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2009’s ‘green’ Chevy Malibu, we hardly knew ye

Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

General Motors

Virtually indistinguishable from its non-hybrid stablemates, the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid was introduced mid-way through 2008 and discontinued about a year later – although a few stragglers were sold into 2010.

One model of this nameplate's seventh generation, this particular Malibu was what's known as a "mild" hybrid, in that it did not run on pure battery power alone. The electric motor provided an extra performance boost – overtaking, climbing a hill, etc. – and the vehicle shut down during idle, automatically starting up again when you took your foot off the brake pedal. GM used a similar setup on its other models – the full-size Silverado/Sierra pickups and Saturn Aura Greenline, for example, and if the goal was to reduce emissions and increase fuel economy, then the Malibu Hybrid had to be deemed a success, though not an overwhelming one.

It was also the thriftiest version of this mid-size sedan and returned fuel economy of 8.5 litres/100 km in town and 6.2 on the highway. These numbers didn't stack up well against other hybrids such as the Toyota Prius or Honda Civic, but they were decent for a vehicle of this size. By way of comparison, a non-hybrid, four-cylinder Camry of the same vintage returned 9.5 city/6.2 highway and a garden-variety, four-cylinder Malibu was good for 9.6 city/6.5 highway.

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The powertrain for the Malibu Hybrid consisted of GM's redoubtable Ecotec four-cylinder gas engine, which displaced 2.4 litres, and a 36-volt electric motor that added five horsepower to the gas engine. Together, these two gave the Malibu Hybrid 169 horsepower. Transmission was a four-speed HydraMatic only. With a full complement of five passengers, this hybrid was a slug, and was pretty low on reserve power. On the other hand, it did not have a CVT, which was a good thing.

For those with thrift in mind, a little graphic readout on the instrument panel let you know when you were consuming battery power or adding to it with the regenerative braking system, and a cute little green "eco" light illuminated whenever you were consuming the ideal amount of fuel. When you stopped for a traffic light, the engine shut off, almost in-discernibly, with just a slight shudder emanating from the front of the car when it restarted.

Hybrid drivetrain aside, this generation of Malibu was a roomy, accommodating, and driveable five-passenger sedan with a good-sized trunk: 428 litres. Standard equipment included cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering, one-touch power windows, power door locks, steering wheel-located audio controls, 60/40 folding rear seat, a vehicle stability control system and air conditioning.

Just one safety recall to report with Transport Canada, and it's a surprisingly innocuous one. The HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) system can fail, which could lead to the loss of the windshield defogger and other functions. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has this glitch on file as well, plus another regarding possible gearshift lever irregularities (this affects all '09 Malibus, hybrid or otherwise).

NHTSA has six technical service bulletins for the Malibu Hybrid. These range from a seat belt advisory, to diagnostic issues, to minor software glitches with the battery pack.

Consumer Reports likes this version of the Malibu, although it's not specific if it is the hybrid or not that it is fond of. Either way, the magazine gives the 2009 Malibu a "better than average" used-car prediction rating, with minor problems in the areas of body hardware, suspension and brakes, the fuel system, and power accessories. Some comments from owners: "Passenger seat not comfortable for long rides," "Handles well in the snow" and "Engine block cracked due to defect."

Market research company J.D. Power also has good things to say about the Malibu Hybrid – to a point. It likes its powertrain quality, accessories quality and overall design and styling, but has misgivings regarding body and interior quality and accessories dependability. This organization gives the Malibu Hybrid a "better than most" rating for overall quality, and an "about-average" mark for expected dependability.

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Prices are in the mid-teens for an '09 Malibu Hybrid, with the '08 version (identical in virtually every way) going for a few thousand less and the '10 a few thousand more. According to the Canadian Black Book and Red Book, the price range is $12,000 to $17,000 for all three vintages.

Tech specs: 2009 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

Original Base Price: $28,295; Black Book: $14,150; Red Book: $14,125

Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder/5-hp electric motor

Horsepower/Torque: 169 hp/159 lb-ft

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Transmission: Four-speed automatic

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 8.5 city/6.2 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Saturn Aura Greenline, Nissan Altima Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid

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