The automotive industry as we know it is drastically changing. Innovations in the last ten years focusing on safety, performance, technology, and efficiency have brought us to a time where vehicles drive and park themselves, and 30 mpg is merely something to scoff at. With imposed government regulations cracking down on large, inefficient engines, manufacturers have explored hybrid options, and more recently, electric solutions.
I was recently given the opportunity to live with a 2016 Chevrolet Volt for one week to see what one major automotive competitor has produced in the fight against these new rules and regulations.
First off, I want to be clear by establishing my position and making any personal biases known, with the intention of allowing you, as the reader, to form your own conclusion based upon my personal experience with this vehicle.
I work for a local car dealership, and I drive a lot of cars. Hundreds of cars. I am quick to point out flaws with the various new and used vehicles that I find myself driving. I am very picky, and due to my exposure of a very broad range of automobiles, certain things that may impress or excite the average person, often times, seem normal or expected to me. It’s a blessing and a curse.
I find my interest in the automotive industry heavily centered around performance vehicles— If a car doesn’t have a manual transmission or qualities resulting in a fun driving experience, it usually won’t hold my attention. So initially, the thought of living with a Chevy Volt for a week didn’t seem very exciting.
This is the part where I tell you that I am a college student in Buffalo, paying for gas for my personal vehicle out of pocket, usually on a bi-weekly basis, and when someone offers you a free car for a week that will cost (basically) nothing to operate, you don’t say ‘No’.
The Volt surprised me. It is not boring, or numb, or vague like my predisposition led me to believe. By the same token, I am not here to inform readers that the Chevy Volt is the next best performance toy, and every moment behind the wheel fills you with joy and excitement. The Volt is however, a fun car to drive, in its own very unique way.
The Chevrolet Volt makes noises that I have never heard any other car make, and the instantaneous torque delivery from the 18.4-kWh lithium-ion battery will put a smile on anyone’s face, even mine. The acceleration numbers are no where near record setting, but 294 lb-ft of torque is more than adequate in zipping around this 3,543 pound sedan.
Upon entering the Volt, depressing the brake pedal, and pushing the bright blue ‘POWER’ button, a brief ‘whoosh’ sound lets you know that this is no ordinary vehicle. While accelerating, the Volt produces a high-pitched whine that can only be related to something you hear in a Spielberg or Lucas film. The Volt is the closest thing to a spaceship that I have driven, purely based on the various sounds it produces.
The most surprising aspect about the Volt that I found in my seven day trial period was its usability. With its battery fully charged the Volt can travel 53 miles without producing any emissions or using a single drop of gas. The Volt provides drivers with a total combined range of 420 miles between the lithium-ion battery, and the 1.5L gasoline powered range extender. This output eliminates any electric range anxiety that may be associated with other pure-electric options. With the intention of using as little gas as possible, it was not difficult for me to stick to my normal driving habits.
Charging the Volt is extremely simple.
Charging the Volt is extremely simple. Open the charge door above the driver side front tire, insert the included charge cord, and plug the opposite end into a nearby outlet. That’s it. Chevrolet says charging times from empty will take 13 hours @ 12 amps using a 120V outlet, and 4.5 hours using a 240V outlet. One of the biggest downsides I experienced in the week I had the Volt was the charging time. I ran an extension cord from a 120V outlet in my garage to the Volt (almost) every night. Some mornings I approached the vehicle discovering that it was only about 90 percent charged (48 miles of electric range). My recommendation for this problem? —If you buy a Volt be sure to have a 240V outlet installed wherever you will be charging the vehicle.
In the week that I had the Volt on loan I only used the gas range extender three times. The first two times, I intentionally put the vehicle into ‘HOLD’ mode to feel the difference in how it sounds and drives. Hold mode simply saves the available electric battery range and derives any necessary power from the gas engine. The only reason I used gas a third time in the Volt was merely because I didn’t charge the Volt overnight and ran out of pure-electric range about two miles from house the next day. According to Chevrolet, first-generation Volt owners have driven more than 650 million EV miles, and drive all-electric on more than 80 percent of trips. For someone with a reasonable commute and average driving habits, the Volt is extremely useable, and most likely an option that has been overlooked.
In addition to Hold mode, the Volt provides three other selectable drive modes.
