Review: The 2016 Chevy Volt Is The Easy Way Into An Electric Car Lifestyle

Today, the electric car can’t count on people looking at ways to save money on fuel, therefore, the 2016 Chevy Volt finds itself needing to be a normal car that just happens to be electric.

Early adopters took to the previous Volt, sold for five years, but the mainstream public did not. And steep discounts with the promise of carpool lane access in certain jurisdictions were big reasons many were attracted to Chevy’s plug-in.

In 2016, the electric car is still something of a novelty for most of the world, so the Volt has become normal in the hopes of convincing more buyers it’s a car that just happens to be predominantly electric. And on that basis, it’s largely successful.

The future is now

OK, let’s get the looks thing out of the way: I like the way the new Volt looks because it looks like a car from 2016. The old Volt, while quirky and distinctive, gave off the aura of what people in 2003 thought the future would look like, and looks dated when parked next to the new one.

The profile is rather anonymous, somewhere between a last-generation Prius and a mainstream compact hatchback. But subtle details such as the grille and tasteful rear light clusters class it up over other recent Chevy designs like the Cruze and Malibu. Polarizing, the Volt is not. But the 2016 Toyota Prius is extremely polarizing, so Chevrolet probably erred on the side of caution with their green car – and it will likely pay dividends for them.

Several Volt owners I encountered during the week I had this car vehemently disagreed with me. They were seen and heard.



Familiarity breeds contentment

The notion that the Volt is different than your run-of-the-mill compact hatch vanishes further when you look around on the inside.

Whereas the old Volt had an interior that looked futuristic in the late 2000s, the 2016 model is mostly conventional. Typical GM switches abound, which isn’t derisive at all considering how good they feel on a lot of recent Chevrolets and Buicks. Plop down into the driver’s seat (and I do mean that, since the Volt sits lower than you’d expect) and you can quickly figure out ways to connect your phone or turn on the air conditioning – that’s not something to be taken for granted in every new EV. Only the LCD display for the gauges and the green glow that emanates from it really screams “future.”

In terms of packaging, the Volt is a noticeable improvement over the outgoing model, but is still compromised as far as cars of this size go. Cargo room is solid, but there’s a high liftover to get stuff in (and a particularly stupid cargo cover that looks like a beach towel). Space in the back is fine for two, provided they’re not much taller than six-feet. Legroom is modest, the middle passenger must straddle a pair of cupholders and headroom is tight. Yes, there are three seatbelts, but three adults in back is a no-go.

Most disappointing, however, is the quality of the interior. Everything is put together well enough, but the plastics are hardly anything special, even in this top Premier trim. Upper door panels are hard and your elbow reminds you of that. The leather feels more fake than some recent fake leather efforts. And where’s the power driver’s seat in a car that costs roughly $40,000?

None of this is offensive when you realize the Volt is just a compact car at its roots, but other compacts have noticeably upped the game in recent years. And in any case, the luxury of the Volt isn’t found in plush materials.

Unplugged

A photo posted by Zac Estrada (@zacestrada)” style=”font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 17px;”>Jul 8, 2015 at 12:49pm PDT

Zip, zap

You won’t care either way about the normalcy of the Volt once you’re on the move.

If you’ve never driven an electric car, it’s a different feeling, and I’m not talking about the Jetsons-era sound effects when you turn the thing on. Press the start button and the Volt moves confidently, mash the accelerator pedal down and your neighbors will assume you’re driving a V-series Cadillac. Even among electric cars, the Volt is strong and willing – and comfortable at highway-plus speeds. Which is fine, provided you’re comfortable with watching the charge level drop to the floor.

Once the 1.5-liter four-cylinder is generating the power going to the front wheels, it becomes much more like a typical compact hatchback. A planted, good-to-drive typical compact hatch. The Volt is super quiet and free of much wind and road noise, even at highway speeds when the generator is providing the propulsion. Some of that comes from its weight in excess of 3,500 lbs (+1590kg), porky for even a midsize sedan these days. But the Volt’s substantive feel makes it a confident road tripper, which I confirmed on a 500-mile round-trip from Monterey to Santa Barbara one weekend.

The most pleasant discovery from the trip was the fuel economy. The Volt easily averaged 40 mpg (5.9l/100km) after the electric charge ran out, meaning the EPA estimate of 42 mpg (5.6 l/100km) is certainly achievable with a few economy concessions. An 8.9-gallon fuel tank means fill-ups are cheap as hell these days, too.

There’s a genuine electric range of about 50 miles when driven modestly around town, a range that means you can do your daily commute without rushing to find a public charging station every day. That’s good, because charging with the 110-volt home charger that Chevy provides took at least 12 hours from empty.

Regardless, the Volt doesn’t sacrifice much in terms of driver comfort and usability for the sake of efficiency. Most electrified cars can’t say that yet.



