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2016 Chevrolet Volt: High Fives to New Voltage

By Sue Mead, November 7th, 2015

The new Chevy Volt barely resembles its predecessor concept car that debuted in 2007 at the Detroit Auto Show -- and that isn't a bad thing.

Now in its second generation for the 2016 model year, the Volt boasts a new, clean and sporty design in a cabin that seats five; it also has a re-engineered Voltec powerplant for improved power and efficiency, convenient updates to the charging systems including "Location-Based Charging," a new transmission, and enhanced MyLink infotainment features.

Since coming to the market in late 2010, the Volt has won the 2009 Green Car Vision Award, 2011 Green Car of the Year, 2011 North American Car of the Year, 2011 World Green Car, and 2012 European Car of the Year. One of the top models in its segment, the plug-in hybrid competes with the Toyota Prius, Honda CR-Z, Ford C-Max, and Lexus CT among others.

Remarkably, Chevy says the new Volt will start almost $10,000 less than last year's model, with the base price of $33,170, plus $825 destination.

The exterior of the efficient sedan retains its iconic look, but designers pinched and pulled the sheet metal to give it a carved, upscale look the last generation lacked. The grille, which opens and closes to increase airflow and aerodynamics, now has one upper wide V-panel beset by new curvaceous headlights; below is a larger chrome cutout flanked by thin, vertically oriented fog lights.

Additional sculpting of the hood and lower door panels aligns to the natural curves of the body and with the horizontal lines of the doors and window frames that incline from taillight to headlight. The rear quarter bumper has been rounded for a softer edge rather than the previous hard, angular, and bulky bumper shape.

The trunk also sports softer edges and all-new taillights that look more like the Honda Accord and Mazda3 than Chevy Malibu or Buick LaCrosse, as before. Volt's body structure has been strengthened and improved for a quieter ride. A simplified 120-volt portable cord gets more convenient stowage in the left side of the truck; the charge port comes with a light for easier viewing at night.

Inside, the biggest change is the addition of a rear bench seat in the rear, which increases the passenger capacity to five riders from four. The sweeping dashboard is curvaceous, with exciting colors and blue ambient lighting. An 8-inch screen takes the place of a traditional gauge cluster and a second 8-inch touchscreen is the focal point of the center stack with only simple climate controls below.

Equipped with standard Chevrolet MyLink with OnStar and 4G LTE, the Volt is a wireless hotspot. Apple CarPlay is now supported and connects with iPhones (5 and newer) via USB to make calls, send and read texts, and to play music with the touch of a button or with voice-activation. An Android option will be available later next year.

Along with increased use of high-strength steel, the new Volt also features top-notch standard safety features. The previous Volt received a 5-Star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Chevy expects the 2016 model will, as well.

Under the hood is a Voltec extended-range electric vehicle (EREV) propulsion system with a new two-motor drive unit that provides more pep and power, and is 100 pounds lighter. Battery capacity has been increased to 18.4 kWh, although the number of cells have decreased, and the battery sheds 20 pounds.

The all-new 111-kW electric drive unit uses two electric motors working with planetary gearsets to deliver the plenty of torque on demand. The four-cylinder gasoline engine grows from 1.4 to 1.5 liters. Decreased in size and weight, the gasoline engine makes 101 horsepower on regular gas, and Chevy predicts more than 1,000 miles between fill-ups. Volt will charge fully in about 13 hours with the 120-volt cord or approximately 4.5 hours with a professionally installed 240-volt charging system. Chevy says the Volt will travel 53 miles on pure electric driving.

I drove the 2016 Volt in the San Francisco region and appreciated its improved driving dynamics with great torque on tap, along with well-weighted steering and good brakes.

My favorite feature is the Regen-on-Demand system, which boosts energy regeneration when pressing a convenient paddle on the back of the steering wheel. In this case, the paddle triggers the electric generator, which collects energy through braking.

Additionally, charging or "filling up" is easier with the addition of a GPS, location-based charge setting that recognizes when it is parked at home and uses "home" charging setting that you must only enter once. Owners are able to customize settings and view charging progress through a smartphone app to pre-set charging level, time, and even select a utility rate schedule so that the car charges at non-peak rates.

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