Chevrolet Malibu LTZ and Chevrolet Malibu hybrid car reviews

Malibu LTZ

Review Notes: Chevrolet Malibu LTZ

chevy malibu car review

Personality Neutered tomcat on the prowl: feral but safe
Why we’d buy it Looks expensive, but isn’t. Great engine.
Why we wouldn’t We like to see the handbrake
Written by Terry Parkhurst

Chevrolet’s Malibu once again seems as alluring as the beach it was named after. The newest incarnation of the Chevrolet Malibu is the car for those who have wondered whatever happened to GM’s ability to make decent sedans that were stylish, durable, and up to the task of transporting four or five adults in relative comfort, without being too heavy. The General may have come up with a car to compete with those benchmark machines, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

Way back when, in the Paleolithic Era – 1964 to be exact – the Malibu debuted as a stylish, mid-size alternative to the Chevy II (also known as the Nova). It went away in the Seventies only to return in the late Nineties as a favorite among fleet providers such as Enterprise – the kiss of death to enthusiasts. Ownership of a car whose main attribute is being the favorite of conventioneers on vacation is not the sort of thing people who believe in the Cult of the Bow Tie brag about.

The new Malibu starts with a different platform, shared with the critically acclaimed Saturn Aura and the Pontiac G6. It was derived from the General’s European operations and is known in company circles as the Epsilon platform.

So it’s not a coincidence that the newest Malibu is uniquely European in feel. Maybe that also influenced the thinking of the industrial designers who laid out the lines for this car.

The Malibu is 191.8 inches in length – longer than either the Saturn Aura or the Pontiac G6. Looking at the latest Malibu from a front three quarter view, the aggressive stance, short nose and high rear quarter panels seem reminiscent of most any Audi; and looking at the nose in plan view, it could be shared with the Volvo S40 or S70. The front grille treatment marks it as a modern Chevrolet. The bow-tie emblazoned slash running across the grille openings is a theme shared with siblings. This might be the first Chevrolet that is true to its heritage, yet also has the Continental panache needed to excite a new generation of consumers.

Sitting in the interior the first thing you notice is the retro nature of the main instrument pod – tachometer, speedometer and fuel gauge, all in chromed, deep nacelles. Instrumentation is highlighted by blue digital lighting such as one might see on a home appliance or VCR.

The steering wheel looks and feels like a Momo wheel and is a high quality affair. The dash is covered and is two-tone, further enhancing the heritage of this car; since the 1959 Chevrolet Impala had similar fittings. But something that should have not been brought over from the past is the handbrake. It sets on the left side of the driver’s floor, as it has in GM products for decades. To get it to release requires the same method of stepping on it.

While the car looks great from outside, when you’re sitting inside it, the “A” pillars form major blind spots. But on a more positive note, it also feels so big inside, you’d swear it’s as roomy as the Impala. For the record, the front portion of the Malibu’s cabin has 54 cubic feet of space, while the rear has 44 cubic feet (according to the SAE – Society of Automotive Engineers), for a total of 99 cubic feet. The Impala, on the other hand, has a total of 123.1 cubic feet available for the driver and all passengers.

The Malibu achieves its roomy interior, despite a rather narrow width (just over 70 inches), thanks to a 112.3-inch wheelbase. The drawback is that the turning radius sometimes requires a bit of planning, to turn around or get through city intersections with traffic islands. The steering – rack-and-pinion with hydraulic power assist – is reasonably well weighted and responsive. It takes about three turns of the wheel, lock-to-lock.

Under Malibu LTZ’s hood, there’s a major break from GM tradition: double-overhead camshafts (DOHC) instead of pushrod actuated valves. The DOHC sets atop a V6 block displacing 3.6 liters. Engine output is 252 horsepower at 6300 rpm with peak torque occurring at the relatively low point of 3200 rpm and being 251 lb/feet. (Redline is 6800 rpm.)

There’s a four-speed automatic transmission harnessing this engine and the driver gets a choice here: four speeds forward on a console up front, or paddle-shifting at the steering wheel hub (forward for up shifts. and behind and back for down shifts). Generally the shifts points seem well spaced and occur with alacrity on the upshots; although on the down kick, things seem a bit less well spaced.

There’s a nominal bit of torque steer – this is a front wheel drive car, after all – and handling reflects the fact that the weight distribution is reportedly considerably weighted towards the front – 60.8 percent in the front and 39.2 percent in the rear. But coming out of a turn with power on the car remains flat with a surge of power the underpinnings are to in synch with. Again, for the record, the suspension is independent at all four wheels, with struts located by a control arm, up front; and in the rear, there are four links holding things in place: a trailing link, two lateral links and one toe-in control link, for each side. Anti-sway bar are located, both front and rear.

The tested Malibu LTZ was driven in some particularly wet weather and the stability and traction control system helped keep the car on the road, without being intrusive. If there’s a way to turn that system off, we didn’t find it, and besides, it seems unnecessary. While nothing is quite as exhilarating as handling a good manual transmission, the Malibu LTZ, when operated via the paddle shifts, will work as a pretty good stand-in, when coupled with Stabiltrak.

There’s a five-year or 100,000 mile – which ever comes first one can assume – in place on the Malibu LTZ. Given the general fit and finish of the tested car, we’ll go on record as saying that should do the job.

In the city, the Malibu LTZ achieves 17 mpg, according to the EPA, with 26 mpg on the open road. While we didn’t drain the fuel tank, that seemed to match the estimate, based on the seat of our pants.

