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Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

Written by PFM Staff

For 2008, the Chevy Malibu was totally transformed. It is very different from the past models. The new Malibu is, in fact, now a world-class car and fully equal to the competition from Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

The new Malibu is also a multiple award-winning sedan. The new Malibu is the Detroit Auto Show and the Detroit Free Press Car of the Year. It is the Kelly Blue Book and the Edmonds.com Best Family Vehicle. It is one of Car and Driver’s Ten Best Cars. And it achieved the J.D. Power Highest Ranked Midsize Car in Initial Quality.

The Malibu is powered by one of three engines: a 169-hp 2.4L I-4, a 252-hp 3.6L V-6 or a 164-hp 2.4L I-4 BAS-hybrid engine. The Malibu Hybrid gets 2 mpg better mileage in city driving and 2 mpg better mileage in highway driving than the same Malibu powered by the same 2.4L inline four.

We drove the Malibu Hybrid for a week under three distinct conditions, 1) rush-hour traffic in heavily urbanized areas, 2) admin use and calls for service in a suburban areas, and 3) rural, state road traffic enforcement.

Auto Stop in the City

The automatic engine shut off (Auto Stop) takes some getting used to. The gas engine shuts off in Drive about 1 second AFTER a full and complete stop. The Malibu Hybrid does not shut off with a “boulevard” stop. The gas engine remains running.

The BAS-hybrid drivetrain does NOT shut off the gasoline engine while coasting to a stop. The hybrid drivetrain does NOT shut off the engine when the gear selector is in Park, Intermediate, Low or Neutral. It only shuts off the engine when the gear selector is in Drive and the brake applied. Even then, the engine does not always shut off, nor does it always remain off.

The engine starts with the car in Drive immediately after the brake pedal is released. The engine has started by the time the driver’s foot reaches the gas pedal. The start-up is immediate and absolutely seamless. No delay whatsoever exists.

The part that needs some time to adjust to is shutting off the car before exit. In Drive, you come to a full stop in your parking spot. A second or so later the engine automatically shuts off. Then you move the gear selector to Park. The engine automatically restarts. Then a second or so later you turn the key off, shutting down the engine. Then you can remove the key and leave. That brief restart in Park between coming to a stop and removing the key seems a bit silly when you have arrived at your destination and the next thing you do is shut off the car.

A long shutoff at a traffic light makes sense. A 1-second shutoff at a stop sign, and only after a full stop, doesn’t make sense. Frankly, in urban, suburban and rural driving, who comes to a full and complete, zero forward motion stop? Nor does this make sense for a few seconds in crawling, but moving, heavy traffic.

In the rush-hour traffic, the BAS-hybrid engine went into Auto Stop mode hundreds of times. Creep forward two car-lengths, brake on, full stop, engine Auto Stop, brake off, Auto Start, creep forward two car-lengths. In the suburban areas, the engine dutifully shut off at each time we came to a stop at a traffic light or stop sign. In the more rural areas, of course, the engine almost never went into Auto Stop.

Routine Patrol

We drove the Malibu Hybrid when retail gas prices were over $4 a gallon. Yes, they have since fallen to under $2, but no one knows the future of gas prices. More important, no one knows what future police cars will be.

With a clear trend to downsize all vehicles and volatile gas prices, we switched from admin use of the Malibu Hybrid to uniformed patrol use. Don’t laugh. Remember the Chrysler K-cars? You never know what you might be required to adapt to and use!

The Malibu uses the Euro-style friction lock for tilt adjustment. However, instead of the irritating, difficult-to-reach below-column locking latch, the new Malibu uses an excellent offset locking latch. The operating lever sticks out the left side of the column, where it has been for decades and is quite traditional in both function and handiness. The tilt / tele steering wheel made the Malibu easy to adjust to different sizes and shapes of drivers.

The Malibu was easy and comfortable to ride in. We found the Malibu to handle well, even given its comfortable ride. The Malibu is not quite as sporty as the tightly sprung Ford Fusion, but it did everything we could reasonably ask of a mid-size car.

It is really not the sluggish performance from the Malibu’s BAS-hybrid drivetrain that causes us pause for uniformed patrol as much as the lack of interior room. As you transition from plainclothes to uniform, the head room, leg room and shoulder room remain almost unchanged. However, the hip room changes dramatically, and both entry and exit become a problem.

Entry and Exit in Full Uniform

In full uniform with body armor, radio hanging here, duty gun hanging there, TASER® over here and all the other gear, entering and exiting is a real challenge. It cannot be done quickly or smoothly.

Entry into the Malibu is like a game of bumper cars as you and your gear bounce back and forth between the B-pillar, steering wheel, seat side bolster and center console. And finding the seat-belt receptacle? Latching the belt takes real time and effort, and a significant hip shift, all in a vehicle that starts off with very limited hip room.

Exit out of the Malibu is not pretty. You lose a lot of non-verbal authority as you claw, twist and pull yourself out of the vehicle, reversing the bumper car game. To exit, you do have a sense of “climbing out” of the Malibu.

The questions about vehicle performance and front seat room aside, the use of the Malibu or Malibu Hybrid for anything other than admin use also raises serious issues with backseat room and trunk space. “The Malibu is a lot smaller everywhere than the Impala,” said Benton County, IN Sheriff’s deputy Jason Dexter, who is currently assigned to an Impala.

