All-New 2016 Chevy Volt: Improved Performance

By Frank A. Aukofer, March 26th, 2016

The Chevrolet Volt, now in its second generation as the all-new 2016 model, refines and enhances the extended range electric car concept with an improved four-cylinder engine.

When the Volt made its debut in 2011 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 even 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're not suited to long-distance vacation trips.

strong>The Volt changed that: In addition to its electric motors, providing power for up to 38 miles, it incorporated a four-cylinder gasoline engine that could extend its electric range by recharging the battery pack and that could be easily refueled at any 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.

strong>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.

The 2016 Volt continues as before, though much improved: You still plug it in, but now it's going to deliver a maximum range on electric power of 53 miles compared to the original's 38 miles. The fuel economy rating has been improved to 42 mpg highway on gasoline and a 106 mpgE equivalent on batteries.

This has all 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, the 1.5L runs on regular instead of premium fuel.

Other weight-saving trims and substitutions make the 2016 model 200 pounds lighter. It's also quicker, with a 0-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 0-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.

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 roll, and a supple but somewhat 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 2016 Volt starts at $34,345. 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.

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