What's New for 2008
Like the regular Chevrolet Malibu, the hybrid version is all-new for 2008.
The 2008 Chevy Malibu is a winner. Even if it doesn't end up catching the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry in terms of sales, Chevy should at least be pleased that it has created a car good enough to seriously compete with the midsize sedan heavy hitters. Despite this solid base, the Malibu Hybrid is more in line to compete with light-hitting bench guys. Although it may be called a hybrid and feature an electricity-aided gasoline engine, its capabilities pale in comparison to other gas-electric models. Acceleration, emissions and, most importantly, fuel economy, are below the competition. The Malibu Hybrid and its Saturn Aura cousin are the cheapest traditional sedans to wear a hybrid badge, but sadly they're examples of that old saying of "You get what you pay for."
At the heart of the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid is an electric motor/generator that produces an underwhelming 4 kilowatts of boost for the 164-horsepower four-cylinder engine. Under very light acceleration, the motor alone is capable of moving the Malibu up to 3 mph, but it's primarily used for starting the engine when it automatically shuts off to save fuel at traffic lights or other stopping situations.
By comparison, the Camry Hybrid features a 30-kilowatt electric motor capable of powering the vehicle by itself up to 30 mph. This difference is most noticed in the city, where stop-and-go driving relies more on electric propulsion. The Malibu's meager electric capabilities simply can't compare, both in terms of gas mileage and acceleration. Highway fuel economy is comparable to other "full" hybrid models like the Camry and Nissan Altima, but it's also pretty close to that of the non-hybrid four-cylinder Malibu.
With a base price of a little more than $22,000, the Malibu is about $3,000 less expensive than the Camry Hybrid and Altima Hybrid. The economics of that price advantage versus fuel savings certainly warrant close examination, and depending on your driving style, the Malibu could remain the better value regardless of fuel economy. As an environmental buy, though, there's no getting around that fuel economy disadvantage and its below-average emissions rating. If price and the environment are priorities, the Toyota Prius remains the best bet, by being both cheap and incredibly fuel efficient while offering an impressive amount of passenger and cargo space. It's also a tad quicker than the Malibu and offers more luxury features.
Despite how impressive the regular 2008 Chevy Malibu is, the Hybrid leaves us cold. General Motors says that its full-fledged "Two-Mode" hybrid system will eventually make its way into the Malibu, and it can't arrive fast enough. We suggest waiting for the real hybrid deal from Chevrolet if the Altima, Camry and Prius don't tickle your fancy.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid is a midsize sedan available in one trim level. Standard features include 16-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, cruise control, keyless entry, automatic climate control, a tilt-telescoping steering wheel, power height adjustment for the driver seat and a six-speaker stereo with CD/MP3 player, auxiliary audio jack and satellite radio. The Power Convenience Package adds a six-way power driver seat and power-adjustable pedals. A sunroof is a stand-alone option.
Powertrains and Performance
The Malibu Hybrid features a small electric motor that starts the 2.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and adds small amounts of power under high-load conditions. The engine produces 164 hp by itself, and a net 169 hp when aided by the electric motor. Unlike other hybrid setups, the Malibu's offers full electric propulsion only up to about 3 mph -- the Altima and Camry hybrids can get up to almost 30 mph. Subsequently, city gas mileage is unimpressive. Fuel economy ratings stand at 24 mpg city and 32 mpg highway with 27 mpg combined. By comparison, the four-cylinder Malibu returns 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway and 25 combined, while the Camry Hybrid gets has a 33/34 mpg rating.
Besides fuel economy, another aspect to consider is air-pollution emissions. The Malibu Hybrid has a Low Emissions Vehicle (LEV) rating, three levels below its competitors, which have an Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle rating (AT-PZEV).
Standard safety features on the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid include antilock disc brakes, stability control, traction control and OnStar. Front side and full-length side curtain airbags are also standard. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety frontal-offset testing, the non-hybrid four-cylinder Malibu scored the best rating of "Good."
Interior Design and Special Features
While its value as a hybrid is debatable, the Chevy Malibu scores big style points inside and out. The dual-cowl dash design is certainly eye-catching, while buyers have a pair of classy two-tone color schemes to choose from: gray/lighter gray and brown/tan. Although there's still some cheap plastic here and there, in total, the Malibu is a vast improvement over past Chevy models and also better than the Saturn Aura hybrid.
Firmly supportive front seats make for comfortable 500-mile days behind the wheel, and the controls for the audio and climate control systems are simple to use. With its long wheelbase, the Malibu offers generous amounts of legroom for rear passengers, though the seat lacks a center armrest and the sloping roof line may impinge on headroom for tall folks. Unlike other hybrid sedans, the Malibu's trunk is not compromised by large battery packs.
The 2008 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid doesn't offer the regular model's level of quality handling. Most people don't expect their hybrid to handle like a sport sedan, so a bigger concern is the fact that the Malibu trails its fellow hybrid midsize sedans in terms of acceleration, braking and general driving involvement. Hybrids aren't expected to be quick, but with a 0-60-mph time of around 11 seconds, the Malibu is much slower than the Camry and Altima hybrids. Even the Prius is quicker. On the upside, the Malibu Hybrid provides the same comfortable, hushed ride as the non-hybrid version.