2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid, Catskill Mountains, NY, Dec 2015Enlarge Photo
The second generation of GM’s Voltec plug-in hybrid system is now powering a car that doesn’t actually have a plug at all.
The new 2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid uses essentially the same powertrain as the 2016 Chevy Volt, but with a far smaller battery pack.
That makes it a new entrant in the hybrid mid-size sedan category, which includes the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, and Toyota Camry.
And it turns out to make the hybrid Malibu an exceptionally fuel-efficient car.
We’ve now driven three different hybrid examples of the all-new Malibu, and several more of its gasoline-powered counterparts.
The 2016 Malibu replaces a widely panned model that lasted only three model years: 2013 through 2015.
2016 Chevrolet Malibu - First Drive - Palo Alto, CAEnlarge Photo
And it addresses that car’s shortcomings with a wheelbase almost 4 inches longer, giving a much larger passenger compartment and a rear seat capable of holding two adults in comfort for the first time since the 2012 Malibu.
The new Malibu really is all-new: It rides on a new architecture, is about 300 pounds lighter than its predecessor, has new styling that’s quite similar to the larger Chevy Impala, and offers three different new powertrains.
The gasoline versions can be ordered with turbocharged 1.5-liter or 2.0-liter fours from the latest GM Ecotec family. The smaller engine is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, while the larger uses an eight-speed auto.
Then there’s the Malibu Hybrid, using the Voltec two-motor hybrid system attached to a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine (the Volt’s is 1.5 liters) and a 1.5-kilowatt-hour air-cooled lithium-ion battery pack in the trunk.
Engine outputs are given as 124 horsepower and 129 pound-feet of torque. [UPDATE: As a number of readers pointed out, those outputs are for the engine only. The combined powertrain produces 182 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque.]
It’s expected to earn EPA ratings of 47 mpg combined (48 mpg city, 45 mpg highway) and will go on sale this spring.
Two of our three test drives were short—less than 20 miles—so we didn’t have a chance to get any meaningful gas-mileage data.
2016 Chevrolet Malibu HybridEnlarge Photo
Our third drive, last week, covered 250 miles over 36 hours, though almost all of that was at highway speeds in freezing weather (due to an unexpected snowstorm and a hilly driveway).
The car’s trip computer logged 41.4 mpg, or not quite 10 percent below the highway rating. That’s about what we’d expect in cold weather. A similar test of a 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid—now rated at 42 mpg combined (44 mpg highway, 41 mpg city)—produced a recorded rating of 36.8 mpg.
Higher ratings are possible: When we got the car, its “Best” rating in the trip computer was 49.1 mpg, and our 25-mile running averages on switching off the car ranged from 35.0 up to 53.4 mpg.
We hope to retest the hybrid Malibu at a later date, over more varied duty cycles and in more temperate weather, to get a better feel for its around-town efficiency as well.
But on our brief drives, we found the Malibu Hybrid an exceptionally pleasant car to spend time in.
The hybrid system is capable of electric-only running at speeds as high as 55 miles per hour, and the transition from electric to blended engine power is close to imperceptible.
GM has had some of the best noise suppression in the business for several years now, and the Malibu is quiet under most circumstances.