It’s a perfectly driveable car in most scenarios. Most. The two-motor drive unit and planetary gear transmission feel smooth and unobtrusive 80 percent of the time, but in the rare moment when you’re accelerating hard from a casual speed – say from 80 km/h when you’ve just been using EV power for a couple of kilometres, the engine and transmission produce a horrible droning like the worst CVT units from a decade ago. It’s not the norm, and there is a particular set of circumstances needed to generate it, but it grated on me.
Aside from that, the smoothness, responsiveness and general heft of this Volt-derived powertrain are spectacular. EV-only range is obviously nowhere near Volt levels due to a much smaller battery pack, but I could still coax long periods of silent cruising from the little unit.
From a handling standpoint the Malibu is a dramatic improvement over its predecessor. It’s typically GM-soft and floaty, but in a really pleasant sort of “Well durr, it’s a GM and GM buyers like this feeling” way. The steering is over-boosted and light which makes for busyness in crosswinds at highway speeds, but nothing overwhelming. There’s an appropriate amount of body roll and pitch from the McPherson-strut front and multi-link rear suspension, and the Malibu does a remarkable job of hiding the roughness I was expecting from the upgraded 17-inch alloys standard on this model (lower trim Malibus get 16s).
I was pleasantly surprised by the passenger volume, and chuckled at the 60/40 seats in the rear – these are handy for skis or something, I suppose, but the battery bump in the boot eats up 119 L of volume for a scant 328 L total. This might be the only real sacrifice the hybrid drivetrain makes – other than the 168 kg added to the 1,400 kg base Malibu, that is. Still, at 1,568 kg the Malibu is lighter than all but the Toyota Camry Hybrid among its competitors.
Truthfully, that weight penalty is not noticeable in everyday driving, and I wouldn’t expect it to be an issue for most Malibu hybrid buyers. Track drivers are probably not buying this car – though if they did they might be entertained by the way the torquey electric motors frequently overwhelm the front tires under acceleration. I know I was.
I was also entertained by the Bose speaker system – an audio upgrade delivered courtesy of the $1,995 Leather package that also added leather, heated and power-adjustable front seats. I should clarify. It wasn’t the audio quality that entertained me, rather the audacity of a $2,000 upgrade for features many at this price point expect standard. The addition of the “Bose speaker system” stuck out as a cry of “This package is worth it, honest!”