The Malibu ECO is a mild hybrid version of Chevrolet's new Malibu midsize sedan that is intended to be an efficient yet affordable alternative to full hybrids. The Malibu ECO takes a new approach for the segment that it competes in, offering middle ground fuel economy and middle ground pricing.
The Malibu ECO is a mild hybrid in the sense that it uses a small, simple and inexpensive electric motor to help achieve mileage that's better than the standard four-cylinder Malibu but not quite up to the standards of more expensive full hybrid vehicles. That electric motor - part of GM's eAssist system, which is also used in several Buick models- is a 15-kilowatt unit that draws power from a 115-volt lithium-ion battery. eAssist teams with a direct-injected 2.4-liter four-cylinder gas engine for a total system output of 182 horsepower. Shifting is handled by a six-speed automatic transmission.
An advantage of eAssist is the low weight of the system - it adds just 65 lbs. The setup does eat into trunk space, which decreases from 16.3 cubic feet in the normal ¬ĎBu to 13.2 cubic feet. Technology such as automatic engine start-stop, energy reclamation through braking and improved aerodynamics with changes such as active grille shutters all help to reduce fuel consumption.
The result of all of the fuel-saving systems? The Malibu Eco is rated at 25 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway, figures that best all non-hybrid midsize sedans except the latest Nissan Altima (which returns 27/38 mpg). Chevy also says that the car has a bladder-bursting 580 mile-range thanks to a 15.8-gallon fuel tank and a lowered final drive ratio.
Powertrain Aside, it's All Malibu
Outside of its mild hybrid system and fuel miser tech, the Malibu Eco is essentially identical to the standard Malibu . That means it's a half-inch shorter overall and 4.5-inch shorter in wheelbase than the last-generation Malibu, but it's also 2.7 inches wider than the rather narrow old model. The changes add up to slightly less legroom for rear-seat passengers but noticeably improved shoulder and hip room throughout the car, while overall passenger space increases by nearly four cubic inches.
The dashboard features a contemporary design with a trick seven-inch touch-screen (on LT and LTZ trims) that folds out to reveal a six-inch-deep storage space. The touch-screen is equipped with Chevy's new infotainment system, MyLink, which allows for Pandora streaming radio and Stitcher SmartRadio, as well as Bluetooth and other technologies.
Soft-touch materials abound throughout the cabin, and available Ice Blue ambient lighting adds a unique touch. Relatively little road or engine noise enters into the interior thanks to the liberal use of acoustic glass and other noise-deadening materials.
Outside, the Malibu Eco features evolutionary styling highlighted by a sleek rendition of Chevrolet's dual-port grille and Camaro-inspired quad taillights. A trim rear deck with a well-integrated spoiler provides an elegant counterpoint to the frumpy, BMW-inspired "Bangle bustle" rear-end seen on certain recent vehicles. Aerodynamic underbody panels are a Malibu Eco-specific item.
The entry-level Malibu Eco 1SA trim levels comes standard with Chevrolet MyLink, dual zone automatic climate control, CD/MP3 stereo with seven-inch touch screen, USB, SiriusXM satellite radio, cruise control, power windows and locks, tilt and telescopic steering wheel with built-in audio controls and ice blue interior lighting, heated and power adjustable exterior mirrors, acoustic-laminated glass for reduced wind noise inside the cabin and 17-inch wheels wrapped in P225/55/R17 low-rolling resistance tires for optimal fuel economy.
Stepping up to the 2SA trim brings a 250-watt, nine-speaker Pioneer autdio system, a rear backup camera, an eight-way power driver seat, remote start, foglamps and leather wrapped steering wheel and shift.
Notable options include leather upholstery and a sunroof.
The Malibu Eco comes standard with an impressive ten airbags, including dual front, front knee, front side, front curtain, rear side and rear curtain units. Also included are traction and stability control systems.
Because of its unique approach to fuel economy and affordability, it would be fair to say that there are no directly comparable cars currently on the market. In reality, however, many buyers will likely cross-shop both traditional sedans such as the Hyundai Sonata and Honda Accord, as well as full hybrids like the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid.