What's New for 2009
Other than a few tweaks that improve fuel economy slightly and the replacement of the 16-inch wheels with 17s, there are no changes for the 2009 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid.
The 2009 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid manages to be both a success and a failure. As a midsize sedan, the Malibu is a success thanks to its handsome styling, solid driving dynamics and spacious, comfortable cabin. But the hybrid version is what's called a "mild" hybrid. And like a tofu burger or near-beer, it's simply not as good as the real thing.
To clarify, a full hybrid has the ability to run on electric power alone at speeds up to 25 mph or so. As such, it is able to get impressive fuel mileage, especially in stop-and-go traffic and city driving (the driving situations that are the worst for a gas engine's fuel efficiency). However, the Malibu hybrid's "mild" status means that its electric motor isn't really used for propelling the car on its own -- its primary purpose is starting the engine when it automatically shuts off to save fuel at traffic lights or other stopping situations.
Granted, the Malibu Hybrid's four-kilowatt electric motor/generator can actually move the car on its own up to a dizzying 3 mph, but that's essentially useless in terms of increasing fuel economy. To put it into perspective, the Camry Hybrid's 30-kilowatt unit can propel it up to 30 mph.
Furthermore, the Malibu Hybrid's performance isn't as good as real hybrids. When maximum power is called for, its electric motor assists the gas engine, but the added boost is minimal as it adds a mere 5 horsepower to the cause. That doesn't compare too favorably to the Toyota, whose muscular electric motor kicks in an additional 40 horses when needed. Another bummer is that the Malibu Hybrid's overall fuel economy rates just a few mpg better than the standard four-cylinder Malibu.
With a base price around $25,000, the 2009 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid is only about $1,000 less expensive than the Camry Hybrid and Nissan Altima Hybrid (which shares the Toyota's hybrid technology), both of which are also cleaner in terms of emissions ratings. If price and the environment are priorities, the Toyota Prius remains the best bet, by being both cheaper 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 2009 Chevy Malibu is, the Hybrid version leaves us cold. General Motors says that its full-fledged "two-mode" hybrid system will eventually make its way into the Malibu. It can't arrive fast enough.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid is a midsize sedan available in one trim level. Standard features include 17-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 few available options include a six-way power driver seat and a sunroof.
Powertrains and Performance
The Malibu Hybrid features a small electric motor that starts the 164-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and adds a small boost of power under high-load conditions. 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.
Unlike other hybrid setups, the Malibu's offers full electric propulsion only up to about 3 mph, whereas the Altima and Camry hybrids can get up to almost 30 mph. Consequently, city gas mileage is only a bit better than the standard four-cylinder Malibu. EPA fuel economy ratings for this year's updated Hybrid model stand at 26 mpg city/34 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined.
Standard safety features on the 2009 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid include antilock disc brakes, stability control, traction control and OnStar. Front-seat side and full-length side curtain airbags are also standard.
In government crash testing, the Malibu Hybrid scored five stars (the highest possible) in both frontal- and side-impact tests. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the (similar) non-hybrid four-cylinder Malibu scored the best rating of "Good" for both frontal-offset and side-impact protection.
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 trim here and there, overall the Malibu is a vast improvement over past Chevy models and also better than its platform twin, 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, and it holds a maximum of 15.1 cubic feet of luggage.
The 2009 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid doesn't offer the regular model's level of sporty handling. Most people don't expect their hybrid to handle like a sport sedan, so bigger concerns are that the Malibu trails its rivals in terms of acceleration and braking. On the upside, the Malibu Hybrid provides the same comfortable, hushed ride as the non-hybrid version.