Being different can be fun, novel even, but more often than not, the intrigue dies out. If anything, being at odds with the norm will work against you in the end. The first Volt concept, launched in 1868 (I’m exaggerating if only slightly), struck a chord with everyone’s sensibilities: a cool, futuristic-looking, unique concept with far-out technology. Finally, it arrived in showrooms as a 2011 model and, well, yeah.
GM can be proud that a little over 100,000 Volts have been sold worldwide, but remember that Nissan LEAF thing? Over 200,000 of these funky EV bugs were sold in the same period of time. If you think about it, these numbers are at odds with what should have been. The Volt has a built-in range extender and thus can travel much farther without ever stopping. Yet, the gasoline-free LEAF proves far more popular.
While the Nissan is weird and will remain that way, GM’s now going to try its hand at making the Volt much more appealing to the masses by having it blend in amongst other cars in a parking lot. That’s not all they’ve done, but it’s the best thing they’ve done for the Volt.
Less wedge, more normal
Although aerodynamic, the old Volt was far too simple design-wise. Toyota noticed the same thing with their 2nd and 3rd-generation Prius, but the 4th-round, mega-popular hybrid’s now waaayyy out there. GM has kept its cool and used styling cues from its Cruze and Malibu stable mates and has done well.
The wedged shape is now less pronounced, and there are loads of curvy creases in the body panels. The roofline has character, as do the headlamps and taillamps. Heck, the new 2016 Chevy Volt looks like a real car as opposed to one whose budget has gone to technology over anything else.
The Volt’s cabin is also a vast improvement over the outgoing model. Attention to detail was given to the new car compared to the previous’ kitsch overdone cheesy plastic mess ― no, I did not like it. This time around, the dashboard is functional and pleasant to use. The gauges are configurable, large and clear, and I like all the available connected technology, especially Apple’s CarPlay and integrated Wi-Fi.
The centre console offers up some storage space that does not encroach on critical passenger space, and it is perfect for phones, sunglasses and the like. The 2016 Volt remains a 4-seater, although GM’s literature specifies five. The poor soul that will be stuck in the middle of the rear bench will be bow-legged after a 15-minute drive. The trunk is spacious and its hatchback configuration allows for perfect access.
To go along with the new shell and smart interior, the latest Volt also gets help where it really counts. The 2016 iteration sports an 18.4kWh lithium-ion rechargeable Energy Storage System, up from a 16.5kWh unit for improved range. In fact, on paper, maximum EV range climbs from 61 km to 85 km. Output numbers are 149 horsepower and 294 lb-ft of torque.
Just like I never bested a range of about 45 km with the previous Volt, I found that I could not get more than 63 km with the new car, and this despite a full charge (at 110V) over a 14-hour period. During my weeklong test, temperatures did not plummet to -15 degrees Celsius nor was there much (if any) snow on the road. To be honest, I was not disappointed with the result. If I was lucky enough to grab a spot with a plug at the office parking lot, the gas engine never needed to turn on, unless…
All or nothing
The 2016 Chevy Volt is a brilliant car. My AJAC crew agrees with me: It has won the Green Car of the Year award. The Volt is exceptional… as long as the range extender does not go online. With the heat on or with the occasional limited recharge, the indicated average fuel consumption hovered in the 8L/100km range, or the equivalent of a gently driven midsize sedan. This is not really an issue, however, only something you should know if you’re in the market for a Volt.
When the new 1.5L 4-cylinder range-extending engine comes to life, the noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) it produces are well camouflaged ― a great improvement over the previous Volt.
On the subject of sedans, the 2016 Chevy Volt drives like your average family car, or nearly. For comparison, the base 2016 Malibu L tips the scales at 1,400 kg (3,080 lbs), while the Malibu Hybrid reaches 1,568 kg (3,450 lbs). The Volt weighs in at 1,607 kg (3,535 lbs), but the suspension is tuned to somewhat limit body roll all the while allowing some wiggle room for handling. The electric steering is sharp enough but devoid of feel. I wouldn’t expect anything else from this car.
Brakes on EVs are generally fantastic, and I use the term “brakes” loosely. Regenerative braking is key to help maximize the range along the way, and in the Volt’s case, there are three options. The conventional pedal governs the 4-wheel discs. Option number two is to set the shifter into “L” and maximize regeneration every time the throttle is released. In my experience, this is the best alternative because applying pressure on the brake pedal is often not necessary. Option number three is to use the Regen on Demand paddle located behind the steering wheel on the left-hand side, which intensely slows the car down, almost to a full stop.
As an EV, the Chevy Volt is typically quick off the line with loads of instant torque. The lighter overall weight along with the new two-motor drive unit allows for stronger acceleration in the city, but it changes little at speeds above 80 km/h. That is not to say that the Volt is sluggish, not even close.
The new, more rigid body structure plays a pivotal role in the quieter and sounder ride. The 2016 Volt is more normal than ever.
Plug me in
The plug-in EV game is getting tougher. GM and Nissan (and a few other makes) are ahead in the scoring, but the competition evolves at such an immense rate that both could be eclipsed in the year ahead.
As far as I’m concerned, the upcoming 2017 Chevy Bolt is going to cast a massive shadow over the new Volt. In fact, if I was in the market, I’d wait for it before considering the Volt, the LEAF, or any other deemed affordable EV.