Wait for what?

The 2016 Volt is the electric car for people who are unsure about electric cars. It’s an easy way into that world without giving up much about what makes cars so convenient today. Of all the cars I’ve spent a good amount of time with, the Volt stuck out as one of the few I’d happily spend my own money on. What’s stopping you from buying one today?

On a week where the national average for a gallon of regular unleaded is barely above $2, the Volt isn’t going to pencil out well. Most American buyers should qualify for a $7,500 tax credit from the federal government, while state incentives vary widely. In California, a 2016 Volt goes for as little as $24,000 right now, thanks to tax deals. The uplevel Premier model I drove with blind-spot monitoring and navigation stickered for $39,335 before incentives (the 2017 Volt goes on sale nationwide soon, for a few hundred dollars more). Without government assistance, the Volt is expensive as far as compact hatchbacks go – the similarly equipped Prius I drove was nearly $7,000 less expensive.

Then there’s that Tesla Model 3 that, you know, a few people are talking about. Fifty miles of range doesn’t sound like a lot compared to 215. But if you’ve never dipped your toes into the world of electric cars, it’s a lot easier to start with a car you get to fill up with gas once the battery is depleted, rather than relying on finding a fast charger on a long trip. The Volt eases your way into EV life without asking you to change much.

Think of it this way: lease a Volt today for three years, and put your name down for a Tesla Model 3 tomorrow.

Photos: Zac Estrada/Carscoops

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  • Benjamin Corcoran

    This vs. Model 3? Not much of a comparison as far as I’m concerned. If I’m going electric, I’m going 100%. I don’t want a car with a heavy internal combustion engine + 700 pounds of batteries. Also, since my wife and I aren’t paranoid about ‘man-made global warming’, the impetus for us to purchase the Model 3 was the car itself, not its lack of CO2 emissions. We are trying to avoid all the miscellaneous parts and systems that must work reliably together in an internal-combustion car for *years*. This reliability aspect is something GM has failed to master and excludes them from consideration as far as we’re concerned.

    • Time Will Tell

      The Tesla 3 is yet unproven as an automobile.

    • S3XY

      You do realize that the Model 3 isn’t out yet right? Nor will it be out to the general public until 2018 when mass production and public rollout begins.

      Its 2016. I hate cars that are strictly gasoline.

      So until then the Volt is the best car out there if you want the electric experience but cant afford a Tesla.

      I start out with 53 miles of EV range and have a 42 mile commute to work and back home. I can make it there and back and I still have electric range when I get home. I use absolutely no gas.

      I have 2873 miles on my Gen 2 Volt and only have used 8.4 gallons of gas. So I’ve driven roughly 250 miles using gasoline since January 24th.

      So I have driven 2600 on miles on PURE electric. No gas car comes close to the level of the Volt.

    • Smurf100

      This will be the big decision for the next few years.

      1. Chevy Volt and drive 100% electric in-town, and use gas on long trips (at 43 mpg)
      2. Battery EV (Like Tesla) and drive 100% electric in-town, and take your chances finding a charging spot on long trips and risk getting stranded.

      The Supercharger network is still insufficient. If you drive east from Phoenix, even on I-10, the next available charger is in Austin, TX.

      Also, if you want an affordable 200 mile EV this year and not in 2018 or 2019, Chevy will have the 200 mile Bolt at dealers late this year.

  • SgtBeavis

    While I think the styling of the Volt is a huge improvement over the old one, it still suffers from the same problem I had with the 1st gen. That problem is the original concept. The original concept was kinda “out there” in its styling. It was a car that demanded to be noticed. It was damn good looking. Know there were aerodynamic issues with that concept but there is nothing that is keeping Chevy from making a car that is as sexy as a Tesla.

    Chevy makes one STUNNING car that evokes passion in most that look at it. That car is the current Stingray. The Camaro is fairly close to that too, IMO. Why can’t that passion be brought to everything else. Even the styling of the SS is a snorefest. Folks like to call it a sleeper, I just call it boring. It doesn’t cost a damn dime more to make a car evoke passion.

    But I don’t want to knock Chevy too much here. They are certainly putting out good quality products and I never thought I would start drooling at the sight of any of their cars in the past. I just think Chevy should make the Vette their styling/passion standard with every other vehicle striving to be that good.

    • Andrewthecarguy

      hahaha
      This iteration looks like the previous Civic had an affair with the last Volt and this is the child no one is talking about.
      You are right: passionate design does not cost more…you just have to hire the right guys to design and sign off of fantastic styling.
      Imagine the underpinings of this stuffed into a Model 3 size/style vehicle.

      • SgtBeavis

        yea, the Civic comments are spot on.

    • S3XY

      This looks boring to you?

      http://i.imgur.com/2bxfjRx.jpg

  • CIVIC TAIL LIGHTS? NOT AS BAD AS THE NEW PRIUS.

