American talk-show legend Jay Leno is an avid car collector. A few years ago, he told Top Gear’s James May: “This car might be the one that will save our beloved gas-powered cars.” He was talking about the Honda FCX Clarity.
I had similar thoughts during my week behind the wheel of the fully redesigned 2016 Chevy Volt. I love old cars. Sure, they’re not perfect, but they have character. They excite the senses and stir the soul. However, I too realize that we will have to get rid of our oil dependence at some point.
In the meantime, the auto industry is coming up with alternative solutions. One of the most popular so far has been the Volt, which is now entering its second generation. Every drop of fuel it saves pushes back the day when global oil supplies run completely dry. With that in mind, I’m glad the Volt exists because it allows us to enjoy our gas-guzzling sports cars that much longer.
What’s new with the Chevy Volt?
For 2016, the Volt gets a sleek new design that’s more attractive than the outgoing model’s. It also looks more like a conventional sedan now, even though the rear hatch is still there, which means it no longer sticks out like a sore thumb when driving around town (don’t you hate it when a green car tries too hard to be cool and different?).
Fortunately, the improvements to the Chevy Volt aren’t just cosmetic. Engineers reduced the weight by 108 kilograms by using lighter motors and dropping the number of battery cells from 288 to 192. Speaking of which, battery capacity was increased to 18.4 kWh to provide greater EV range — up from 64 to 80 kilometres.
Additionally, the old 1.4L gasoline engine/generator was replaced by a 1.5L unit with direct injection that runs on regular gas. Meanwhile, the revised braking system is more efficient, and chassis reinforcements help make the ride quieter.
The 2016 Chevy Volt isn’t perfect, of course. Rearward visibility is still poor, and despite what the three rear seat belts suggest, I still wouldn’t recommend anyone sitting in the middle of the bench. Furthermore, the reverse-angle windshield wipers make an awful lot of noise when they’re too dry. As for cabin access, all I will say is that there are more convenient options for those who want a family vehicle.
The Volt as a daily driver
While I prefer classic cars, the ultra-modern 2016 Chevy Volt did win me over. It is unique in its own right, but it handles like an ordinary compact sedan and that’s probably the biggest takeaway from my test drive. Other than the car’s silent operation in EV mode, I always felt safe, comfortable, and at ease behind the wheel.
Hybrids and electric cars not named Tesla have been pretty uninspiring to drive up to this point, but the stiff chassis of the new Volt appeases the mind, while the firm suspension makes driving more exciting than you think. I noticed some vagueness in the steering, but the truth is there are worse cases in the segment.
The 2016 Chevy Volt properly uses its electric drive system to deliver brisk acceleration in the city. One gentle jab at the throttle and you’re going faster than anticipated. Moreover, braking performance is impressive, especially when you hit the Regen on Demand paddle on the left side of the steering wheel to force energy recuperation. At highway speeds, the car remains very stable thanks to a lower-than-average centre of gravity, although on a few occasions I felt a certain hesitation from the powertrain. It didn’t happen too often, so hopefully this is just a trivial issue.
The beauty of having an on-board generator is that you can’t become stranded due to an empty battery. Just before the latter goes out of juice to feed the two electric motors, the gasoline engine kicks in to recharge the battery and extend your driving range. At some point you do have to stop at the gas station, but most EV drivers have grown accustomed to calculating their trips to stay in full electric mode as long as possible, sometimes for several days (provided they plug in their car at home or at work).
Things get tricky when temperatures drop below zero Celsius, however. Even after charging the battery completely, I couldn’t get more than 56 kilometres of EV range, which is far from the 80 kilometres announced by GM. You’d better have a heated garage or else pray for warmer days to return quickly.
My Volt verdict
Five days of driving the 2016 Chevy Volt left me pretty impressed. I averaged 5.1L/100km — remember, my maximum estimated EV range was only 56 kilometres.
The Volt now wants to be considered a mainstream compact car, like the Civic and Elantra, but with a starting price of $39,590 (not counting freight and delivery charges, plus any number of options you want to tack on), that seems a bit unrealistic, even with a provincial tax incentive of up to $8,000.
Having said that, there is no better compromise at the moment if you’re looking for an alternative mobility solution. And don’t forget that the more Volts there are on the road, the longer we’ll be able to keep our precious, fuel-thirsty cars.