A limited-access 2016 Volt drive event held for a few publications in July and under media blackout until today saw a flurry of mostly positive first-drive reports.
Nearly everything is reported as better about the first plug-in car to go through a complete redesign, and most reviews accentuated the positive while a couple critiqued it as a bit of a disappointment, and another said GM better market the car effectively this time around.
Already known to readers of this site, Chevrolet under-promised and over-delivered the all-important electric range to an official 53 miles from its 18.4-kwh battery, edging out an initially advertised 50.
Now with a middle-back seat space to accommodate kids or anyone who wants to squeeze in for a short hop, the “five-passenger” EREV (extended-range electric vehicle) also pleased on the roads around Northern California.
“Driving conservatively (but not hypermiling) over mostly flat ground -– one pass was 1,808 feet high –- we managed 54 miles before the gasoline engine kicked in,” wrote Autoweek. “On the next ‘tankful’ of battery we got 61.5 miles in EV mode, but that was downhill for most of the first 10 miles, so maybe saying 51 miles would be more accurate there.”
Of course the new Volt is also touted as more sporty, estimated to run 0-60 in 8.4 seconds, and here too it came up OK.
“The extra torque of the electric drivetrain and 200 pounds less weight show up in slightly quicker performance, aided some a slightly more aggressive throttle tuning to deliver more power when demanded,” wrote Green Car Reports. “And the regen-on demand braking controlled by the paddle behind the steering wheel lets the driver dial up the degree of regeneration without having to touch the brake pedal.”
Autoweek added the Volt beats the Prius in the handling department, although Toyota will be releasing an updated 2016 Prius itself touted as more sporty later this year.
“It’s certainly more fun to drive than any of the Prii and even looks a little more stylish, in the three-box style of mass-market sedans,” wrote Autoweek. “However, since the Volt’s debut at the very end of 2010, Chevy has only managed to sell 77,000 units, while Toyota sold well over 100,000 Priuses through July of this year alone.”
With its new 1.5-liter Ecotec engine, noise, vibration, and harshness in gas-powered operation are reported as less than for the first-gen car’s 1.4-liter.
And, while Automobile had named the 2011 Volt its “Automobile of the Year,” it mentioned “glaring rough edges: a center stack blighted with haphazardly arranged and fussy capacitive-touch controls … an overly firm ride, conservative styling, squishy, hard-to-modulate regenerative brakes.”
“Clearly, the Volt team paid lots of attention to customer (and journalistic) feedback,” wrote Automobile of the 2016. “The new Volt addresses every one of our original criticisms — and succeeds on almost every front.”
As for the brakes, vehicle chief engineer Andrew Farah said the new Volt’s binders are better too.
“We spent a lot of time on feel,” he said. “I didn’t want that ‘regen’ artificiality when you step on the pedal.”
“The new Volt’s binders feel almost conventional. It’s easy to modulate them for smooth stops, and they’re strong and reassuring underfoot. Big thumbs-up”
Styling-wise, most reviewers found the new Volt easy on the eyes.
“There’s a decidedly Civic-like arc to the body now,” continued Automobile. “The hood has a lean “windswept” design, while the tail tapers without adversely affecting rear cargo room. Overall, aerodynamics are vastly improved, including the sheetmetal itself, airflow-aware contoured taillamps, and a shutter system behind the front grille that automatically closes at highway speeds to block airflow and reduce drag.”
For its part, Chevrolet has said the new car was inspired by endurance athletes, and flowing sands.
Inside, reviewers liked the larger 8-inch touch screen, layout, and functionality.
Green Car Reports wondered whether the headlight switch would be operable with heavy winter gloves, for whom this may concern.
The new Volt is also the first GM car to receive Apple CarPlay.
Accessible through the Volt’s Settings menu, CarPlay allows iPhones with Lightning connectors to access Siri: Eyes Free text-message alerts, Maps, iMessage, Apple Music, and, the phone itself.
Critiques were few, but included in these were references to how the previous Volt sold, versus what the expectations re now going forward.
Most gracious of all was Green Car Reports,
Marketing for the first-generation Volt was inconsistent, largely focused on gas mileage, and generally sporadic at best,” wrote Green Car Reports. “If it hopes to keep the Volt at the top of the plug-in sales chart as its 200-mile, $37,500 Chevy Bolt EV electric car looms, GM had better do some smart, thoughtful, memorable, and effective marketing.
If others played good cop, perhaps Wired played bad cop – or whatever it did, its title and story focused more on shortcomings.
“Chevy’s New Volt is Way Better, But Maybe Not Good Enough,” reads the headline.
THE CHEVY VOLT was supposed to be historic. It would be the first affordable and practical electric car, with an internal combustion engine tucked in to wipe away fears of running out of battery power miles from home.
Developed amidst the turmoil of General Motors’ bankruptcy and bailout, it would signal the automaker could still create innovative, important products. It would save GM’s reputation, if not its bottom line.
Not so much. When it hit the market in 2010, sales were disappointing. Its engine required premium fuel. It had room for just four people. It cost $41,000. It could only go 38 miles on electric power. Sure, it was enough to cover 80-percent of trips Americans make, but it just didn’t live up to the hype.
More criticism is levied as the story goes, despite the writer netting 54.9 miles all-electric range on the drive.
The car is pleasant to drive, but hardly a blast. The “regen on demand” paddle on the steering wheel is a neat trick, allowing you to brake with your fingers and send all the recovered energy back into the battery.
It’s quicker than the outgoing car, with a 0 to 30 mph time of 2.6 seconds and the ability to get to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds. That’s less impressive when you remember Tesla’s using batteries and motors to send a far heavier car to 60 mph in under three seconds, on par with cars from Lamborghini and McLaren. To be fair, Tesla’s car is four times the price.
The media drive will be repeated Oct. 1, and a 3-hour time slot is reserved for many more outlets to check out the Volt. A GM rep explained the July drive had only six cars, so very few publications were invited.
As for critiques, the notion that Chevrolet has not marketed the car aggressively is not new.
HybridCars.com may have been one of the first to report in January 2014 Chevrolet’s disclosure the Volt was treated like a niche vehicle “just like Corvette.”
Analyst Alan Baum does think the Bolt EV will steal sales from the Volt when it is launched.
The 2016’s presently ongoing roll-out further is already repeating a pattern from 2011 – California is first in line, then 10 states that follow California clean air rules, and the rest of the country can order in October.
The positive side of a slow roll-out schedule is if there are any initial teething problems, Chevrolet will have fewer cars to handle.
Critics however have been vocal that Chevrolet has a glorified green halo. It must improve its fleet average score as federal regulations continue, goes the criticism, and it is paying attention to the states where these are the biggest concern first.
California itself is the only state GM advertised the present Volt, and the highest concentration of Volt’s customers reside there.
As it is, there is nothing in the Volt’s class at all.
The extended-range electric car now gets more than double the electric range of the next-highest rated plug-in hybrid.
With the gas-engine backup, it offers no “range anxiety” and over 400 miles total range, a potential advantage over many sub-100-mile EVs
The Volt also is a DNA donor to the Malibu Hybrid, and GM has carried Volt forward largely meeting requests of Volt owners, and to position itself to produce more Volt-based electrified vehicles at will.