  • 1138sw

    Isn’t the Volt essentially a Hybrid? Not an Electric? I mean yes you can run the car on pure electricity for awhile until you have to switch over to the ICE…which makes it a Hybrid right?

    Also doesn’t this car make it a transitional car like the Toyota Prius or any other Hybrid for that matter? So to be honest what separates this from other hybrid cars?

    • Deckard_Cain

      It is a plug-in hybrid. There’s already plenty of offer in that category from other manufacturers but I guess the Volt offers a big range?

    • Mind Synthetic

      No, volt is classified as all electric car due to one simple fact: gasoline engine does not drive the wheels, it is there to serve one purpose, generate electricity. this was the concept of the first generation volt, however 2nd gen is somewhat shady as at one point through the development life they had 2 versions, one being hybrid with petrol and electric motors driving the wheels and another like the first gen with a generator on board. can any one confirm if its a true hybrid now?

      • Andrewthecarguy

        “Once the 1.5-liter four-cylinder is generating the power going to the front wheels, it becomes much more like a typical compact hatchback.”
        So what does this part of the article convey to you?
        hybrid
        plug-in hybrid
        electric
        These are the categories and Volt = plug-in hybrid

        • gary4205

          The engine is NOT connected to any drive component. It is simply a generator, there to charge the batteries once they are depleted a certain amount.
          If you want a Chevy hybrid, go buy a Malibu, which looks good and has serious hybrid specs.

          • Paul Blair

            Not completely true. See reply to the post above.

      • Paul Blair

        There are not two versions. In both the Gen 1 and Gen 2 Volt, the engine does, at certain times, clutch directly to the drive train through the generator and provide direct torque to the wheels. The engine *cannot*, however, power the Volt alone. It can only assist the electric drive-train. This is done purely for efficiency purposes. GM could have easily programmed the car to only generate electricity with the engine, but it would have meant lower gas mileage while cruising at highway speeds. This direct-assist from the engine happens more often in the Gen 2 than the Gen 1. The Volt is a hybrid in that it uses two forms of propulsion, but due to the ability to drive 100% electric at full power and blend both engine power and electric power while in gas mode, it does not work like any other conventional hybrid.

      • Super Jeepin

        The gasoline engine does drive the wheels. More so in the 2016 model than the previous version. Someone from GM said it’s more efficient. I can find a source if you want.

  • Deckard_Cain

    This looks great excelpt for the fact that it only has 2 seats in the back.

    • James Denz

      It has five sets of seat belts so five can ride in a pinch.

      • Sébastien

        I had to recheck the photos, do they really expect someone in the center “seat” ?
        Someone with no legs, and comfortable butt.

  • S3XY

    This is the best car available on the planet if you cant afford a Tesla.

    • TheBelltower

      For me it was down to the Volt and the i3. The BMW drives much better, is much more advanced and feels like money well spent. I ended up with a geeky i3 with range extender as my around-town car. But the Volt would definitely be better for someone who puts a lot of miles on it every day and it’s their only car.

      • TheLeadFoot

        Is it much more advanced? My friend’s i3 is only getting 65 miles on a charge. The new Volt gets at least 53 and has the benefit of much longer range when using the generator. Seems like the Volt is at least as advanced all things considered. I will say the i3 FEELS more futuristic but the end result seems to be much more of a wash…

        • TheBelltower

          I only get about 70 miles before the ICE kicks on, and I do wish it had a longer range just for piece of mind. I’ve needed the intended range engine three times since December and only put gas in it twice ever, which is reasonable. The way the i3 is constructed is much more advanced than pretty much anything else on the market. The visible use of carbon fiber reinforced plastic for the body structure is very cool, and I am really happy that it’s RWD. The i3 makes pretty much everything else feel like a tractor or an economy car. This video is painfully boring, but what this guy finds from deconstructing the i3 is impressive… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDr4L6BzpP8

  • S3XY

    Here is my Stealth Volt, aka the Batmobile, or Voltmobile.

    http://i.imgur.com/0VDVRcK.jpg

    One of the coolest, most efficient and quickest cars on the road.

    • TheBelltower

      Very nice!

    • Paul Blair

      Nice. I have a 2014. I’m jealous.

    • Sébastien

      Looks cool indeed, but quickest… Really ?!

  • S3XY

    Still wish I would have gotten a white Volt over the black. I hate black. It gets so dirty and I wipe it every single day so its really annoying.

    And the Volt needs simple mods done to it to make it look even better, which I’ve done.

    And the Volt will smoke pretty much any car off the line. 0-30 2.6 seconds. Leaps off the line.

    Has plenty of high end power too. Very quick and efficient at the same time, Simply cannot be beat.

