When the press met the redesigned 2016 Chevrolet Volt, test pilots came back with pretty much unanimously good first-impressions. I finally got the chance to live with the car for a few days, and it’s not some novelty—it’s simply a solid little people-mover.
(Full disclosure: GM offered to lend me a Volt in Los Angeles for a weekend. I accepted. They also gave me a few dollars worth of free electricity via their ChargePoint account.)
Electric cars are probably the future, but right now they’re riding a hype train towed by Tesla. The boutique automaker and its supervillain-esque boss Elon Musk have captured just about everything that’s So Hot Right Now to the tech maven social climbers market: connectivity, minimalist design, environmentalism and industrial disruption.
It doesn’t hurt that the cars have a neat party trick called “Ludicrous Mode” which sucks your guts out your ass when you mash the accelerator.
Supposedly Tesla will grace the market with a battery-car for the common man soon. Which Chevrolet sells already, and it comes with a little help from gasoline as a backup.
The Specs That Matter
The 2016 Chevy Volt runs two electric motors with an output of 111 kW (or about 150 horsepower) and 294 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels from a 18.4 kWh battery. That’s supplemented by a 1.5-liter engine for “range extension” when you run out of juice. The gas engine makes 101 horsepower and runs regular 87 octane gasoline.
That translates to a 0-60 mph run in 8.4 seconds, but on the road it feels quite a bit quicker thanks to the “instant-on” torque of electric vehicles. Hit the gas hard with any wetness on the road and you’ll squeal the low-resistance Michelin all-season tires.
I figured that out trying to leave a restaurant in Santa Monica and all I have to say is “I apologize for nothing.”
The car is rated to run for 53 miles without using gasoline at all, but a little fuel goes a long way—the new Volt’s total range is 420 miles once the engine is called in. Efficiency specs translate to 106 MPG-equivalent in electric mode, or 42 MPG when you’re running on gas.
In Los Angeles, we made it just under 50 miles before using up our electricity; or about halfway to Santa Barbara from my bunker in Culver City. In gentle cruising the transition is completely seamless, though you will notice less kick as you initially apply power.
A standard 120v power source like you might have in your home charges the car in 13 hours, a high-speed 240v charger does it in four and a half fours. Size-wise, the new Volt is a little shorter than a Honda Civic Sedan and just a hair longer than a Prius.
The base-model Volt starts at $34,000 with the “Premier” offering a few more options at $38,000. Federal rebates are up to $7,500 and some states like California will give you another $1,500 back for being such an upstanding electrified citizen. Pricing on plug-in cars gets a little convoluted, so if you really want to know what a Volt will cost you go ahead and check out Chevy’s brochure.
You can also dive deeper into the complete specifications if you’re looking for things like headroom measurements.
The Volt “look” involves a lot more than the shape of the sheetmetal, which I happen to think is among the prettiest of all small sedans on sale right now. Electric cars and plug-in hybrids are a “look” unto themselves. They make you look smart and progressive and practical. Theoretically, right?
But as far as design goes, the Volt is sticking with “simple,” while its primary rival the Toyota Prius went bonkers with hard lines and a lot of fierce perceived futurism.
I appreciate the subtlety, though the big silver teeth still give the car away as electric for those who are paying attention.
Inside the Volt gets a little more interesting—a big, beautiful full-color display stares you right in the face feeding you information about energy consumption and of course trivialities like “current speed.”
Hyperwhite LEDs wash the crisp interior bits when a door is opened and subtle blue strings add to nighttime ambiance while you’re underway.
Material quality felt good for a car priced in the $30's, and I really appreciated the storage slots peppered around the cabin.
Excellent ergonomics complement the sleek interior design. I felt that there were just enough hard buttons to quickly access features you want, with a right-sized screen running everything else.
More than a few people have described the interior as “cramped”; I’d say that’s accurate. Expect less space than some small cars have.
Adults get a snug fit inside, and Chevy’s site claims three full-sized people would become very familiar very quickly sitting abreast back there. I have no clue where that middle person’s legs are supposed to go.
The rear hatch-style trunk grants great access to the cargo area though, even if it’s a scant 10.6 cubic feet. That’s less than half of what the Prius can carry, with all the seats in place.
I saw more than one reviewer described the 2016 Volt as “fun to drive” in their initial tests. Well, that’s true if your idea of fun is pretending your car is a Star Trek shuttle and blinky dashboard lights really do it for you.
Steering is heavy and direct. Car feels tight, stable. “Fun” is not the word I’d use, but it is smooth and composed on the road. What more is anybody actually looking for in a plug-in anyway?
To exercise a little more control, drivers can manually activate the car’s regenerative braking with a steering wheel paddle. That sends kinetic energy from the car’s motion back to charge the battery as the vehicle slows.
Practically speaking, it feels like you just tossed an anchor out the window when you let off the accelerator, which is effectively what’s happening. Turn it off to “coast,” I’m not sure which method would be more efficient in the long run.
What We’d Change
The infotainment screen is a slapped-on slab, like so many other modern cars. I wish there was a cleaner way to integrate this. Otherwise, I don’t know, maybe add glass roof? Or a solar panel up there?
Any improvements that could be made to charging time would be welcome, of course. But looking at the Volt for what it is—efficient and comfortable transportation for one to two people—I didn’t really see much fault in the design.
If you’re passing on this and waiting for a Model 3 because Chevy isn’t sexy enough for you, you owe it to yourself to at least visit a dealership and sit inside one of these. Your mind just might change.
The second generation Chevy Volt is a pleasant place to be, and I say that intending it as high praise to heap on a plug-in people mover.
It looks sharp inside and out, feels good in your hands, provides adequate performance with just enough juice to make you smile when you hit it hard from a stop.
But what I like best about the Volt’s vibe is how it feels contemporary, not tripping over itself with forced futurism.
Real pragmatists know that if want to be “green” you can buy a small used car with fuel economy high in the 30s and zero industrial production waste you have to feel guilty about. But even if a new Volt isn’t the most ecologically friendly automotive choice, it is nice to ride in and almost never take to a gas station.