Four years after its launch, the 2014 Chevy Volt is less an oddity on the road than it was at first--especially in regions where plug-in electric cars are most populous (hint: think California). The production car doesn't look much like the original 2007 concept car, but like the Toyota Prius, it's now something of an iconic shape in its own right.
The compact Volt, a five-door hatchback with a low roof, has a high cowl and short windows. The narrow glass openings are visually made to appear taller using glossy black trim panels on the doors just below the windows, giving the impression of larger windows--especially on lighter-colored cars. Still, the Volt is chunky and somewhat slab-sided in a way that neither the battery-electric Nissan Leaf nor the well-known Toyota Prius hybrid are. It's neither good nor bad, just not quite as composed as those cars.
Like the Prius, the Volt has a vertical second glass panel in its long, high tailgate, to improve rear visibility. Its two-section Chevy grille up front is actually a pair of textured silver blanking plates, but they clearly identify the electric car as a Chevrolet. The Spark EV battery-electric car uses exactly the same approach, making the two cars a family.
Last year, Chevy began painting the liftgate and roof panel in body color, rather than the glossy black of the first two model years. That change makes the Volt a bit less distinctive, in our eyes, but the range of available paint colors has expanded over the years, and Chevy has also added new alloy wheel options as well.
Inside, the Volt is rather more stylish. As launched in 2010, it was often shown with a glossy white plastic dashboard, looking like nothing so much as consumer electronics from Apple. That's just one of several different interior trims, which can be mixed and matched with graphic panels and a variety of upholstery options in a very un-Chevy-like way. The standard cloth upholstery can be replaced by leather, complete with suede inserts, in a number of different colors.
The front seats stick with the classic Chevy "twin cockpit" approach, which works well with the large center display screen. A set of capacitive touch switches below that take some getting used to, but match the Volt's "electric future of transportation" vibe neatly. Even after four years, no one has quite matched the clarity and intuitive nature of the Volt's graphic displays of vehicle information (also used in almost identical form on the Spark EV). Ford's hybrids and plug-in hybrids come close, but Chevy's are just that much better.