The redesigned 2016 Chevrolet Volt’s 53 miles of all-electric range may grab the headlines, but its excellent torque and rewarding driving dynamics steal the show. With a new exterior that works a little harder at fitting in, Chevy’s second-generation Volt provides an environmentally conscious EV experience to those with short commutes and incessant range anxiety.
Even after spending a few minutes with the Chevrolet team the message rings loud and clear: The all-new 2016 Volt was designed to be a more efficient vehicle that simultaneously provides better acceleration and more range than the outgoing model. Sounds like a tall order, do less with more, but Chevy was up for the task and the 2016 Volt improves on the outgoing model in every area.
The 2016 Volt hatchback is available in the LT and Premier trim levels. It seats five and is powered by a new two-motor drive unit that is 12 percent more efficient and 100 pounds lighter than the previous power plant. A 1.5-liter four-cylinder “range extending” engine continues to provide power to the electric motors once the battery is depleted.
The all-new Volt attempts to keep the basic essence of the first-generation model while reimagining the fuel-efficient wedge with a more mainstream aesthetic. The result is a vehicle that looks more like the best-selling hybrid competitors, with a few ever-present Volt signature touches throughout. While I can certainly see the appeal of a Volt that doesn’t attract as much attention, I miss the original’s over-the-top personality. Thankfully, that spunky vibe isn’t all lost. The giant bowtie emblems and Volt badges remind you that this is indeed the same model that Chevy boldly brought to market in 2011.
The 2016 Volt has a level of fit and finish that sets it apart from the majority of subcompact and compact cars. The attention to detail, a unique sculpted grille and aggressive door angles remind you that you are looking at a car priced in the same ballpark as many entry-level premium sedans without the EV power plant.
The all-new 2016 Volt is a great example of how excellent quality, fit, finish and design can be underwhelming if hampered by limited practicality. The new interior is decidedly upscale. The seats are comfortable and look great. The Volt’s controls are easy to use and attractive. Chevy’s infotainment system, with its disproportionately large 8-inch screen, looks great and works almost flawlessly. A second 8-inch screen in the instrument cluster can be configured to convey pertinent information to the driver.
My Volt Premier was trimmed out in the modern and inviting jet black and brandy color scheme. The leather-appointed seats are heated front and rear. The 2016 model has added one extra seat belt in the back, technically making the Volt a five-passenger vehicle. However, that middle seat is completely insufficient for even the smallest human being. Cargo space is equally tight at 10.6 cubic feet.
Cramped quarters are what detract from the overall appeal of the Volt’s interior. It is really nice, beautiful even. However, there simply isn’t enough space if you frequently have back-seat passengers.
Ironically, Chevy has essentially solved the affordable electric-vehicle dilemma with the Volt’s range-extending gasoline engine. Unfortunately, tiny cabin and cargo area means you will reluctantly use the Volt on a road trip if you need to take along more than one passenger and overnight luggage.
Unlike the majority of the Volt’s primary competitors, the little hybrid or “extended-range electric” vehicle is truly fun to drive. Offering well above average acceleration – some outlets have cited 0-to-60 mph times as low as 7.8 seconds – the Volt’s abundant torque amounts to plenty of tire-squealing fun. Handling is as crisp, as the Volt’s acceleration and braking is more than adequate considering the power and nature of the car. The Michelin Energy Saver tires are the primary handling weak spot, as they’re designed in favor of stellar fuel economy rather than curvy canyon cruising.
The Volt’s power plant consists of two electric motors that produce 149 horsepower and 294 pound-feet of torque. The new Voltec transmission is a bit of an engineering masterpiece, using three different clutches to achieve different torque-flow paths by interacting with the two electric motors and the range-extending 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The technology allows the new Volt to operate in five different drive modes, including two electric-only modes and three modes that employ both motors and the gas engine.
As great as the new Volt drives, the true benchmark of performance is the extended-range EV’s fuel economy. Perhaps the most interesting number is the estimated 53 miles of electric-only range from a full charge. Chevy guesses that most drivers will find that amount of range more than enough for the average day’s commute, meaning that the Volt could avoid using the gasoline engine indefinitely. When the gasoline engine kicks in, the Volt gets an EPA-estimated 42 mpg combined. I was able to drive about 45 miles on a full charge, with combined fuel economy that was closer to 37 mpg when the gas engine was in use.