The rear seat of the Malibu is very tight, with much less leg, hip, shoulder and especially head room than the Impala. The Malibu has a 15.1 cf trunk, which is large enough for almost any admin gear, but smaller than even the Dodge Charger with a full-size spare.

The Malibu has a “fair” amount of room for one plainclothes officer. Not so much for two officers. And not at all for one uniformed officer in a gear-packed cockpit. The Malibu, especially the non-hybrid, 4-cylinder Malibu, makes both sense and “cents” as an admin vehicle. But it is very tight for uniformed patrol.

Performance

The 164-hp 2.4L Malibu Hybrid hits 60 mph in 11.5 seconds. That is about 3 seconds slower than the 9C1 Impala and Ford CVPI. The Malibu Hybrid takes 37 seconds to reach 100 mph. And it has an “I think I can” top speed of 105 mph.

The electric-motor used by the BAS-hybrid is designed to “boost” acceleration by adding torque from the alternator starter to the engine through the drive belt. The BAS-hybrid has as much as 110 lb-ft of starting torque. To put this in perspective, the 2.4L gas engine in the Malibu produces 160 lb-ft of torque by itself.

Can you add the 110 lb-ft of torque from the electric motor to the 160 lb-ft from the 2.4L I-4 gas engine to equal the 250 lb-ft from the 3.6L V-6? No. The 252-hp 3.6L V-6 Malibu reaches 60 mph in about 8 seconds, more than 3 seconds faster than the Hybrid version.

The Malibu Hybrid is virtually identical to the 2.4L I-4 non-hybrid in terms of acceleration. If the BAS makes a boost, it was hard for the stopwatch to find. In fact, a couple of auto enthusiast magazines reported 0-60 mph times for the non-hybrid I-4 Malibu a second or two faster than our hybrid test vehicle.

Traffic Enforcement

Some departments will still consider the Malibu Hybrid for uniformed officer calls for service. However, almost no one would seriously use this vehicle as a traffic enforcement vehicle. Of course, this is a very specialized use of any police vehicle and a possibly unrealistic use of any 4-cylinder, mid-size sedan. But again, we do NOT know what the future holds for police vehicles. (I was assigned a 2.8L Chevy Celebrity in the 1980s.)

The Malibu Hybrid just does not have much throttle response. Traffic enforcement in a rural setting was not pretty, but it was possible. Of course, we did not get involved in any pursuit driving. In a rural setting, the top speed of 105 mph, and the slow acceleration from 60 mph to 100 mph are limiting factors. We wish the vehicle would get to 100 mph sooner, but it got there OK, and we have the signature of a dozen semi and dump truck drivers to prove it. In any urban use, the Malibu Hybrid would do fine, performance-wise.

20-Year Payback Period

Most of us distrust EPA ratings, but the newly revised 2008 test method and resulting ratings are not too bad. With the Malibu and other vehicles recently tested, we have found the EPA Combined mileage estimate is a fair figure for all admin use and some calls for service use.

Against an “EPA Combined” rating of 27 mpg, during 1,100 miles of very different driving over a period of seven days, we averaged an honest 26.6 mpg. In comparison, the Malibu non-hybrid with the 2.4L I-4 has a Combined rating of 25 mpg, while the 3.6L Malibu has a Combined rating of 20 mpg.

What is the upcharge for the BAS-hybrid powertrain? It is not that easy since the BAS-hybrid is not a stand-alone option. The Malibu Hybrid has extra-cost (perhaps unwanted) options not available on the Malibu LS, so a cost comparison to the Malibu LS to find the upcharge is difficult.

As originally introduced, the Malibu Hybrid had an MSRP of $22,140, and the Malibu LS (the base level sedan) had an MSRP of $19,345. That means the hybrid option was about $2,800. By mid-year, and actual production availability of the Malibu, all that changed. The MSRP on the base Malibu rose to $20,550 and the Malibu Hybrid jumped to $24,545. That’s now a $4,000 upcharge.

Based on 25,000 miles per year, the “Combined” fuel economy for each and $4 per gallon gasoline, the use of the BAS-hybrid saves $300 in gas per year. That means it will take about 13 years for the 2 mpg hybrid advantage to pay off the $4,000 upcharge for the hybrid. Now that gasoline is under $2, the payback period is longer than the length of a pensioned police career.

Hybrid Hype

We got slightly better gas mileage from a mid-size Dodge Avenger powered by a 2.4L I-4 than we did with this mid-size Chevy Malibu powered by a 2.4L BAS-hybrid I-4 in the same kind of driving. Here’s the point. Don’t be hyped by, or distracted by, the hybrid craze. As with all hybrid powertrains, their benefit comes only from an extremely limited and specific driving scenario. In the vast amount of police admin duties, the non-hybrid I-4 will get the same mileage as the hybrid I-4, and it will cost a lot less to buy and maintain.

Forget the hybrid option on the Malibu unless your department is more into symbolism than substance, more into appearance than reality. And some departments are! Instead, go for the Malibu with the non-hybrid 4-cylinder engine. This is the lowest (initial) cost Malibu, gets almost as much mileage as the Malibu Hybrid and much better mileage than the 3.6L V-6 powered Malibu.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Jan/Feb 2009

Rating : 10.0


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