- 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.
2016 Chevrolet Volt
The 2016 Chevy Volt is sleeker, more angular, and more aggressive without any Prius or Leaf weirdness; inside, it's more conventional.
The new 2016 Chevrolet Volt has an angular and aggressive design, with a pronounced forward-leaning wedge shape and steep front and rear glass angles. A sharply incised side accent line reinforces the angularity, eliminating the old Volt’s slab-sided look.
The front sweeps back on either side from a pronounced center point that bisects the car, with the lights carried in the sweep back toward the base of the steeply angled windshield. The distinctive flat-silver blanking plates in the two-panel Chevy grille design carry a sort of circuit-diagram pattern, and tie the new shape to the prior generation. At the rear, there’s now just a single glass panel in the equally steep tailgate, but the rear deck—while still high—is also less flat and plain than in the prior generation.
We like the new look; it’s fresh and less distinctive than the old Volt, making the new car more “normal”—very much what Chevrolet’s designers were aiming for. Non-Volt owners who saw the car reacted favorably, calling it “sporty” and “modern.” Our one concern is that many of the Volt’s styling cues look a great deal like those of the similarly sized Chevrolet Cruze compact four-door sedan. We think they’ll look awfully similar on the showroom floor, except the Cruze will start below $20,000 and the Volt starts above $33,000—a perceptual problem right there.
We also see a number of echoes of the Honda Civic sedan, particularly in the rear lights and roof pillars. That may not be a bad thing, but time will tell whether making the Volt more “normal”—less obviously a different kind of car—pays off with the larger public or puts off those who want to drive something distinctive.
Inside, we have nothing but praise for the new Volt’s interior. The old car’s gimmicky touch switches were deeply frustrating—even dedicated owners said so—and that’s all gone. There are still a few styling flourishes, but otherwise Chevy’s twin-cockpit design is executed in black with silver accents. The optional two-tone interiors add a touch of elegance, too.
Best of all, the switches, controls, and instruments are legible, intuitive, and easy to learn and use. The 8.0-inch touchscreen in the center of the dash is bright, crisp, and remarkably high-resolution. The old Volt’s graphics were a model for the segment in 2011, but they feel chaotic compared to the simplified and more elegant displays in the 2016 model.
2016 Chevrolet Volt
The 2016 Chevy Volt is faster, quieter, has more electric range, higher gas mileage, and better roadholding; it's great to drive.
The 2016 Chevrolet Volt will spend most of its life running only on battery power, and while the power of its electric drive remains at 111 kilowatts (149 horsepower), torque has increased to 294 pound-feet from the 273 lb-ft of the old Volt.
Combined with 200 fewer pounds and accelerator tuning that gives more power from 0 to 30 mph, the new Volt seems quicker than the old one and will keep up with almost any traffic if driven attentively.
The new Volt still feels like a heavy car for its size, but its steering feel and roadholding is livelier than the old car, which sometimes felt underdamped. The new Volt is hardly lithe, in the manner of a Mazda, say, but it’s a more enjoyable car to drive on twisty roads—and its quiet lack of fuss and smooth, consistent electric power delivery is soothing no matter what the road or traffic may be.
Battery capacity is now 18.4 kilowatt-hours, and the 2016 Volt uses a new generation of lithium-ion cells from LG Chem that offer greater energy density—and it uses one-third fewer of them too, 192 instead of 288.
The EPA rates its electric range at 53 miles, and its efficiency at 106 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent). Those are impressive ratings for any plug-in hybrid vehicle, and GM expects 90 percent of all Volt trips to be driven exclusively on battery energy from the grid. If the past is prologue, we might expect further capacity increases and greater ranges yet in 2018 and 2020, too.
Recharging the Volt’s larger battery completely now takes 4.5 hours, GM says, using a 240-Volt Level 2 charging station. Those owners who use only the 120-volt charging cable included with the car will find a full recharge takes nine to 12 hours, depending on a variety of factors that include outside temperature and the quality of the household circuit.
The new Volt’s onboard charger has a slightly higher power rate, 3.6 kilowatts rather than 3.3 kw, but Chevy chose not to use a 6.6-to-7.2-kw charger. Its reasoning is that most Volt owners recharge overnight—as shown by data from the first generation of Volts—so the higher rate isn’t needed, according to Chevrolet. No DC quick-charging is possible with the Volt either.
In the rare circumstances when the battery is entirely depleted and the 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine comes on, the car is considerably quieter. We drove a 2016 Volt almost 100 miles in that mode, and simply forgot that the engine was on in most cases. Unlike some other plug-in hybrids, the engine start lags maximum power demand by up to several seconds, and it starts at a low speed.
In virtually every case, we missed the startup unless we watched the power-flow diagram on the central screen. The engine is still audible under maximum acceleration, especially at higher speeds, but it’s more of a remote hum than the higher-pitched howl delivered by the old Volt. It’s also more fuel-efficient, with an EPA combined rating of 42 mpg in range-extended mode—up from the prior car’s 37 mpg.
Finally, the engineers have improved the blending of regenerative and friction brakes to the point where no transition is perceptible. The old Volt was pretty good in this regard—certainly far better than first efforts from other makers—but the new one is exemplary.
2016 Chevrolet Volt
Comfort & Quality
The 2016 Chevy Volt carries four adults, but the fifth seating position is for emergencies only.
The 2016 Chevrolet Volt is not only more powerful, but also quieter than the first-generation car, particularly under heavy acceleration. It’s comfortable inside, the dashboard and controls have dropped the gimmicky high-tech approach of the old Volt.
