The Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid entered the market in 2008 as direct competition to the Toyota Camry Hybrid. The Malibu Hybrid is a stylish five-door mid-size sedan—but as a mild hybrid, the fuel economy compared with the gas-powered Malibu was a very modest 2-mpg jump to 24 in the city and 32 on the highway.

For 2009, the Malibu Hybrid is rated at 26 city and 34 highway—meaning a much healthier 4-mpg boost over the base-level Malibu. The difference in the lowest end MSRP between the two vehicles remains the same. The conventional Malibu starts at $20,745, while the Chevy Malibu Hybrid starts at $24,695. In other words, the cost per mpg improvement was cut in half.

“The hybrid improvement is primarily the result of new battery charging control software that reduces load on the engine, and the hybrid also uses new 17-inch low rolling resistance tires,” GM spokesperson, Nancy Libby, told Hybridcars.com. “They were 16-inch tires in 2008.”

The 2009 Malibu Hybrid continues to fall short of the Camry Hybrid’s EPA rating of 33 in the city, but now matches the Camry’s 34 mpg on the highway. The base level MSRP for the Toyota Camry Hybrid is $26,150—$1,500 higher than the Malibu Hybrid.

Based on GM’s long-wheel based Epsilon platform, the 2009 Malibu Hybrid’s powertrain is defined by a 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine and a 36-volt electric starter-motor-generator tied to a nickel metal hydride battery pack. Output stands at 164 horsepower, plenty for a car of its size and weight. Energy is channeled through a smooth-shifting four-speed transmission.

The 2009 Chevrolet Malibu In the Real World

We took the 2009 Malibu Hybrid on a 156-mile loop from Strasburg, Penn., to Washington, DC, and then back north to Towson, Md. The route was comprised of approximately 60 percent highway driving, 25 percent country road, and 15 percent in-town or urban traffic. To inform the driver of how the hybrid system is operating, the Malibu Hybrid offers a simple gauge with an “Eco” indicator and a “power assist” needle.

Our combined fuel economy on this mixed test was 29.8 miles per gallon. For comparison, our mixed driving test of the Toyota Camry Hybrid earlier this month resulted in fuel economy of 35.2 miles per gallon. Based on this cycle, Toyota’s full hybrid had a clear advantage.

The 2009 Malibu Hybrid, like its conventional variant, handles well. It maneuvers nimbly in traffic and responds quickly to driver inputs—even better than the Camry. The Malibu Hybrid’s longer wheelbase lends itself to a comfortable ride, making it a competent car for longer daily commutes. The overall driving comfort of the Camry is hard to beat though.

Consumers might also want to consider that the Malibu Hybrid offers a $1,300 tax credit, which Toyota hybrids no longer carry.