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2016 Chevrolet Volt First Drive

Bigger battery bliss By ,

San Francisco, CA. What's more important than simply having a good idea? Following it through. 

When Chevrolet first debuted the production Volt following the depths of bankruptcy reorganization and financial crisis in 2010, there were some who labelled it a cynical play to appease those holding the purse strings of a government bailout - money that GM desperately needed to secure its future as an automaker. And yet, when the Volt arrived in dealerships it quickly became clear that it was more than just a rolling showcase for green technology: here was a fully-formed automobile with a legitimate claim to meeting the needs of a wide variety of potential customers, eco-conscious or not.

The 2016 Chevrolet Volt proves that the first-generation car's fundamentals - an electric propulsion system combined with a gas-powered range extender - were solid to the point of demanding further refinement. Never a novelty, and not built merely to satisfy the regulatory requirements of a handful of particularly pernicious governmental agencies, the Volt's status as a real-world alternative to pure EVs has been cemented with Chevrolet's latest effort.

More Of The Same, But Different
The San Francisco Bay area was a natural spot for me to sample the 2016 Volt's various charms. Once the heart of enemy territory for General Motors, the Volt is now the strongest-selling Chevrolet in this microcosm of California, and I set out into the hills surrounding Sausalito and on down Highway 1 secure in the knowledge that locals would welcome me with chants of 'one of us, one of us.'

The redesigned Volt is packed with new technologies, but the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. For example: despite not sharing a single component with its predecessor, the Volt maintains its dual-motor electric setup, one which now weighs about 45 kilos less than it did the year before. The original Volt's four-cylinder gasoline engine (which acts primarily as a generator) has been up-sized to 1.5-liters and given direct fuel injection. And yet, the car's 149 total system horsepower remain constant, with only a slight boost in torque (to 294 lb-ft) impacting acceleration.

You have to dig into the battery pack to really find the 2016 Chevrolet Volt's most quantifiable improvement, and that's an electric-only range that's been extended to 85 kilometres.  This represents a sizable jump over the roughly 56 km's you could squeeze out of a full charge in the first-gen car (total range for the car on a full tank of fuel checks in at about 670 kms). This has been made possible by advances in the car's energy storage system that see the battery offering fewer, but larger cells, increasing its overall capacity by 20 percent while also reducing its weight.

Welcome To The Family
More apparent is the Volt's its new first impression. A conversation with one of the car's designers revealed to me that it was felt the original hatchback's lines were more 'product-oriented' (read: 'this is an electric car') than derived from the Chevrolet family tree. 

For 2016 the Volt has been brought back into the fold by way of new sheet metal that places it comfortably beside other models like the Impala and the Malibu in the Chevrolet showroom. In fact, aside from the look-at-me engraving on the Volt's chrome grille, you'd be hard-pressed to immediately peg it as an electric vehicle. Eco-cognoscenti will still give you the nod from the sidewalk as they padlock their e-bikes, but more importantly those seeking a pleasantly styled daily driver with above-average efficiency will be easily won over.

The effect continues inside the Volt, where a fairly corporate dashboard treatment based around the MyLink infotainment system only betrays the car's special status by way of its fully digital gauge cluster. There's attractive leather trim and upholstery if you'd like to dress up the Chevrolet's plastics, and the automaker has even swapped the distinct 2+2 seating setup of the older Volt in favour of a padded hump in the middle of the rear bench that it claims can accommodate a full-size human being on short trips. 

I beg to differ, as the T-shaped battery pack still eliminates all center legroom and forces you to straddle the raised divider like you're riding a burro. Still, the vehicle has gained available rear seat heaters for the outboard positions and rear heating ducts that, absent in the original Volt, should warm up the attitudes of those riding out back. The car's broad and useful liftgate carries over for 2016, giving the Volt a leg-up on practicality when compared to a traditional sedan.

Longer, Not Stronger
Out on the road the Chevrolet Volt drives very much like its predecessor, which is to say respectable punch off the line combined with decent, although not as responsive passing power on the highway. GM claims a slight improvement in overall acceleration, but it's hard to detect, and I was more impressed by how quiet the Volt was at speed even with the range extender humming away under the hood. I managed a full 80 kilometres of electric driving during my test drive, a figure I tried to improve on by using the new regenerative braking paddle on the steering wheel (borrowed from the ELR), but to no avail. 

Still, that's better than I ever accomplished in the Volt of old, and overall the car returned 7 l/100 km in combined driving - not quite the 5.6 l/100 km-as-advertised, but considering the hilly terrain, no mean feat. Handling was compromised somewhat by the car's low rolling resistance tires and fairly limp electric steering, and yet the Volt never got out of hand even when dealing with tight switchbacks and unexpected drops in elevation.

Still The Most Reasonable Way To Go Electric
The 2016 Chevrolet Volt is a better all-around car than it was when it first hit the scene, and now that it includes a full complement of advanced safety gear combined with a mobile Internet hotspot and the updated MyLink system, it feels every inch the competitor to similarly-priced gas-only models. 

The presence of the Volt's gas-powered generator pushes it past other affordable EV options, in my opinion, as it allows you to enjoy battery-only operation during day-to-day driving while disconnecting from Canada's lacklustre charging infrastructure on longer trips. It also addresses a reality that strikes at the heart of those driving in our northern climes - the distinctly negative impact cold weather has on battery life. I'd wager that outside of the luxury set, the Chevrolet Volt might be the only true four-seasons electric vehicle on the market. 

The new 2016 model certainly proves that it's one of the best. The Volt LT starts at $38,390 – minus any available provincial rebates.

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2016 Chevrolet Volt
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