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- 53 miles of all-electric range
- More smooth, quiet power
- Rakish shape
- Controls, gauges easy to understand
- No range anxiety, ever
- Looks too much like a Cruze
- Fifth "seating position" minimal
- Charger only 3.6 kw
- Still hard to explain to newbies
- Volt marketing a weak spot
The new 2016 Chevy Volt improves on its predecessor in every way that counts, and its 53-mile range is unsurpassed among plug-in hybrids—meaning its biggest weak spot is GM’s ability to explain and market it.
The 2016 Chevrolet Volt is the second generation of Chevy's range-extended electric car. It's all-new this year, and it retains all of the Volt's strongest attributes while fixing most of the shortcomings of the previous model. It has more all-electric range—53 miles—and higher fuel efficiency, with an EPA rating of 42 mpg combined. And it's slightly less expensive than last year's Volt, though its starting price before incentives is still more than $30,000.
The styling is crisper, more rakish, and very much in concert with the rest of the current Chevrolet lineup. Inside, Chevy has dialed down its attempts to be high-tech, giving the new Volt an intuitive cockpit with more conventional controls. Its predecessor's irritating touch switches are gone, and there are knobs for things like audio tuning and heating.
On the road, it's quieter, smoother, and more powerful than its predecessor. Responding to owner requests, Chevy has given the Volt a fifth seat, though it's only for occasional use on short trips by lithe passengers who are on the small side. And that 53 miles of range is realistic, based on our two days of test-driving a very early production model around the San Francisco Bay Area.
The company hopes, in fact, that drivers of the new 2016 Volt will be able to make fully 90 percent of all their trips on electricity alone. When the range-extending engine does switch on, though, the new Volt is much quieter and less strained even under full power, maintaining the smooth, silent feeling of electric drive even as the engine generates power to drive the car.
From the outside, the 2016 Chevy Volt is visually lower and much tauter than its predecessor. It's still a five-door hatchback, but its proportions are visually quite different, with a much lower cowl and sculpting on the doors eliminating the slab-sided look of its predecessor. The front of the car comes to a point and wraps back around the corners, with a rising window line and a tail designed so that it appears from some angles like a very sleek, wedgy sedan.
In profile, the Volt has some similarities to the current Honda Civic sedan, another form that uses a steeply raked windshield and rear window. There are echoes of some other cars, too: a touch of Acura in the pointed nose, some older Subaru Legacy sedan in the curve of the taillights. The textured silver blanking plate up front that replaces a conventional grille, along with a black "Volt" belt line spear on the front fender tie the 2016 model firmly to its lineage.
Inside, the new Volt retains the central display screen and instrument-cluster display of the previous Volt, but the glossy plastic console with capacitive touch switches is gone. They're replaced by more conventional, intuitive knobs for the heating and air conditioning that are much closer to standard Chevrolet interior hardware.
The seats remain fairly low to the ground, and the two rear outboard seats still take the form of individual buckets. But there is a fifth seating position, complete with seat belt, though no head rest—it's not mandatory, according to GM engineers. To call it a seat would be a stretch; it's basically cushioned padding over the battery pack, and the wide battery tunnel requires the fifth occupant's legs to splay into the footwells of the outboard passengers. It is, technically, possible to fit three adult males in the back seat if the center rider is slim. But none of the three will be happy, and Chevy stresses that the fifth position is just for occasional use. Heated seats, both front and rear, and a heated steering wheel are available.
Not only is the 2016 Volt's body all-new, it rides on a new generation of GM's compact-car architecture. This is the same platform used by the newest Chevrolet Cruze and a whole variety of other compact vehicles, but it's heavily adapted to accommodate the Volt's T-shaped battery pack.
That battery uses just 192 lithium-ion cells, down from 288 in past Volts, with each cell holding more energy. Total battery capacity is 18.4 kilowatt-hours, or about 8 percent more than the 2015 battery.
The range extender is a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine from GM's latest global family of three- and four-cylinder engines. It delivers 101 horsepower at 5,600 rpm, and importantly, it runs on regular (87-octane) gasoline. For best fuel economy, its combustion process has been modeled to simulate the ultra-efficient Atkinson Cycle under some circumstances.
When the Volt's battery pack has been depleted, the engine generates electricity by turning one of the two motor-generators to flow electricity to the battery pack. Total output to the wheels between the two motors is 111 kilowatts (149 hp) and a remarkable 294 lb-ft of torque, and the generator can recharge the battery at up to 45 kw. An 8.9-gallon fuel tank and the larger battery give a rated range of 430 miles, substantially higher than the last Volt's 340 or so miles.
The engine can clutch in to assist the electric motors in powering the front wheels directly if that's most efficient. The new Volt system also allows both motors to power the front wheels together, or one motor to drive the car while the other recharges the battery, depending on which combinations are most efficient at delivering the power requested while using the least energy. Altogether, the new Volt is rated at 42 miles per gallon in range-extending mode, and 106 MPGe when operating on battery power alone.
But the mechanics underneath can be transparent to Volt occupants, who will feel only the smooth and relatively quiet flow of electric drive. There are no fixed gear ratios, and Chevy says one of the main goals of using a more powerful engine was to let it operate at lower, and hence quieter, speeds more of the time. Especially when it's delivering maximum output, Volt engineers said, the 2016 Volt engine is far quieter than the previous range extender—and our road tests confirmed that.
The new Volt weighs 3,540 pounds, roughly 200 pounds lighter than its predecessor. Lighter weight and more power help cut the 0-to-60-mph acceleration time to around 8 seconds from about 9 seconds previously.