Second-generation Chevrolet Volt has staying power

It’s good to see General Motors not treating one of their coolest vehicles as just a flash in the pan. When it debuted in model year 2011, the Chevrolet Volt was revolutionary. It was the brainchild of automotive legend Bob Lutz. The Volt was his pet project and one of his last big stamps he left on General Motors. Like other electric cars however, there was concern that the Volt would fizzle out, especially after sparse sales.

Now here we are. Despite continued light sales figures and Bob Lutz long since gone from GM, the Volt is in its second generation. Who knew?

This iteration is widely better than the first. With improved looks, improved electric and overall drive range and room for one extra passenger, the Volt is proudly part of the bowtie family.

The Volt’s look are now more mainstream, and less quirky. It’s always been an annoyance of mine that electric vehicles and all hybrids had to shout “hybrid.” Gone are some of the odd exterior touches from the first-generation Volt; in now is a handsome, sleek exterior. This compact sedan blends well into the Chevy family and is no longer the oddball. The grille still has that beaked point accented with a solid metal grille since it doesn’t need as much air intake for the engin). It is still clearly a Volt, but certainly looks more contemporary. This second-gen Volt could be the one that all future Volts get compared to, it’s that good.

From the squinty head lamps to the sleek hood, to the indented side panels, the fit and finish of the Volt 2.0 is dramatically better. The sloping C-pillars top it all off, yielding to a hatchback trunk that opens high and wide. There’s 10.6 cubic feet of cargo room in the back, which is great for a compact vehicle.

One of the newest improvements to the Volt is in the powertrain which is lighter and more efficient. The plug-in hybrid system has a 149-horsepower electric motor and a 1.5-liter gasoline engine. The range of the Volt goes from a mere 35 miles for the previous generation to 53 miles thanks to the new powertrain. The electric motor is rechargeable by plugging in to any standard 120 or 240 outlet. I charged up the Volt on a 12-hour charge in my garage on a designated 110 outlet and only managed to achieve a 29-mile charge. I never saw the full 53-mile charge. Notably, one of the biggest aspects of this new Volt is it’s equipped for fast charging. So you have to be patient to achieve maximum charge of the electric motor.

However, there is no range anxiety with the Volt as when it does lose electric charge, it switches seamlessly over to the 1.5-liter gasoline engine. This engine has a fuel economy rating of 42 mpg.

In a week’s worth of driving between the electric and gasoline engine, I averaged 52 mpg. Another cool new feature of this year’s Volt is the “Regen on Demand” feature which allows the driver with the push of a button on the steering wheel to adjust deceleration and the amount of energy regenerated from the braking system that will be sent back to the lithium ion battery pack. You can actually pick up several miles of pure electric driving with this feature, if you master it.

The Volt doesn’t drive like a hybrid. It has enough power where it doesn’t feel puny, and it’s perfectly good at highway speeds, exceeding other hybrid vehicles in performance. It’s whisper quiet both in electric and gasoline mode.

Inside, there are significant upgrades. First, Chevy claims that the Volt now is a five-passenger vehicle. Let’s clarify. While the previous-generation Volt was definitely just a four-seater, the 2016 Volt does technically have a fifth spot for a passenger. However, it’s more of a jumper seat, sitting right over where the battery pack is located. It would only be suited for children. In fact, the overall back seat is still small, and most adults would lack leg room and comfort.

Overall materials are much improved. Softer materials are used on the dashboard, and what hard plastic materials are still used are better disguised. There’s a two-tone theme for the interior that is absolutely gorgeous. This also adds to the overall luxurious vibe. The biggest drawback was lack of power-adjustable seats, even for the driver. For a vehicle with a $30,000-plus price tag, I expect power-adjustable seats with memory settings.

GM adds the MyLink infotainment system which is one of my favorites. It’s intuitive and integrates with smart phones. Apple Car Play works well with the Volt’s built-in WIFI and iPhone.

There are two trims for the Volt, the LT and the Premier. My tester was the Premier, which comes with heated seats, a wireless charging pad (which confounded me and never seemed to work) and a parking assist feature. Standard price for the Volt Premier is $37,520. My tester also came with the driver confidence package which includes blind spot monitors, lane departure warning and cross traffic alert. Other added features include forward collision warning, intelligent head lamps, automatic low speed braking and lane keep assist. All totaled, my tester had a final MSRP of $39,850.

That’s always been one issue with the Volt, and why it’s not a huge seller. The cost to own versus the savings at the pump aren’t always cost effective. Thankfully, the second-generation Volt now has better range, an even better engine, and sexy new looks. So there’s huge improvement on this revolutionary hatchback.

Jimmy Dinsmore is a freelance automotive journalist.

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