2016 Chevrolet Volt: The DriveWays Review

2016 Chevrolet Volt
2016 Chevrolet Volt. Photo © Aaron Gold

In 2011, when the Volt made its debut, the vision was to deliver an electric car without the drawback of range anxiety. The fear with pure electric cars is that they could run out of juice and strand the driver—or maybe require an overnight stay in a motel to recharge the batteries.

People who buy electric cars understand that they are for limited use on short trips. Because they take a long time to recharge, even with speedy 240 volt systems, they are not suited to long distance vacation trips.

The 2011 Volt changed that. In addition to its electric motors, which provided power for up to 38 miles, it incorporated a four cylinder gasoline engine to recharge the battery pack and continue driving by refueling at a gas station.

When the batteries ran down, the Volt switched seamlessly to the gasoline engine, which continuously charged the batteries enough to keep moving. In some circumstances, the gasoline engine even sent its power directly to the front drive wheels.

The system prompted some critics to cavil that the Volt was not an electric car; simply a plug-in hybrid—better than a plain hybrid like the Toyota Prius but no better than other plug-ins that were starting to appear.

Others said, so what? With overnight charging, you could go unlimited miles without ever topping up the Volt’s gas tank. Even so, the Chevy engineers plugged in computer software that fired up the engine occasionally to keep it in top condition for a long trip.

There were few downsides. The 1.4-liter gasoline engine required premium fuel, which cut into the economy profile somewhat. The original Volt also was loaded with cutting edge touch controls that were fussy and sometimes balky.

But that was about it. Some Volt owners became messianic about their cars, some owning more than one.

Nevertheless, the Toyota Prius, a pure hybrid originally with no plug-in capability but no range anxiety either, sold millions while the Volt did respectably but not sensationally with a total of about 80,000 sales.

The 2016 Volt continues as before, though much improved. You still plug it in, which delivers a maximum range on electric power of 53 miles compared to the original’s 38. The fuel economy now is better with  42 mpg highway rating on gasoline and a 106 mpg equivalent on batteries.

That has come about because of a determined effort to reduce weight. A 1.5-liter aluminum four cylinder engine replaces the original iron 1.4-liter, and runs on regular instead of premium fuel. Other weight saving trims and substitutions made the 2016 car 200 pounds lighter.

It’s also quicker, with a zero to 60 mph time, with its gear driven continuously variable transmission, of 7.8 seconds, as measured by Car and Driver Magazine. Because two electric motors deliver instant torque from rest, the zero to 30 time is just 2.6 seconds.

The Volt displays handsome new styling that makes it look more mainstream than the original—not unlike some other Chevrolet products like the Cruze, or even bearing some resemblance to the Honda Civic.

Inside, there’s comfortable seating with average head and knee room for four, though the low roofline requires a bit of bowing to enter the back seat.

Interior styling makes use of quality materials and workmanship; nothing cheap here. Most of the controls are ergonomically correct, but the digital instruments behind the steering wheel display a confusing potpourri of information. Don’t try to figure it out while driving. Take a lesson or two beforehand.

On the road, the Volt delivers accurate steering, controlled cornering with minimal body toll and a supple but busy ride on rough roads. Straight line tracking on freeways requires little correction so the Volt can be driven all day without undue fatigue.

Though it looks like a conventional sedan, the Volt is a subcompact hatchback with a decent cargo area of 11 cubic feet.

The rear seatbacks fold nearly flat for extra load carrying.

The tested Volt Premium model had a starting price of $38,345. With a few options, it listed at $39,830. Like other electrics, it is eligible for tax credits.

The concept has not changed. The Volt is as it has been: an electric car without the range anxiety, yet better than before. -- Frank Aukofer

 Details and specs

  • Model: 2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier four-door hatchback
  • Engines: 1.5-liter four cylinder gasoline engine with two electric motor generators; combined 149 hp
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic
  • Overall length: 15 feet
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 80/11 cubic feet
  • Weight: 3,543 pounds
  • EPA fuel consumption: Electric, 106 mpg equivalent; gasoline only, 42 mpg
  • Charge times: 120 volts—13 hours at 12 amps; 240 volts—4.5 hours
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,345
  • Price as tested: $39,830