General Motors took a huge gamble when they introduced the first-generation Chevrolet Volt for the 2011 model year. It was positioned as an alternative to a standard electric car by having a gas generator providing electric power once the battery was depleted. This different take on an electric vehicle solved the issue of range anxiety. But GM was too ambitious in terms of sales numbers. This lead to dealers being stockpiled with models because not many people were buying them. Within a year, GM made some key changes such as reducing the production amount and offering incentives that the Volt was finally able to make some headway in the market.
Now we come to the second-generation Volt introduced last year. Chevrolet felt that the Volt needed to lose a bit of the concept car look to make it somewhat more appealing to buyers. But they also improved key components to make the Volt more efficient. Let’s see if these changes help or hurt it.
The design of the first-generation Volt looked like someone’s prediction of what the vehicle of the future would look like. It stood out, but not in a good way. Thankfully, Chevrolet’s designers addressed this with the second-generation model. Yes, the 2016 Volt does have a similar profile to the outgoing model. But designers have smoothed out the shape and added some new lines. Take the front end for example. There are new grille inserts that are not only smaller, but have a pattern that mimics sheet metal. The back end features a reshaped tailgate with an integrated spoiler that not only improves the overall aerodynamics, but makes it look sleeker. Finishing off the design are a set of seventeen-inch alloy wheels and what Chevrolet calls Kinetic Blue that sets off the Volt’s design.
The interior has grown up with a handsome design for the dashboard and better quality materials used throughout. There is a fair amount of soft-touch plastics and faux metal trim used up front. Disappointingly, Chevrolet didn’t give the back any soft-touch materials. The rear door panels are plastered with hard plastics. For the price tag of just a hair over $40,000, this isn’t acceptable. The new dash also brings forth a simpler center stack layout with an eight-inch touchscreen and new controls for the automatic climate control.
Our Volt tester featured heated leather seats for both the front and rear. Getting yourself comfortable up front is quite easy with manual adjustments for the seat and a tilt-telescoping steering wheel. The back seat is slightly larger with more head and legroom, but it is best reserved for those under 5’7”. I happen to be 5’8” and found my head touching the roof.
Chevrolet has improved the Volt’s various bits of tech. The driver faces an eight-inch color screen that provides basic details such as battery charge, fuel gauge, and trip computer. You can customize the layout with various themes and efficiency gauges to coach you into being a more efficient driver. Another eight-inch screen resides in the center stack with the latest version of Chevrolet MyLink. The system seems to be getting better in terms of performance and reliability.
The big news for 2016 is the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to MyLink. We tried out CarPlay and it was simple to setup: Plug in a compatible iPhone into the USB input and hit the CarPlay button, and you’ll be greeted with a screen that is similar to your iPhone’s home screen. You’ll have access to various things such as Siri, Apple Maps, your music, and other applications such as Audible and Spotify. Using CarPlay is very easy since it is like using an iPhone but with a larger screen. There are still some issues that need to be ironed out with CarPlay such as various applications freezing or not responding to various commands. We also found that the MyLink wouldn’t recognize our phone when plugged in. After restarting the Volt, the system would recognize it.
The Volt’s powertrain has seen some major changes for the second-generation model. A set of electric motors produces 111 kW (about 149 horsepower) and 294 pound-feet for torque. A larger 18.4 kWh Lithium-Ion battery pack helps boost overall electric range. Finishing off the powertrain is a new 1.5L DOHC four-cylinder generator producing 101 horsepower. The improvements in the powertrain boost overall electric range from 35 to 53 miles and overall range stands at 420 miles.
Pulling away from a stop, the Volt feels spritely as it gets up to speed at a surprising rate. This is due to the torque being available at zero rpm. Around town, the Volt zips around with only the gentle hum of the electric motor entering the cabin. Once the battery is depleted, the gas generator will kick on. The transition is seamless and the generator stays quiet for the most part. However, if you push the accelerator into the floor, the generator will make a lot of noise.