The vehicle price for the tested car was $28,340, based on a standard vehicle price (for the LTZ, which is itself an upgrade for the standard Malibu) of $26,345 plus (just) these options: a rear power package of 110 volt outlet and air conditioning, as well as a rear window sun shade (at $250); a power sunroof that both tilts and slides (at $800) and a coating of metallic paint called “Red jewel tintcoat” (at $295). And there was indeed a destination charge of $650 (which you might get the salesperson to dispense with, assuming you buy today).

Malibu Hybrid car review

Review notes: Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

GM hybrid transmission

Personality Efficient and stoic; all the benefits of the standard Malibu
Why we’d buy it Gas mileage without compromise
We we wouldn’t You can still get better mileage
EPA mileage 24 city, 32 highway
Written by Terry Parkhurst

There are beginning to be all manner of hybrids on the road these days. You can spend as much as $100,000 for one if you buy the top of the line Lexus. Or you can buy a Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid. Yes, there’s a hybrid other than the Tahoe in the Chevrolet stable; and given the tepid response to the hybrid SUV, and the rising cost of gasoline, Chevrolet’s timing seems good.

As a way of trying to establish the fact that this car is a descendent of the division named after the famed racecar driver from the early days of motoring, Louis Chevrolet, there are bow ties – Chevrolet’s symbol – all over the place – for example, on the rear side marker lights and even inside the front headlamps. In fact, there are a total of 12 bow ties stashed around the car: four in the center of the wheels, one on the front grille, two in the front bulb shields, two on the aforementioned rear side markers, and finally, one of the deck lid.

But the really important badge is that fancy chrome “H” (think “Hybrid”) on the front flanks and the rear deck. Most people were incredulous when they did notice it and asked, “Chevrolet makes a hybrid?”

This hybrid is what some call “a mild hybrid.” The electric motor used in the Malibu hybrid acts as an assist to the internal combustion engine. You might not even notice the electric motor, since in fact, it is a combined electric motor/generator, positioned right where the alternator would normally be placed. That electric motor-generator produces 115 lb/ft of torque at start-up; and in the generating mode can produce 300 watts of electrical power on a continuous basis. That gives the Malibu hybrid some oomph that higher-horse cars may not have.

The electric motor provides a boost to the internal combustion engine, and lets the gas engine close down entirely while stopped, say at a traffic light (and presumably while coasting, as European stick-shift GM cars have done for years). The motor allows for a quick start while the engine is automatically restarting itself. The combination saves a good amount of gas and still provides a responsive driving experience. Combined with the 122 horsepower four-cylinder, the gas and electric motors generate a combined 164 horsepower; peak torque is a whopping 220 lbs/ft at 4,400 rpm, handy for those hills when you want to keep the air conditioning on.

The drive train starts with the four-cylinder Ecotec VVT (variable valve timing) engine that can be found in the standard Malibu. It is sized at 2.4 liters, with dual overhead camshafts and variable valve timing, harnessed to a conventional four speed automatic. Getting off the line is a seamless experience, just as any good hybrid should be. Most drivers will not notice much of a difference.

malibu hybrid engien

An auxiliary oil pump is fitted on the transmission so that when the engine shuts off, automatic transmission fuel pressure can be maintained to eliminate lag time when you go back into gear.

At wide-open throttle, you can feel the power come on from the electric motor. The system enhances acceleration by using the electric motor/generator to simply bolster the internal combustion engine, rather than take over from it.

The power steering is electrically actuated and has a precise feel to it, that won’t alarm those who remember what steering was like without hydraulics.

“Ours is not a ‘strong’ hybrid like the new Tahoe,” admits Jim Brown, the product manager for the new Malibu hybrid. “It’s not going to get the large fuel economy that a strong hybrid will; but it’s still the most affordable mid-size hybrid and qualifies for the $1,300 Federal tax credit (for hybrid automobiles, part of the most recent Congressional energy bill).”

When you open the hood, you find a standard 12 volt battery up front; and if you open the trunk, you can see where the 36-volt battery pack is stored (but not readily visible). That battery pack, by the way, is nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) and is covered by an extended 8-year/100,000 mile warranty. (The powertrain itself is covered by a five-year/100,000 mile warranty.)

Unlike the now defunct Honda Accord hybrid that had a dual scroll compressor to run the air conditioning, the Malibu hybrid uses a standard, single-piston compressor driven by the internal combustion engine. The HVAC (heating vacuum and air-conditioning) controls allow that, if you’ve put it to a setting labeled “AC,” the internal combustion engine will automatically restart when you take your foot off the brake.

The mileage difference between a Malibu hybrid and the conventional, base Malibu with a four-cylinder engine is just two miles per gallon, with the hybrid achieving an EPA rating of 24 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. That’s not the whole story, though, because the electric motor allows for V6-grade torque and great responsiveness, or, in short, much of the function of a V-6 with the gas mileage of a smaller four. What’s more, the price of the tested vehicle was $24,290 – about $10,000 less than a Toyota Camry hybrid.

The Malibu hybrid is assembled in Kansas City. But finding one on the streets of your city might be difficult since, while having introduced its affordable hybrid last October, Chevrolet is still struggling to get the word out. So while this is a noteworthy effort to join the hybrid fold, one has to wonder if the Chevrolet Malibu hybrid is just a little bit too little, too late, or if it will fill the breach that has opened deep for SUV sales at GM; at least, until the Volt is available.