Easy on the eyes, and easy on gas.
To go Hybrid or not? That’s the question posed by the all-new 2008 Chevrolet Malibu that’s now available in three flavors: base four-cylinder; V6; or a fuel-sipping gasoline/electric Hybrid model.
The term “fuel economy” was once an overworked cliché that barely registered with most road users. Now it’s a major preoccupation with manufacturers since rising gas prices are now a growing concern for buyers.
Fortunately, there are a number of choices to ease the pain at the pumps and the Malibu Hybrid is among the most affordable. It’s also high on practicality, offering plenty of room for both front and rear passengers plus a trunk that’s larger than that of a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord. It’s also equal to that of the Saturn Aura, another General Motors sedan available with a hybrid power team. In the hybrid class, only the Lexus LS600hL delivers greater interior space, but at a $105,000 list price, you could purchase four Malibu Hybrids and still have change left over for a couple of years worth of regular unleaded.
The Malibu Hybrid is also one of the more attractively packaged cars of the 2008 season. Chevy’s stylists have done a masterful job with the sheetmetal and the interior design and the dashboard alone sets a new benchmark in the looks department.
At the heart of the Hybrid is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine coupled with an electric motor/generator (instead of a conventional alternator) that draws power from a 36-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack positioned behind the rear seat. The system is rated at 164 horsepower, five fewer horses than the Malibu’s base four-cylinder gas engine.
Unlike hybrid systems used by Toyota and other GM vehicles, the Malibu’s electric motor never operates as a solo performer. Rather, it assists the gas engine during acceleration and instantly refires it after it has switched to Auto Stop mode, such as at a red light or in stop-and-go traffic. Auto Stop will last for up to two minutes, depending on the power accessories being used, before the gas engine kicks back in. The battery pack keeps its charge by storing energy accumulated when the car is decelerating or braking.
The whole process can be monitored by the driver via a special tachometer with an Auto Stop indicator, a charge/assist gauge and a green “eco” light above the fuel gauge that illuminates when the driver is “exceeding fuel efficiency estimates.” That’s important since the Hybrid is rated at 24 mpg in city driving and 32 mpg on the highway. That’s only two mpg better in city/highway driving than a regular four-cylinder Malibu, but, by paying close attention to keeping the green eco light lit as we found ourselves frequently doing, those figures could be a bit better.
On the road, the Malibu’s body is drum-tight and the ride is smooth, yet controlled. You sense, rather than feel, the system at work, such as when slowing down and when the gas engine cuts out at a stop. At those times, the silence is eerie, but you quickly adjust and learn to revel in the fuel savings, while other vehicles around you are belching money out their tailpipes.
At $23,640 (including destination charges), the Malibu Hybrid costs $2,800 more than a base LS model. That’s not such a bad deal considering the tab includes a decent level of content, including climate control, power adjustable driver’s seat, tilt/telescopic steering column, steering-wheel controls for the premium audio system and up-level seat trim.
The Malibu Hybrid isn’t the most gas-sipping greenie you can buy, but its reasonable price, sharp looks and near full-size accommodations make it worthy of consideration.
Besides, attempting to keep the eco light activated can be downright addictive.