In addition to Hold mode, the Volt provides three other selectable drive modes. The default mode is blandly named Normal mode, and is automatically selected upon startup. Sport and Mountain are also available by pressing a button adjacent to the shift lever. Sport sharpens throttle response but is otherwise identical to Normal mode. Mountain mode reserves battery charge to help the engine climb steep grades. The differences between these four drive modes is not significantly noticeable. The greatest difference comes in Hold mode from the slight sound produced by the gas engine. Providing selectability makes drivers feel special, and can optimize the ability of the vehicle at times, but Chevy could have gotten away with two modes: Gas and No-Gas.
I would be doing a disservice to everyone reading this if I failed to mention one of the coolest features of the Volt, ‘Regen on Demand’. This feature enables drivers to control the energy regeneration of the car via a paddle located on the back of the steering wheel, behind your left hand. Making use of this feature is as simple as pulling the paddle toward you while driving, which slows down the car while simultaneously generating usable energy back to the battery.
I would be doing a disservice to everyone reading this if I failed to mention one of the coolest features of the Volt, ‘Regen on Demand’.
It becomes addicting in a way. The car encourages you to drive smoothly and efficiently. While making use of the regen paddle, the Volt will come to almost a complete stop without touching the foot brake, which makes it a great car to drive in stop and go traffic. It is a new sensation, and a bit strange, but over time it becomes second nature. I found myself foolishly reaching for the paddle in my personal vehicle for a few days after the Volt was picked up. It makes perfect sense, and I miss this feature in my everyday driving.
Here’s what the EPA predicts you will spend and save by driving a Chevy Volt compared to an average new vehicle. Combine these savings with the federal and state incentives discussed in the video earlier in this review, and the $40,325 Volt becomes affordable. Huge SUV’s and pickups probably aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon, but if you are following eco trends and realize that gas will continue to fluctuate in price, just as it always has, the Chevy Volt could be the right pick for you.
The interior of the Volt feels more like a $30,000 car than a $40,000 car, which may sting initially until you receive your tax return, and it becomes a $30,000 car. The leather feels good, not great, and the seats are comfortable enough. I should be clear in saying that I am tall, but not large. What I mean is that I am about 6’3” but only about 170lbs soaking wet. I’m confident that someone larger than me may not have as many positive things to say about the seats in the Volt. In addition, the rear leg room is atrocious if you have the seat driver’s seat positioned for a tall fellow like myself. One silver lining to the interior of the volt is actually blue—the blue ambient lighting which illuminates the driver and passenger front door sills at night.
The eight inch touch screen fixed in the center console is responsive and offers Apple Car Play and Android Auto. Prior to the Volt, I hadn’t experienced Apple Car Play, and I have to say that I am quite impressed. The system essentially transforms the eight inch display into an iPad allowing access to messages, phone, maps, music, Pandora, and more. If you have an iPhone, and are somewhat familiar with the Apple iOS, it makes using the display in the Volt that much easier. The downside?? —every time you get in and out of the Volt you must plug-in and un-plug your iPhone. I anticipate that the system will eventually take the Bluetooth route, but for now, don’t forget your lightning cable.
Safety was not forgotten in the development of the second-generation Volt. Ten air bags (including driver and front-passenger knee) and a rear-vision camera come standard. Safety features offered on my press car included Lane Keep Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Side Blind Zone Alert, Lane Change Alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Forward Collision Alert, and Advanced Park Assist. Forward Collision Alert indicates following distance, and allows drivers to adjust the sensitivity to their liking. The system offers front automatic braking as well to assist in avoiding a head-on collision. More than anything, it provides drivers with confidence. Confidence is not something that people may normally include in their ‘Important Criteria for My Next Car’ list, but it is something that is included with the Chevy Volt.
The Volt is useable, fun to drive, sounds cool, and wont leave you stranded if you forget to charge it. It is safe, comfortable, incredibly quiet, and for many people it could be an affordable option. It is not the greatest car I have ever driven, but it just may be the most surprising. I never thought that I would come away from my time with the Volt being as surprised as I am. If this is what the future holds, it may not be half bad. Sure there are flaws, but find me a car without flaws and I will gladly spend a week searching for reasons to call you a liar. If anything I have mentioned here even remotely peaks your interest, take an hour, visit a local Chevrolet dealership, and form your own opinion. Sure, eco-friendly cars aren’t your only option, but they could be your best option. Who actually enjoys buying gasoline anyway?
Exterior: Siren Red Tintcoat
Interior: Jet Black/Brandy
Standard Vehicle Price: $37,570.00
Price as tested: $40,325.00