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Seven Days: Vermont Car Blog

September 03, 2008

Video Test Drive: 2009 Chevy Malibu Hybrid

It was a beautiful day for a test drive and I was glad to have the chance to get away from the computer and take the 2009 Chevy Malibu Hybrid out for a spin. I picked it up from Shearer Chevrolet in South Burlington, VT and drove it on a variety of road types including cruising on I-89, in traffic jams on Route 7 and on the city streets of Burlington.

The Malibu is a mid-sized sedan that competes favorably against the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. GM has worked hard to close the gap with these Japanese category leaders and the Malibu is one impressive result.

The Malibu received an extensive redesign for 2008 that received high praise from the auto industry.

  • Car and Driver listed it as one of its “10 Best Cars of 2008.”
  • The North American International Auto Show selected it as the “North American Car of the Year.”
  • J.D. Power and Associates named it the “Highest Ranked Mid-Size Car in Initial Quality.”

This car looks good inside and out, a vast improvement over the previous Malibu. More importantly it drives well. It gets darn good gas mileage and I found that it delivered respectable performance and a steady, comfortable ride. It’s also a safe car, receiving 5 stars for frontal and side impact crash test ratings and 4 stars for rollovers which is right on par with it’s Japanese competitors.

The Malibu has 3 trim levels. The LS & LT models get a 2.4L Ecotec 4-cylinder engine, coupled with a 4-speed automatic shifter. That combination achieves 169 horsepower with 22 MPG City and 30 MPG highway. An upgrade to the 6-speed automatic transmission will boost you to 33 MPG highway.

The LTZ model gets a more powerful 3.6L V6 rated at 252 horsepower. Of course there’s a trade-off on gas mileage at 17 MPG City and 26 MPG Highway. You decide where your priorities lie. Each engine provides different advantages.

The Hybrid model I drove uses the 2.4L Ecotec Hybrid engine. The Hybrid technology bumps MPG to 26 City and 34 Highway.

For comparison’s sake, the Toyota Camry Hybrid might be the closest apples-to-apples competitor. The Camry Hybrid gets 33 MPG city and 34 MPG highway so it’s a slight winner in that category with lower city gas consumption. But the base price of the Camry is $1000 more, and the Malibu actually rides a little better. The engine doesn’t turn off when coasting, it has better steering and a tighter suspension which results in a car that’s a little more fun to drive.

What’s my advice?

If you’ve been waiting to buy a quality American car that is a match for its Japanese competitors then the Malibu is for you. It’s a well built, good looking car, with a quiet ride and good performance — and if you care, it’s made in America.

Would I buy the Hybrid? First a reality check – if I wanted to buy a hybrid with the absolute best gas mileage possible, I would probably buy a Toyota Prius. The Malibu though has some attractive features that eht Prius does not. The Malibu is a larger, safer and more comfortable car. Each car fits different lifestyles and needs.

The difference in gas mileage between the 2009 Malibu LT2 with a 6-speed transmission and the 2009 Malibu Hybrid is 4 MPG city and 1 MPG highway. By my calculations it would take almost 10 years to make up the approximate $1000 vehicle price difference via fuel savings. The 6-speed transmission is going to drive better in a variety of conditions.

It would be very difficult for me to pick between these two cars, but with either one the next time Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” came on the radio I’d be ready to sing along ;-)

2009 Chevy Malibu LS LT LTZ Hybrid
Engine 2.4L Ecotec 4-Cylinder 2.4L Ecotec 4-Cylinder 3.6L V6 2.4L Ecotec 4-Cylinder
Transmission 4-Speed Auto 6-Speed Auto 6-Speed Auto 4-Speed Auto
MPG City 22 22 17 26
MPG Highway 30 33 26 34
Invoice $19,604 $22,534 $25,605 $23,337


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The declaration that American cars are narrowing the gap is somewhat misleading: While it is true, as a whole, they are making gains -- the real numbers that matter to consumers is the individual cars in a particular class. For example, the top three classes of cars are: Truck, Mid-sized sedan, and SUV. Toyota dominates in these classes. Just because Americans can do cars that few people drive better -- isn't exactly the best accomplishment.

I tell all my friends to buy foreign still. And to use the power of competition to get a good price (ignore clever marketing). This is the best process to use when you are ready for a car:


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