Chevrolet’s previous attempts at building a hybrid version of the Malibu are less than stellar. Their first attempt in the late-2000s was not well received due to mediocre performance and fuel economy figures that fell way behind the pack. The second attempt was the last-generation Malibu Eco. Chevrolet hoped to draw people in with a lower price and slightly better fuel economy figures due to the mild-hybrid system. But once again, it would prove to be a flop as the performance was meh and fuel wasn’t that noticeably better from the regular four-cylinder model.
Chevrolet isn’t one to give up though. When the next-generation Malibu was revealed a couple of years ago, they announced a hybrid variant would be available. But this one was going to be different as the model would feature ideas and tech from the Volt. We spent over a week in a 2017 Malibu Hybrid to find out if Chevrolet has repeated the same mistakes as before or if they have learned from them.
The Malibu Hybrid powertrain is made up of a 1.8L DOHC four-cylinder paired up to the Volt’s electric drive unit - comprised of two electric motors. Power for the electric motors comes from an 80-cell, 1.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Total output is rated at 182 horsepower.
This powertrain is quite surprising. The Malibu Hybrid leaves a stop effortlessly and quickly thanks to the instantaneous power available from the electric motors. If you keep a light throttle, you can get up to 55 mph on just electric power alone. If you need to make a pass or get up to speed somewhat quickly, the gas engine kicks on and delivers the extra shove. It needs to be noted that the gas engine will make a fair amount of noise when you have your foot to the floor. Otherwise, the engine is muted for the daily grind.
Transitions between electric and hybrid power is mostly smooth thanks to the gear-free transmission and a number of clutches from the Volt. There were a few times during our testing that we felt the gas engine kick on, but this mostly happened at times where we needed the extra power.
Fuel economy is rated at 49 City/43 Highway/46 Combined by the EPA. We saw an average of 45 MPG on a 50/50 mix of city and highway driving.
Brakes are the key weak point on most hybrid vehicles as they tend to feel very grabby due to the regenerative system. The Malibu Hybrid may have the best brakes we have ever driven on a hybrid vehicle. They feel linear and have the bite of a normal braking system. Thank the Volt for lending its braking system.
Despite being a few hundred pounds heavier than the last Malibu we drove, the Hybrid retains the balanced ride and handling characteristics we liked so much. The suspension keeps the vehicle composed over some of the roughest roads on offer in Detroit. On a winding road, the Malibu feels agile and stable. Some will be disappointed by the lack of feel offered by the steering, but most buyers won’t notice this.
Unlike most hybrid midsize sedans, the Malibu Hybrid doesn’t scream about it. Looking at it from all angles, you would find it to look like the standard Malibu. Only the ‘H’ badge on the trunk reveals its true identity.
One of the issues we had on the last Malibu was material choices. For the price, the fabric covering for the dash and a large amount of hard plastics felt like a huge misstep and put the Malibu way behind the pack. The Hybrid does show some improvements if you order the Leather package that replaces the fabric covering for leather on the dash. It not only makes the Malibu look more premium, it also feels much nicer. Now Chevrolet needs to work on adding more soft-touch materials around the dash, door panels, and center console to make the Malibu truly stand out.
Trunk space is slightly smaller in the Hybrid - 11.6 cubic feet vs. 15.8 - due to the battery pack. There is a trunk pass-through, albeit a small slot. It's better than nothing.
The Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid carries the most expensive base price of any midsize hybrid sedan of $27,875. But you do get a decent amount of equipment such as dual-zone climate control, push-button start, keyless entry, backup camera, automatic headlights, power driver’s seat, and a 7-inch touchscreen. Our tester came fully loaded with three packages - Leather, Driver Confidence, and Convenience & Technology - to bring the as-tested price to $32,730 with destination. For the money, it is quite the value.
Disclaimer: Chevrolet Provided the Malibu Hybrid, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Engine: 1.8L DOHC VVT Four-Cylinder with Direct Injection, Two Electric Motors
Driveline: Two-Motor Drive, Front-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 122 @ 5,000 (Gas), 182 Total
Torque @ RPM: 130 @ 4,750 (Gas), 277 @ 0 (Electric)
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 49/43/46
Curb Weight: 3,366 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Kansas City, Kansas
Base Price: $27,875
As Tested Price: $32,730 (Includes $875.00 Destination Charge and $745.00 Leather Package Discount)
Leather Package - $2,140.00
Driver Confidence Package - $1,195.00
Convenience & Technology Package - $895.00
8-Inch MyLink System with Navigation - $495.00