The new Volt easily carried four people, and the front seats are well bolstered and proved comfortable after almost a full day of driving. The front compartment also feels less confined than the previous model because the window line drops more toward the front, reducing the “sitting in a bucket” feel for front-seat occupants. The window line angles up toward the rear, however, making the rear seats feel a little tight even though they offer adequate (if not superb) head room and leg room.
The fifth “seating position” (Chevy doesn’t call it a seat) in the rear, however, is strictly for limber riders willing to put up with some discomfort over short trips. Its occasional-use status is reinforced by its lack of a headrest, though that rider does get a shoulder harness. It’s fine for a lithe teenage soccer player, so in other words, don't stick your middle-aged business colleague there.
The interior design is rendered in high-quality materials, with soft-touch materials in most places that get touched by passengers and Chevy spared its use of hard plastic surfaces.
Chevy says it listened carefully to its first generation of Volt buyers, and made a number of changes in response to their needs. One of the more notable is a separate side compartment in the cargo bay of the 2016 car that holds the charging cord—meaning drivers no longer have empty it out and lift the load floor to reach the charging cord stowed underneath, as they did in earlier Volts.
The new Volt is smooth and quiet under electric power, the mode in which it’s likely to spend most of its miles. Almost all modern electric cars are better in this regard than their gasoline equivalents, but we heard almost no hum from the electric components. The aero engineers have also done a good job reducing wind noise, and the hard rubber compound of the low-rolling-resistance tires is only noisy on certain road surfaces—though the car is generally so quiet that you’ll be surprised how much tire noise you hear on coarse concrete highway sections.
But once the battery has been depleted and the engine switches on, it’s a far quieter vehicle inside than the last generation was. GM’s engineers put a great deal of effort into reducing engine noise, starting with the engine design itself, and the difference between old and new Volts under full acceleration is notable.
2016 Chevrolet Volt
The 2016 Chevy Volt hasn't yet been rated, but the last generation received top scores, so we expect the new one to do well.
Thus far, neither federal safety officials nor the IIHS have issued safety ratings for the 2016 Chevrolet Volt.
Its predecessor earned good ratings from 2011 through 2015, including an overall five-star rating from the NHTSA, and we would expect the new 2016 model to do the same.
All 2016 Volts come with 10 airbags and a rearview camera as standard equipment. In addition, optional safety equipment includes blind-spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist with lane-departure warning, forward collision alert, and automatic braking. There’s also an advanced parking assist function, which Chevy calls “semi-automatic parallel parking," which includes both front and rear assistance.
Outward vision—not a particularly strong point of the old Volt—is incrementally better in the 2016 model, but far from best in class. Chevy dropped the second vertical glass panel in the tailgate, so the rear-view mirror vision doesn’t show the road as close to the back of the car as it used to.
Over-the-shoulder vision is dismal, too, but at least Chevy opted to fit a high-end rearview camera as standard. It offers much better resolution and a crisper image on the 8.0-inch center display screen than we’ve seen in any other compact car. (We’ll find out if it’s easily blocked or distorted by rain and snow—as most of them are—when we have the car for a longer test.)
Finally, the old Volt’s notorious blind spot at the base of the windshield pillars has been reduced, but is still much larger than in other compact cars—Honda and Subaru are exemplary in that regard. Volt engineers explained that the steep angle of the windshield requires a larger structural support to withstand roof-crush tests.
2016 Chevrolet Volt
The 2016 Chevy Volt's main feature is its powertrain; it has Chevy's standard list of features and options, and still starts at over $30,000.
The new 2016 Volt comes with Apple CarPlay built into its home screen, allowing drivers and passengers to pair iOS devices and use a familiar Apple interface. Asked if and when Android Auto might follow, Chevrolet product executives demurred—but we get the feeling it’ll be there in a year or two.
Every 2016 Volt comes standard with automatic climate control, keyless ignition, OnStar 4G LTE with a three-year subscription, a built-in wi-fi hot spot (including an initial trial data package of three months or 3 GB of data), and Siri Eyes Free and text-message alerts.
Cloth seats are standard, but heated front seats are optional. Leather seats are available as an option too, as is a very handsome two-tone interior treatment. A navigation package is optional, as is a Bose premium audio system. Chevy has chosen not to offer a sunroof as an option.
Packaging starts at the base, LT trim, which provides a six-speaker audio system with AUX jack; leather-wrapped steering wheel; rearview camera; LED headlamps; 17-inch, 5-spoke wheels; and 8-inch touchscreen.
The next step up, the Premier trim, adds available active-safety packages such as blind-spot monitoring, forward collision alert and lane-keep assist; available leather seats; and standard automatic parking assist.
2016 Chevrolet Volt
With a rated electric range of 53 miles, and 42 mpg combined when running on gasoline, the 2016 Chevy Volt is the best of both worlds.
With 53 miles of electric range according to the EPA, the 2016 Chevrolet Volt surpasses every other plug-in hybrid on the market. (The one exception is the range-extended BMW i3 REx, something of a special case because its small two-cylinder engine offers less range than its 73-mile battery and occasionally can’t deliver the required power under very high demand).
Drivers love all-electric travel, and will go to remarkable lengths to avoid having plug-in hybrids turn on their engines, so the all-electric range rating is becoming a competitive point among cars with batteries and engines.
GM says 90 percent of trips in the new Volt will be made without turning on the engine, using battery capacity exclusively derived from charging. That makes the Volt essentially an electric car that occasionally turns on its engine.
Moreover, the new Volt’s efficiency rating of 106 MPGe—up from the old car’s 98 MPGe—approaches that of some battery-electric vehicles. In our view, it offers the best of both worlds: almost all-electric transportation, but without the worry of battery depletion. On gas alone, the Volt is rated at 42 mpg combined, according to the EPA.
As such, it rates our highest score of 10 on The Car Connection's Green rating.