Reviews

Commuting in a 2016 Chevrolet Volt

Making electrified powertrains mainstream at a premium price

Chevrolet may have done more than any other brand to make electrified powertrains a mainstream choice. The 2016 Chevrolet Volt has none of the gawky “look at me, I’m green” attitude of Toyota’s popular hybrid and fuel-cell models. While the Mark I Volt stood apart as a distinctive Chevy design, the Mark II looks more like a hatchback variant of the new Cruze compact sedan. And while it’s not Chevy cheap by any means, it’s far more affordable than any Tesla you can buy today and doesn’t require a search for charging stations if you want to cross the country in one.

Your average fuel mileage will worsen quickly on a cross-country Chevy Volt drive, of course. It’s still best as a carefree commuter car, the kind that can extend your daily commute if you have a few unexpected errands to run. Chevrolet is fond of retelling how many Mark I Volt owners regularly drove more than 1,000 miles between gasoline fill-ups.

2016 Chevrolet Volt front view on road

AUTOMOBILE’s Detroit bureau had time in the 2016 Chevy Volt when Michigan weather was still chilly. The car’s claimed 53-mile range, up from 38 miles for the old model, proves accurate in only the most favorable weather conditions. Thanks to temperatures in the 30s, estimated range on the dashboard readout could start as low as 36 miles, even after a full recharge. (This is a shortcoming any electrified vehicle has in cold weather.) Often, though, we’d drive off with disappointing numbers and were pleased to find we gained back a couple of miles by the time we arrived at our destination.

“One morning it said I would only get 36 miles, but I ended up getting the full 45 miles to work, and the Volt still showed 14 more miles of range,” says road test editor Eric Weiner, who commutes from Ann Arbor to metro Detroit.

For me, the Volt was the perfect low-carbon footprint car for my 11-mile roundtrip daily commute.

I took it home from the office for the weekend, and on Saturday morning using a 120-volt outdoor outlet, the dashboard readout showed just 32 miles EV and 198 miles fuel range. If you decide to pony up for this premium-priced Chevy, spend a few bucks more on a 240-volt home outlet. Chevrolet says a full charge on 240 takes about 4.5 hours, which is substantially quicker than the old car versus as much as 13 hours at 120 volts, which is a few hours longer than for the old car.

2016 Chevrolet Volt front view plugged in

I could regale you with details of my weekend use of the 2016 Chevy Volt, and there’d probably be some extended-range EV geeks who would study every word. Let’s just say two overnight charges at 120 volts didn’t completely juice it up, and by the end of Saturday night, after a shopping trip, dinner, and a movie with my wife, we drove most of the way back from the theater across town with no electric charge remaining. For the day, I used a total of 18.5 kW-hrs to go 47.5 miles, plus 0.76 gallon to drive another 29.4 miles. I still managed to bump up the car’s lifetime fuel economy, which covered more than 3,000 miles, by 1.9 mpg to 66.8 mpg.

On a freezing Monday morning, I left home with 45 miles EV and 319 miles of total range but reached the office with just 38 miles EV/316 miles gas range remaining. Lifetime mpg was then 69.6. That evening, I unplugged the Chevy Volt from the office’s dedicated 240-volt outdoor charger and left with 45 miles of EV range and 313 miles worth of gasoline, though I had to double back to retrieve a forgotten item. When I finally reached home after 10.3 miles, displayed range was 38 miles EV and still 313 miles gas. The engine did not have to restart; I had used 3.1 kW-hrs and zero fuel. My trip mileage was maxed out at “250 mpg-plus,” and lifetime reached 76.4 mpg.

2016 Chevrolet Volt instrument cluster

I charged the car overnight at home again and woke up to 44 miles EV range and 319 miles gas, though I used up 0.7 kilowatt hours just in a short warm-up in the driveway. The coolant temperature hit 143 degrees and then backed down to 136 degrees. Like the first Volt, the Mark II isn’t for Northerners who want their cars toasty on cold mornings. You’ll want to get the seat-heater and steering-wheel heater going right away.

I drove to a press unveiling at the GM Tech Center in Warren, an 8.4-mile mostly freeway drive from my home. The cold weather prompted the Voltec system to start up the gas engine for a short while, and as I got to the Tech Center, I had used 3.1 kW-hrs for 5.8 miles and 0.10 gallons for 2.6 miles. Fuel mileage averaged 97.6 mpg, and the lifetime average crept up to 76.7.

After the press conference, I drove another 13.7 miles to AUTOMOBILE’s Detroit bureau, arriving with 19 miles EV range. Total energy usage for the morning was 7.9 kilowatt-hours to cover 16.8 miles, and 0.20 gallons for another 5.2 miles. That wasn’t enough to budge the internal combustion’s range. No doubt, this was because the Chevy Volt’s computer switched from measuring city mpg to measuring freeway mpg.

2016 Chevrolet Volt rear view

And so it goes. The rest of the week was much the same, without refueling stops. But if the Volt’s new sheetmetal helps it blend in seamlessly with the rest of the Chevy sedan lineup, there still are some compromises.

The Volt’s stiff suspension might seem to encourage sport sedan maneuvers, but the hard, skinny, fuel-efficient tires start to moan in agony below 50 mph and on on- or off-ramps where a Cruze might comfortably reach 55 mph without such protest. Still, the Volt is pretty controllable and without any excessive yaw in such conditions. Steering feel and feedback is OK, and there is some rear bump-steer on Michigan’s awfully maintained roads. Lackadaisical throttle response seems to discourage jackrabbit starts. The fun is all in the hypermiling.

2016 Chevrolet Volt interior2

Weiner finds the seating position a bit low relative to the hood and low roof.

“Steering wheel is a little too small,” he continues. “This isn’t a Corvette. Interior looks attractive, but the quality issues are clear. Lots of panel gaps, misaligned pieces, cheap-feeling plastic.”

But Weiner got a lot of positive attention, and he likes the new sheetmetal and the hatchback’s versatility. For many middle-class families, even the base Chevy Volt LT, with a base price of $33,995 before tax incentives, might just be the ticket.

“The Volt is a major improvement, and with its added range and driving dynamics now fits even more lifestyles,” Weiner concludes. “For families with two-car households, an SUV paired with a Volt would make the perfect home fleet.”

Did we mention it blends right in?

2016 Chevrolet Volt side view

2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier Specifications

On Sale: Now
Price: $38,345/$43,715 (base/as tested before tax incentives)
Engine: 1.5L DOHC 16-valve I-4/101 hp @ 5,600 rpm, plus two-motor battery pack, 111-kW-hr, 294 lb-ft
Transmission: continuously variable automatic
Layout: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD hatchback
EPA Mileage: 106 mpg-e/42 mpg combined
L x W x H: 108.4 x 71.2 x 56.4 in
Wheelbase: 106.1 in
Weight: 3,543 lb
0-60 MPH: 8.4 sec
Top Speed: 98 mph

 

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0-60 MPH:

7.6 SECS

Real MPG:

38 City / 42 Hwy

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149 @ 5600