2009 Chevrolet Malibu Review

Practicality meets peace of mind

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2009 Chevrolet Malibu Review
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FAST FACTS

1. The Malibu Hybrid has an EPA rating of 24/32 mpg (City/Highway).

2. New hybrid powerplant makes award-winning Malibu not only a fuel alternative but also an alternative to buying Japanese.

Some drivers rely on their vehicle to stir the senses and invigorate their soul, while others simply see them as a source for transportation. While the 2009 Chevrolet Malibu won’t exactly give you goose bumps, it will give you peace of mind and a clear conscience. Practical and fuel-efficient people-moving is the name of the game here and the Malibu Hybrid knows how to play.

Once laying eyes on the 2009 Malibu, which was redesigned for 2008, it is obvious that things have changed from the outgoing model. Once a consolation prize of the rental fleet, this new ‘Bu is a car that people can see themselves driving and shouldn’t mind having others see them doing so. In these dire times, Chevrolet seems to be where Hyundai was a number of years ago – making good cars that few people care about. This occurred to me when I thought back to how many times curious onlookers would stop in parking lots to admire the car before saying in astonishment, “THAT is a Chevrolet?” The bad news is that GM is going to have to work really hard to lure customers to their showrooms since nobody seems to think they have anything to offer. The good news is that they weren’t the company responsible for such disappointing nameplates as Stellar, Scoupe or Pony, so harder battles have been fought.

SURPRISING NEW LEVEL OF QUALITY

Upon entering the Malibu, it’s obvious that the engineers responsible for its construction have done their homework. Simple things like panel gaps and door hardware quality, once lamented elements of most Chevys, are surprisingly superb. The steering and suspension feel are, dare I say, Accord-esque? Ride and handling are precise and solid.

GOING GREEN: MALIBU HYBRID RATED AT 32 MPG ON THE HIGHWAY

The 2.4L Ecotec inline four with VVT certainly won’t win any drag races, but those who opt for the four cylinder Hybrid engine are unlikely to be speed demons since they are consciously placing fuel consumption above performance. While a 252 hp 3.6L V6 engine is available on the LTZ model, it isn’t an option for the Hybrid. The hybrid powerplant produces 164 hp at 6000 rpm and 159 ft-lbs of torque at 4400 rpm. Economy car owners are unlikely to flinch at these numbers but the Malibu is a substantial car at 3,536 lbs. This large stature, while hindering performance, helps interior space and safety – both of which are likely to trump weight issues when buying a family car.

Let’s get to the heart of the matter by discussing what every potential buyer will be concerned with - fuel economy. The Malibu Hybrid consists of the aforementioned Ecotec 2.4L inline-four cylinder gas powered combustion engine, along with the GM Hybrid Propulsion Electric System. Whenever the car decelerates or stops in traffic, the gas engine shuts off and the 36-volt, six-module battery kicks in with 10,000 watts of power, which is charged through regenerative braking. The EPA rates the Malibu Hybrid at 24/32 mph (city/highway).

So is it effective in getting good gas mileage in the real world? Absolutely! After driving the Malibu Hybrid for an entire week, including a commute of 25 miles (each way) as well as copious errands and shopping excursions on the weekend, I still didn’t know which side of the car the gas tank was on. Ignorance certainly can be bliss. My first experience with General Motors Hybrid technology was driving the 2005 Chevrolet Silverado. While the equipment worked wonders in theory, real world fuel savings were less than expected and the transition from gas engine to electric was, in a word, startling. Luckily, the Malibu does not seem to suffer from either of these downfalls however.

With Red Jewel paint covering the attractive exterior of the Malibu, the grey cloth and plastic interior, while a vast improvement, isn’t quite on par.

USER-FRIENDLY, ERGONOMIC INTERIOR

However, where the Malibu lacks on interior material quality, it excels in layout and ergonomics. The console mounted shifter, mated to a Hydra-Matic 4T45 transmission, is smooth and well placed so as not to obstruct use of dash-mounted controls or cup holders. Additional controls are also mounted on the steering wheel for cruise control and the stereo for convenience and safety. These small improvements, like having the trunk release button on the driver’s door instead of buried in the back of the glove box, make big differences when you buy a car for practicality, not performance. The Malibu also comes standard with Speed Controlled Volume (SCV) which I turned off immediately. Believe it or not, the interior of the Malibu’s cabin is quiet, even on the highway, which makes the stereo’s variable volume compensation infuriating.

Sure, you’ll pay a little more for the Hybrid, with a starting price of $26,225 - exactly $4,000 more than the base model. Still, it comes in at almost $2,000 less than the Camry Hybrid.

VERDICT

Vastly improved styling, impressive fuel economy and some welcome little additions for good measure mean the 2009 Malibu may just put Chevrolet back onto people’s shopping lists.

PLUS
Surprisingly good fit and finish
Excellent fuel economy
Superb new look
MINUS
Hefty proportions
Anemic performance
Interior material quality still lacking

The bottom line is that it is a car that owners can more than just live with; they can actually be happy they purchased one. The new Malibu is a competitive option for family sedan buyers who are interested in saving money and reducing their carbon footprint. Sometimes the smallest changes can make the biggest differences.

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