2016 Chevrolet Volt Gets Svelte Design, 50-mile EV Range

GM predicts 1,000 miles between fill-ups.

DETROIT - General Motors' second-generation Chevrolet Volt, unveiled at the 2015 North American International Auto Show, comes in the second half of this year with a sleeker, better-looking body on a redesigned platform. It will achieve 41 mpg combined on gas and 102 mpge. Range increases to 50 miles on pure electric power. It also sheds the 2011-'15 Chevy Volt's political baggage.

Whether or not you consider the 73,000-plus Volts (America's "best-selling plug-in") that Chevy sold over five model years a success or failure probably depends on which side you were on during the great post-bankruptcy/bailout automotive rift. Enthusiastic owners have logged, via OnStar, 650 million miles on battery power, saving 34 million gallons of gasoline. They've driven 80 percent of their miles in pure-electric mode, and typically go 900-plus miles between fill-ups. Their contribution to lower petroleum demand has, at least, contributed to lower oil prices.

"This is probably the most customer-inspired car you're going to see," says Pamela Fletcher, the Volt's executive chief engineer.

Although there's spare American consumer interest in this car so long as Western states are fracking oil for less than $50 per barrel, it seems Volt owners aren't financially motivated anyway: Volt owners have the third-highest average household income levels among Chevrolet's customers. When oil prices inevitably swing the other way, Chevy buyers with the first- and second-highest household-income levels -- Corvette and Suburban owners, respectively -- might consider one of these.

Chevrolet says that with the new 50-mile EV range from a full charge, most drivers will go at least 1,000 miles between gasoline fill-ups -- perhaps even as much as 1,500 miles. Mark II Volt owners also will enjoy a 7 percent improvement in the 0-60 mph time, to 8.4 seconds, and a 19 percent improvement in 0-30 mph times, to 2.6 seconds. The electric drive is rated 149 hp and 294 lb-ft.

The 2016 Chevrolet Volt uses GM's new Delta II compact car platform, not yet found underpinning any other models, Fletcher says. The Mark I Volt's 1.4-liter four-cylinder gas engine has been replaced with a 1.5-liter I-4 from GM's new small-engine family, with direct-injection, cast-aluminum block and headers, cooled exhaust-gas recirculation, and a 12.5:1 compression ratio. It again serves as a range extender.

The electric drive and 18-kilowatt-hour battery pack also are all new. The battery pack is about the same size, but has a new cell design with 192 cells -- 96 fewer than the old car. The battery system is 20 pounds lighter than the '15 Volt's (30 pounds lighter than the '11 model), with two much smaller motors, Fletcher says.
Energy density is improved by 20 percent, accounting for the EV range increase of 12 miles to 50. The EPA's 102 mpge rating is up 4 mpge and the EPA mileage estimate for combined gasoline mode -- that is, when battery power has been depleted -- improves by 4 mpg to 41 mpg.

From owners' data, Chevrolet discovered that the majority recharge with 110 volts rather than 240. Those owners will be disappointed. A full charge at 240 volts will take about four-and-a-half hours, but a full charge at 110 volts will take about 13 compared with the old car's 10 hours, the company says. (Level 3 charging is not possible.) However, with the longer, 50-mile range, many owners won't have to wait for a full charge every night after work, Chevy maintains.

A midcycle update on the outgoing model allowed the driver to activate the range-extending engine and hold the battery's full charge for city stop-and-go driving. That carries over here. Otherwise, the engine will kick in and aid the motor in acceleration when needed, chief engineer Andrew Farah says, because it's more efficient than holding off the engine until the battery charge is low.

Though the new body looks more taut, it's slightly larger. Overall length is up by 3.3 inches to 180.4 inches, and the wheelbase is 0.4 inch longer, to 106.1 inches. It's 0.2 inches lower, at 56.4 inches tall, and 0.8 inches wider, at 71.2 inches. Its track is slightly narrower. Overall weight is 3,543 pounds, which is 243 pounds lighter than the manufacturer's curb weight for the '15 model. New, exclusive Michelin high-efficiency tires are size 215/50-R17.

The car's hood and liftgate are now made of aluminum. Headlamps are LEDs, and the roof antenna is a "sharkfin" for lower noise properties. The interior features an 8-inch center dash display, plus separate heating/ventilation/air-conditioning controls and a reconfigurable instrument cluster with four levels of detail. A wireless charging pad for mobile devices is optional. GPS location-based recharging can be turned on or off via smartphone.

New equipment includes a standard rear-vision camera and lane-keeping assist. A heated steering wheel and heated rear outboard seats are optional. A steering wheel paddle calls up regenerative braking on demand. The rear seat is now a one-piece "three-seat" bench, replacing plus-two rear seats, as customers have asked for more seating capacity. Rear seat cupholders sit on the battery tunnel between the back of the front seats and the rear cushion, however, so that middle passenger will have to share footwells with the outboard passengers.

Five years after its debut, the 2016 Chevrolet Volt, still possessing some of the most advanced engineering available in an automobile, has faded only as a political lightning rod. Even if Chevrolet Volt loyalists don't get everything they want in the new car, they will get much cleaner styling, and a nice, round 50-mile electric-vehicle range.

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