CNN/Fortune bestows this unwanted title on GM's mainstream, midsize "mild" hybrid

When it comes to all-new vehicles introduced in the past year, one model in particular has left many reviewers and industry analysts scratching their heads. The vehicle in question is the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco, which was the first trim level introduced for the redesigned midsize sedan (it will soon be followed by a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine and 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine options).
What makes the Malibu Eco so perplexing, however, is that despite its mild hybrid powertrain, it doesn't appear to do anything better than its more conventional rivals and falls well short of "true" hybrids competitors. Fortune deems the Malibu Eco "The most disliked car of the year (so far)" based on reviews from auto outlets like Autoblog, Car and Driver, The Truth About Cars, and New York Times.
There are plenty of criticisms about the poor backseat room (due to a 4" cut in the wheelbase to make room for the redesigned 2014 Impala in the Chevrolet lineup), reduced trunk space relative to its predecessor (and even its cheaper Cruze Eco sibling), and poor handling. But the harshest comments are leveled at the Malibu Eco's powertrain. The vehicle uses an electric motor generator and a 65-pound battery that robs trunk space to boost its fuel economy numbers; however, it's simply not enough against the competition.

For example, the Malibu Eco starts at $25,995 and is rated at 25/37 (city/highway). For comparison, here's how the vehicle stacks up to its more conventional competitors which have base prices that starts at least $2,000 lower:
  • Nissan Altima: 27/38
  • Toyota Camry: 25/35
  • Hyundai Sonata: 24/35 
The $21,500 Nissan Altima manages to undercut the Malibu Eco by over $4,000, yet delivers better fuel economy (city and highway), has a larger interior/trunk, and is nearly 500 lbs lighter. The Malibu Eco fares better against the Camry and Sonata, but both vehicles put up competitive numbers without the added weight, cost, and complexity of GM's mild hybrid powertrain.
The Malibu takes an even heavier beating from full-hybrid and diesel midsize sedans that cost roughly the same amount of money:
Fortune's Alex Taylor III writes, "In trying to combine the benefits of a full hybrid and a conventional gasoline-powered engine, [GM] came up with neither. The car lacks the fuel economy of the former and the efficiency and value of the latter."

Taylor concludes, saying, "Unlike Toyota, which pioneered the full hybrid Prius more than 20 years ago and never wavered, GM has vacillated -- swerving from EVs to hybrids and back again. With its latest effort coming up short by key quantitative standards, the automaker has inadvertently created in the Eco the most disliked car from the first half of 2012."
One can only hope that GM can deliver a more competitive hybrid solution for future vehicles. The company needs to find some middle ground between the Malibu Eco's mediocre powertrain and the fuel-efficiency wizardry of the much more expensive Chevrolet Volt.

Sources: CNN/Fortune, New York Times, The Truth About Cars, Car and Driver

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