The redesigned 2016 Chevy Volt doesn’t drive as sporty as it looks, but just about everything else about it has been improved.
Now in its second generation, this extended-range electric car can be driven about 15 miles farther on a charge. Its motor and engine (generator) are more efficient, and the whole car is lighter and quicker.
The car is much faster now, and it’s styled to look less like the owner is waving a green flag, just as it should be. Some day soon, the levels of electrification that are layered into the Volt will be the baseline for all passenger cars. The electric drive system has increased to 18.4 kilowatts using 192 lithium-ion cells — 96 fewer cells than before, but lighter by 20 pounds — for 53 miles of battery range.
The 2016 Volt (which is still front-wheel drive) is bigger and is now technically a five-seater. Chevy added a fifth belt in the center rear position, but it’s a compromised seat that is more of a console. But go ahead and put the neighbor’s kid there.
Sizewise, the body is 3.3 inches longer on a wheelbase just 0.4-inch longer. The body width is up by 0.8-inch, but the roofline is just a shade lower.
It’s also a little more expensive, but it has more convenience features. Sold in two trim levels, pricing starts at $33,995 for the LT model and $38,345 for the Premier. Pricing includes the $825 freight charge. Standard equipment on the LT includes such conveniences as smart entry with push-button ignition, rearview camera, power-folding side mirrors, 60/40 folding back seat, 8-inch Chevy MyLink touch screen with Apple CarPlay, 4G Wi-Fi hot spot and six-speaker audio system
The new Volt drives pretty much like a good compact-class sedan with the added dimension of electric driving. For me, it was a game to stretch the range, which can be coaxed with the Regen on Demand braking feature. It allows the driver to bank more energy from regeneration.
It’s still a losing game of diminishing returns. After 53 miles, the 1.5-liter four-cylinder range-extending engine fires up almost seamlessly, and will provide another 360 or so miles at up to 42 mpg. The new engine runs on regular unleaded fuel, whereas last year’s 1.4-liter engine required premium.
Every time that switching-to-gasoline sequence occurred, I felt disappointment. It’s such an engaging driving experience on battery that it seems like cheating to use the engine. And the performance seems less lively and heavy with just the engine.
Drivability is OK. It accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds. It’s not quick, but it keeps the driver out of harm’s way and has enough pull to merge safely. The rear torsion-beam suspension is clunky, but its flat layout allows for flatter cargo space, though capacity stays the same at 10.6 cubic feet.
I’m also OK with 52 to 53 miles of EV range, but the charging time to top off the battery — using the onboard 120-volt household charging system — takes about 13 hours (at 12 amps) for a full charge. The optional 220-volt charger will do the job in 4.5 hours, which still seems long. Some owners will not need to pay for the faster charger if they plan their charging times well and are happy with 53 miles on electric.
The driver area has sporty styling, but there are major blind spots at the base of the side mirrors where they meet the long rake of the windshield pillars. The large iPad-like touch screen is expected to access audio, phone-navigation and car-charging information. There are simple-to-use buttons and dials for fan, temperature and vents.
The shift console is smartly arranged with cup holders, a phone slot and an e-bin for charging with two USBs and a 12-volt plug. There is usable storage space in the non-locking glove box; there is door storage and there are good-sized bottle holders. The sliding visors have non-lighted mirrors.
But there is still a lot of plastic that doesn’t give the impression of a $30,000 car.
As new as the Volt is, its viability could be hurt by one of its new family members. The Chevrolet Bolt EV, a small five-door with a range of 200 miles, is scheduled to go on sale at the end of the year.
The Volt is does not offer the driving experience; it offers the driving experience you want. Any new Volt owner will have to decide if there are enough feel-good features to make it worth $30,000.
Mark Maynard is online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage