The Chevrolet Volt combines the best of both worlds in terms of propulsion: it offers the convenience of a gasoline engine with all the green benefits of a plug-in hybrid.
Engine: 1.5-liter gasoline 4-cylinder
Battery: 18.4 kWh lithium-ion
Total System Output: 149 horsepower, 294 lb-ft torque
Fuel Economy: 42 MPG combined (gasoline), 106 MPGe combined (electricity)
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 5.6 combined (gas), 2.2 combined (electric)
US Price: Starts at $33,220/$40,945 as-tested including $825 in delivery charges
CAN Price: Starts at $38,490
The Volt, which is GM’s latest gasoline-electric model, is all new all over again. As with its predecessor, this amped-up four-door melds the best attributes of earth-friendly electric vehicles with the plentiful power and speedy refueling of traditional gasoline-powered models. In short, it’s the perfect option for people afflicted with range anxiety.
Nuts and Volts
Redesigned for 2016, the new Chevy Volt promises more of everything motorists want —greater efficiency, enhanced electric-only range and faster acceleration, all with a battery that actually contains fewer cells than before.
Getting more from less, the heart of this car’s propulsion system is an 18.4 kWh lithium-ion pack that’s 21 pounds lighter than its predecessor. Despite the weight loss, this assembly is still huge, seriously impinging on passenger space. Shaped like a gigantic capital “T,” at least it’s mounted close to the ground for a low center of gravity.
All told, the Volt’s battery is capacious enough to provide an electric-only driving range of 53 miles. That’s more than double what the Toyota Prius Prime offers, a major rival. It limps along with just 25 miles of EV capacity.
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Tapping into that tidy reservoir of stored electrons is a two-motor drive unit. Compared to the Volt’s previous system, this new arrangement is about 12 percent more efficient and a whopping 100 pounds lighter.
As for the all-important issue of replenishment times, it takes a full 13 hours to re-energize this car’s battery from a standard 120-volt household outlet. However, that time drops to just 4.5 if you’re plugged into a 240-volt charger.
But just because this Chevy is focused on efficiency doesn’t mean it doesn’t drive well. That duet of motors provides a rather stingy 149 horsepower, but when it comes to torque, they’re absolute monsters, belting out 294 pound-feet of tire-squealing twist.
Those output figures are enough to whisk the Volt to 60 miles an hour from a dead stop in just 8.4 seconds, a 7 percent improvement. As before, once the battery reserve is depleted, a gasoline engine takes over. In the 2016 model, this unit displaces 1.5-liters and helps ups the car’s total driving range to an impressive 420 miles.
As for efficiency, the 2016 Volt is rated at 106 MPGe, that’s mile per gallon equivalent. Running solely on gasoline it should return 42 MPG, impressive figures in both areas.
Room for Five!
Closing the hood and opening a door, this extended-range electric provides room for five occupants, in theory at least. The two front buckets are about as spacious as you’d expect in a midsize sedan, but it’s a different story for folks with coach-class tickets.
The outboard rear seats are acceptable enough for adult passengers, but the middle position is all but useless. Headroom is nonexistent and the massive floor tunnel makes anyone brave enough to sit there feel like they’re riding a horse bareback, one that also has plastic trim and a super-low ceiling.
What it may lack in passenger space, the Volt somewhat makes up for with cargo space. Its hold is unexpectedly generous, providing nearly 11 cubic feet of volume. Fold the rear backrests down and there’s really quite a lot of room in an otherwise small car.
Black and Brown and Rich All Inside
Like grandma beckoning family during the holidays, this car’s cabin welcomes passengers with open arms. While the majority of its materials are hard plastic, the graining is attractively upscale, giving the interior an unexpectedly rich appearance. This is particularly true of the example I evaluated, which featured a rich brown-and-black color scheme.
Reinforcing this feeling of swankiness, there’s plenty of technology to keep even a computer programmer entertained on cross-country drives. There’s a standard eight-inch display crowning the center stack. It’s home to Chevrolet’s intuitive and speedy MyLink infotainment system. With its easy-to-discern layout and colorful interface, there’s little to complain about here, whether you’re pairing your smartphone via Bluetooth or searching for a nearby point of interest.
But it’s not just the dashboard’s center section that’s home to cutting-edge electronics, as tons of tech can be found in the instrument cluster as well. Helping you keep track of vital vehicle stats and how efficiently you’re driving, the Volt’s fully digital gauges are amazingly customizable, providing a wide range of looks and layouts to suit your mood.
The first thing you’ll probably notice about driving the Volt is torque. It’ll squawk the front tires off the line if you’re not careful, but acceleration does taper off as speed increases.
Adapting to varied conditions, four driving modes are offered. Normal provides optimal efficiency while Sport increases throttle response at the expense of range. Mountain is designed for use in hilly terrain, while Hold mode preserves EV range by running the car on gasoline power; it’s perfect for long highway slogs before entering an urban area. In this mode, you can preserve electric capacity and use it at a later time when it’s more efficient to do so.
The Volt has a solid, hefty feel, which is not unexpected, since it weighs more than 3,500 pounds, 405 lbs of which is battery. Fortunately, much of its mass is near the ground, which makes the car seem very planted.
When battery power is depleted, internal-combustion takes over. And what’s impressive about this is how imperceptible the changeover is. I really had a hard time telling when petroleum distillates were propelling the Volt and not electrons, that’s how smooth its drivetrain is.
Another critical aspect of hybrids and EVs is regenerative braking. Luckily for Chevy, this is another thing engineers nailed. The transition from regenerative to friction stopping is smooth and easily modulated. Also, behind the left steering-wheel spoke, you find the “Regen on Demand” button, which dramatically slows the vehicle down, storing lots of energy in the process. Think of this as a separate brake pedal that helps you recoup electricity more effectively.
There’s plenty to like about the new Volt, but it’s not perfect. I do have a couple minor gripes about it. For starters, fat A-pillars obstruct outward visibility, which is never a good thing. Secondly, the front seats aren’t very comfortable. The bottom cushions are just too low, making it feel like you’re sitting on the floor.
The Verdict: 2016 Chevrolet Volt
If you want to go all-in on electric power and range is a concern, Chevrolet’s Volt is the car to get. With impressive battery range as well as a smooth and economical gasoline engine, it provides plenty of efficiency along with lots of real-world usability.
But this versatility comes at a price. The range-topping Premier-trim car I evaluated cost nearly $41,000, which is a lot of scratch for a vehicle that’s not terribly practical or built by a luxury brand. Fortunately, pricing for a less-richly appointed base version is around 34 grand, and either way you go, the Volt should qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit, which takes away much of that pricing sting.
But the best thing is really how the Volt seamlessly integrates the benefits of a gas engine and an EV setup. Combined with its impressive range, a host of useful technology, and the fact that the Volt mostly feels like a conventional car to operate, the range-extended plug-in hybrid has a lot going for it.
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