Like the previous Volt, the 2016 model offers a set of different driving modes that changes how the powertrain behaves.
- Normal: Powertrain runs on electric power until the battery is depleted, then the gas generator kicks on.
- Sport: Improves throttle response.
- Mountain: Turns on the generator to provide battery charging when driving through mountainous or steep terrain.
- Hold: This mode preserves the battery charge by having the gas generator provide power for the electric motor. For when you are driving on the freeway and know you'll want to save your battery power for city driving later
One other trick the 2016 Volt has up its sleeve is the Regen on Demand system. First used on the Cadillac ELR, the system uses a paddle behind the steering wheel allows a driver to control how much energy is being regenerated when driving via the electric motors. Think of Regen on Demand as putting the vehicle into a lower gear; the electric motors act as an engine brake to slow the vehicle down and recapture energy to charge the battery.
In terms of range, we were able to go between 47 to 51 miles on a full charge. EPA fuel economy estimates say the 2016 Chevrolet Volt will return 106 MPGe when running on electric power only, and 42 MPG when gas generator kicks on. Our averages for the week landed around 112 MPGe and 43 MPG.
Chevrolet says it will take about 4.5 hours to recharge a depleted battery when plugged into a 240V charger. When plugged into a 120V outlet, time increases about 13 hours. We found the 13 hours estimate to be right on the money as that is how long it took for our test Volt to fully recharge. When half of the battery charge was depleted, we found the charging time to be around 6 to 7 hours.
In terms of ride, the 2016 Volt retains the smooth ride of the first-generation model. Bumps and other imperfections are ironed out to provide a comfortable ride. More impressive is how little outside noise comes into the cabin. When running on just electric power, very little wind and road noise comes inside. For handling, the Volt doesn’t embarrass itself. There isn’t any sign of body lean and the vehicle is able to change direction quickly. Steering feels responsive and heavy. No, the Volt would be replacing a sports car anytime soon. But compared to other plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, the Volt has to be one of the better driving models.
Pricing for the Volt starts at $33,995 for the base LT and $37,820 for the up-level Premier. Our Premier tester featured a pricetag of $40,225 with two safety packages, navigation, and the Kinetic blue paint. For our money, the Premier is the way to go as it is the only trim that you can get blind-spot warning and lane change alert, both necessary features due to the Volt’s poor rear visibility. I wish these features were standard on the Premier and optional on the LT.
In 2016, electric vehicles are still seen as a bit of novelty. Despite the number of improvements made in terms of batteries and infrastructure, there is still the issue of range. This is where the Volt stands on its own as it provides a fallback option. Use up all of the battery? No problem as the generator will kick and get you to your destination where you can plug in. Plus the changes made by Chevrolet not only make the Volt somewhat more useable and efficient, but it also looks quite handsome. There are some niggling issues that we hope get addressed in the near future.
If you’re intrigued but don’t want to fully jump into the electric vehicle landscape, then the 2016 Chevrolet Volt is an excellent place to start at.
Cheers: Improved electric only range, design that stands out in a good way, clever bits of powertrain tech.
Jeers: Cheap materials are still here, MyLink still has some issues to work out, blind spot monitoring and lane change alert is optional on the Premier and not available on the LT (how does this make sense?!)
Disclaimer: Chevrolet Provided the Volt, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Engine: Voltec Electric Drive Unit, 1.5L Four-Cylinder (Range Extender)
Driveline: Electric Transaxle, Front-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 149
Torque @ RPM: 294 @ 0
Fuel Economy: EV/Gas Only - 106 MPGe/42
Curb Weight: 3,543 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Detroit, MI
Base Price: $37,520
As Tested Price: $40,225 (Includes $825.00 Destination Charge)
Chevrolet MyLink Radio w/ Navigation - $495.00
Driver Confidence 1 Package - $495.00
Driver Confidence 2 Package - $495.00
Kinetic Blue Metallic - $395.00