’t challenge a Corvette or Porsche, for a mid-size sedan the Malibu accelerates just fine (our estimate is 0-60 in about 10 seconds).

Ride and handling are on par with other Malibu models, which is to say very good. Chevrolet managed to tune the Malibu’s suspension and 17-inch wheels and tires to be Goldilocks perfect; not too soft and not too hard. This is a tough thing to achieve, and if you’re used to a Toyota Camry, you’ll find the Malibu more responsive and closer to what you’d expect from a Honda Accord. Wind noise is commendably low, making conversation easy between the front and rear seats.

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