2016 Chevrolet Volt HatchbackPosted on January 18th, 2016
No range anxiety here
By Nina Russin
The Chevrolet Volt offers buyers who want an electric car but don’t want to be limited by driving range a more practical option. The second-generation car enables drivers to travel up to 54 miles between plug-ins: enough for the average commute. A complete recharge takes about 4-1/2 hours on 220 volt current: 13 hours using 120 volt.
If the owner fails to recharge or needs to take an extended road trip, a traditional gasoline engine that takes over when the battery runs low extends that range to about 420 miles.
Does the Volt have any advantages over gasoline-electric hybrids that today boast 50 mile-per-gallon fuel economy’ The answer is ‘Yes’ for the average driver who uses his or her car to drive to-and-from work during the week, with longer trips on the weekend.
While plug-in hybrids enable drivers to go limited distances without using the gasoline engines, the Volt goes further. For example, the Ford C-Max Energi’s pure electric range of 20 miles came close to the original Volt, but can’t compete with the second-generation car.
In addition to adding about thirty percent more range in pure electric mode over the original model, the 2016 Volt offers better acceleration off the line, improved interior quiet, a new braking system with more linear performance and a smaller, simpler charging port.
Pricing for the upscale Premier model tested begins at $37,520 excluding the $825 destination charge. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, automatic climate control, ambient interior lighting, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, Bose premium audio system, satellite radio, OnStar with navigation and a 4G LTE hotspot.
Options on the test car include blind spot monitoring with lane departure alert, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, intelligent high beams, forward collision warning with low-speed auto stop and Chevrolet MyLink radio with navigation. Final MSRP is $39,830.
Test drive in Southern Arizona
This week I had the opportunity to test-drive the Volt in the Phoenix metropolitan area as well as through a section of the Gila River Indian Community south of town. I wanted to see how long the car would run on pure electric range in a real-world test and compare the car’s performance in pure-electric and gasoline modes.
Most of the mileage in pure electric mode was on surface streets in stop-and-go traffic. Total distance was about 45 miles: nine miles short of the OEM’s 54. To be fair, this involved several cold starts and heavy accessory use including the heater, front and rear defrosters, heated seats and heated steering wheel.
The transition between electric and gasoline modes is essentially invisible: a display on the gauge cluster lets the driver know when electric mode has ended and gasoline mode begun.
The only difference I could notice was in low-end torque. Because electric motors develop peak torque at very low speeds, acceleration off the line is better in electric mode than when the 1.5-liter gasoline engine takes over. I also noticed a slight hesitation when I passed slower vehicles on the highway as compared to electric mode.
A more refined car, inside and out
There is a significant difference in build quality between the first and second-generation Volts. Inside and out, the 2016 model appears more finished and feels more solid, with a more premium, stylish interior and nicer exterior. Given its entry luxury price tag, this is big news.
Engineers used more high strength steel throughout the body to improve torsional rigidity and enhance response from the electric power steering system. The ZF steering gear is nicely tuned to the car, with plenty of assist at low speeds. There is a slight hesitation in on-center response at higher speeds but the driver by no means feels disconnected from the wheels.
The suspension consists of MacPherson struts in front with a torsion beam rear end. The compact torsion beam makes room for the Volt’s battery pack that runs front-to rear under the second-row seats. Since the Volt is a relatively small car the live rear axle doesn’t have a significant impact on ride comfort.
For most, the driving experience should be as intuitive as a traditional gasoline-powered car. After depressing the Power On button, graphics on the gauge cluster inform the driver that the car has booted up and is ready to go. A standard rearview camera projects a wide-angle view to the back of the car on the center stack screen when the driver shifts into reverse. Since the Volt has no exhaust note, a pedestrian safety signal warns people when the car is traveling at low speeds, such as through a parking lot.
The active safety features make a big difference on a car that makes no noise while in motion. If there is a downside to electric cars, it’s an increased risk of accidents due to distracted drivers in other vehicles. I found myself being hyper-aware of activity on the highway and had to make several evasive maneuvers due to drivers who tried to come into my lane without looking.
The fact that the Volt comes with a 4G hotspot is a stroke of brilliance. Down on the reservation, cell phone service is limited to one provider: unfortunately not mine. Had it not been for the car’s WiFi I would have had no service in a very remote area. None. Nada. Donut.
Standard OnStar enables the driver to contact a concierge service for turn-by-turn directions. It’s a great feature if one finds oneself lost and can’t pull over to the side of the road to program the navigation. OnStar also automatically notifies police and emergency medical personnel if the car is involved in a collision serious enough to deploy the airbags.
Due to the location of the battery pack, room in the car’s second-row seat is limited to two passengers. However, second row seats can fold flat to extend the cargo floor: a feature missing in some competitive products.
I found the infotainment controls easy to reach from both front seating positions and intuitive to operate. Manual front seat adjustments are also easy to use and the seats offer enough lower lumbar support for drives lasting over an hour.
The 2016 Chevrolet Volt comes with ten standard airbags, daytime running lamps, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, tire pressure monitoring, a rear vision camera, automatic on/off headlamps, front and rear park assist and a pedestrian safety signal.
The powertrain warranty includes complimentary roadside assistance, courtesy transportation and two complimentary scheduled maintenance visits. The all-new Volt is rolling into Chevrolet dealerships nationwide.
Like: An electric car that can live in the real world with over 400 miles of driving range due to its auxiliary gasoline engine.
Dislike: Pure electric driving range was significantly less during the test drive than the 54 miles advertised by the OEM.
Model: Volt Premier Hatchback
Base price: $37,520
As tested: $39,830
Zero-to-sixty: 8.4 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 42 mpg (gasoline engine only)