  • RobSez

    Please refrain from calling the Volt a electric car. It’s a plugin hybrid. Granted it’s probably the best bang-for-your-buck hybrid on the road, but calling it an EV only serves to further confuse a already clueless general public. The upcoming Chevy Bolt is an electric car and not to be confused with the Chevy Volt. If the Bolt lives up to it’s hype, it should give the Tesla model 3 a hard run for the money.

    Also, there is absolutely zero evidence gasoline prices have any effect on EV sales. Gasoline, no matter how cheap, won’t be cheaper than electricity unless the economy implodes. Some basic math tells me I would have to drive a car getting 38 mpg and paying $0.44/gallon for it to be as cheap to operate as my Nissan Leaf. Even then I would still have oil changes, radiator flushes, tuneups, transmission service & other maintenance I just don’t have with an EV.

    • TheBelltower

      Unlike the hybrids (as everyone understands “hybrids”) the Volt is an electric car… until it isn’t. So the Volt is kind of an oddity compared to other hybrids. I have an i3 with a range extender engine, which is similar to the Volts architecture, and I haven’t been to a gas station in two months. So there’s no hybrid-ing going on for me. Gas prices had no impact on my purchase of a $54k car. I love how it drives and I enjoy being able to “fuel up” at home. And as I assume with your Leaf, the lack of engine, transmission and all the other racket that cars generally make, the i3 is much more effortless to drive than my other conventional cars. So I find myself driving it almost all the time. I think the driving dynamics are winning a lot of people over to EVs, and not solely the efficiency.

      • RobSez

        The Volt is an electric with range extension that uses ICE power for propulsion when necessary. The i3 range extender never supplies traction power to the drive wheels. It is truly an EV with ICE backup. The Volt, at various times and under different conditions transfers ICE power directly to the wheels for traction to propel the car. I think this is where people get confused. If a vehicle uses ICE power to propel it directly it is either a true ICE vehicle or a hybrid an not a true electric car.

        • TheBelltower

          Yes. From what I have been told on my test drive and from looking online, the Volt ICE only comes on once the battery has been depleted. Even though it’s mechanically linked to the wheels, the operation is more like the i3 than the planetary gearing of the hybrid Prius or Fords. So it’s 100% EV until the ICE kicks in. And when it does use the gas engine, the operation is still different than what people have come to understand as hybrids. Technically it is a full EV/hybrid mutant that only acts as a hybrid some of the time, if ever. It’s hard to explain the nuances, but I think it’s why Volt owners love them so much.

          • That is, when the Volt is going on a steeper incline.

          • Sébastien

            “So it’s 100% EV until the ICE kicks in”
            …just like a Prius in EV mode 🙁

    • Stay tuned for the Audi A3 e-tron review. That’s a PHEV, the Volt definitely isn’t.

    • The Volt is very accurately called an Extended-Range Electric Vehicle (EREV); doesn’t get more clear & distinguishing than that.

      • RobSez

        EREVs use ICE power to generate power to/through the batteries to drive the electric motor which propels the car when the charge is low. The ICE never directly propels the vehicle. The Volt works like that most of the time. However, under certain conditions, the Volt ICE works in tandem with the electric motor to provide traction and sometimes only the ICE provides power to the wheels. This makes the Volt a PHEV although it acts as a EREV most of the time it’s a hybrid and certainly not a true EV.

    • VFanRJ

      Zero evidence that petrol prices affect EV sales? Other than EV sales tanking there is none at all. I’ve talked to literally dozens of people about EVs. The discussion always gravitates on petrol prices and recent interest has absolutely evaporates. We are still many years away from a double digit presence in new car sales.

      • RobSez

        EV sales have continued to slowly but steadily improve over time worldwide. Electric sales have only tanked in the U.S. and most analysts seem to believe that’s because 2nd generation EVs are only months away.

        I’ve personally never advocated buying EVs. The technology is constantly evolving. Leasing makes the most sense and keeps current with changes.

        People making buying decisions against EVs based on volatile gas prices can’t do math. Gas bottomed out in my neighborhood at $1.02/gal. I think the current price is something like $2.17-$2.19 per gallon. My electricity with taxes, etc. is $0.10/kWh all-in. It hasn’t changed in 4 years. My average nightly charge costs $1.30 and 90% of the time I drive all day on just that. I don’t know of anybody driving all month long on $40 gas or diesel.

        • VFanRJ

          There are a couple of key factors in Europe and Nordic countries that are behind EV growth. Top issue is the enormous amount of taxes tied to petrol, it can never be cheap; 2nd, the governments have a host of aggressive polices in place encouraging EVs.

          As far as the U.S. there is no difference in the effect of cheap petrol when it’s under $3.50 because below that point it inflicts no pain. It is absolutely the case that if petrol was at $5/gallon that EV adoption would be in the double digit growth. The plethora of discussion forums on this topic is irrefutable.

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