The Chevrolet Volt is a technological leader, both under the hood and inside the cabin. Single-zone automatic climate control is standard. Power door locks and express-down power windows are included on all models, as well as keyless entry and remote start.
The Volt’s standard Chevrolet MyLink infotainment system includes an 8-inch color touch screen, six speakers, SiriusXM Radio, Bluetooth and two USB audio ports. Apple CarPlay is also included in all Volt models. An eight-speaker Bose premium audio system is standard on the Premier trim and available as an option on the base model. The nicely equipped Premier package also includes wireless smartphone charging, a heated steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and more.
Chevy’s OnStar telematics system provides guidance, automatic crash response, stolen vehicle assistance, roadside assistance, turn-by-turn navigation and more. The Volt is also equipped with a 4G LTE Internet connection and a built-in Wi-Fi hot spot. A three-month trial is included, after which a paid subscription service can be added.
The 2016 Chevy Volt is loaded up with 10 air bags, three-point safety belts and a rearview camera as standard equipment. Anti-lock brakes, stability control and traction control are included on all models.
The Volt also has an elaborate OnStar Basic Plan that focuses on safety by providing automatic crash response, crisis assist, roadside assistance and emergency services. The plan is included for the first five years of ownership.
Premier models are equipped with automatic park assist and a long list of optional safety technologies when you opt for the Driver Confidence packages. The Driver Confidence 1 package includes side blind zone alert with lane departure warning and rear cross traffic alert. The $495 Driver Confidence 2 package includes lane keeping assist, front automatic braking and forward collision alert.
The Volt’s biggest potential safety detractor is the vehicle’s overall visibility. Although improved over the previous model, the Volt’s greenhouse and seating angles limit just about every perspective while driving. It isn’t the worst vehicle by any means, but it leaves a lot to be desired when compared with comparable compact cars in the class.
The base 2016 Chevrolet Volt LT starts at $33,170. The base model offers plenty of standard features, including the excellent 8-inch infotainment system. Premier models start at $37,520.
Rating the Volt against the primary competitors is a bit of a chore considering the unique nature of the vehicle. If you keep your daily trips around 50 miles and charge it every night, the Volt is an entirely viable option, provided you don’t have a family with more than two children to cart around.
However, when you begin to examine the 2016 Volt within the context of bigger automotive picture, the appeal and value begin to lose a little of their luster. The 2016 Toyota Prius starts around $25,000, achieves similar gas mileage if you are driving more than 100 miles or so and offers far more utility, including a 27 cubic feet of cargo space. If you are willing to forgo the hybrid formula altogether, you can buy a fully-loaded 2016 Honda Civic Touring for $26,500. The new Civic includes just about every bell and whistle, comfortably seats five, and has a punchy turbocharged motor that is good for 174 horsepower and 31/42 mpg city/highway.
Some will rightfully argue that the 2016 Volt is the best performing hybrid on the market when it comes to driving dynamics. If you are set on the EV or hybrid concept and you like to drive, the 2016 Volt is probably your best choice if you plan on spending less than $50,000.
My top-trimmed Volt Premier retailed for $39,850 including the two Driver Confidence packages, a $495 navigation package (which I didn’t use because of the handy OnStar system), a $20 front license plate bracket and an $825 destination charge.
The 2016 Chevrolet Volt stretches the concept of the electric vehicle with a range-extending gas engine that provides a safety net against EV range anxiety. As much as we talk about the fuel economy, it is the Volt’s segment-best driving dynamics that truly set the little hatchback apart. Considering the Volt doesn’t burn a drop of gas for the first 50 miles or so, it packs a pretty serious performance punch.
If the previous Volt’s exterior styling was an issue, the new model’s sheet metal might help improve the EV’s appeal. Of course, for people like me the tamer exterior design seems to take away from the Volt’s unique personality.
The Volt is almost in a segment by itself and it garners a small, but enthusiastic following. If your situation is compatible with the Volt’s cramped quarters and limited cargo space, it will make for an almost ideal around-town car. The Volt is also a great second vehicle for families who normally require a thirsty SUV, but want to balance their environmental footprint when the whole gang doesn’t need to tag along.