6 Ways the 2016 Chevy Volt Has Been Improved

Borrowing a description from one of dozens of awards received, Chevrolet says its first-generation Volt was a “moonshot” so in what way has the 2016 Chevy Volt been improved in order to top that glowing description?

Now that we know pricing starts at $33,995 for the base 2016 LT, $38,345 for the LTZ, and GM’s ordering guide is online, some people are still wondering whether the 2016 Volt is indeed fully better than the original.

If you want the seller to tell you, Chevrolet’s dedicated 2016 Volt web page boldly quotes another publication saying “Second-Generation Volt is better by every measure,” and for many this will be absolutely true. For others, maybe the new car will be close but no cigar?

Chevrolet says it listened to focus groups in developing the 2016 Volt, and to cast a bit more detached spotlight on it, following are some of the changes including major ones, minor ones, and ones that are merely different.

Powertrain

The single biggest reason to buy a plug-in gas-electric car is of course to avoid using gas. Does that sound almost strange or are you already with us?

The Volt’s mission in life is as an extended-range electric vehicle and its 50-mile EV range is more than double the next-closest 19 miles from a Ford Fusion and C-Max Energi and significantly above the 2011-2015 Volt.

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Given the Volts were tweaked along the way, they came with either a 16.0-, 16.5- or 17.1-kilowatt-hour battery, so the boilerplate “30-percent” better range now being trumpeted from the hilltops is only true by the latest EPA reckoning. Actually it could be better or a little less. Compared to the 2011-2012 models, the new Volt gets 43 percent better range. Compared to the 2013-2014, it gets the advertised 30-percent better range.

And, compared to the present-spec 2015 Volts with 17.1 kwh, the Volt may only get 25-percent better range. Why? Knowing the new Volt was coming, and to save certification costs and to possibly be able to pad advertising and editorial potential, GM did not EPA rate range for the 0.6-kwh larger 17.1-kwh battery in the 2015. Was this Sneaky? Clever? Or innocent and pure as driven snow? Not sure, but this is fact.

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Of course the “range” comes by way of a new 18.4-kwh battery with fewer but more-efficient pouch cells assembled stateside from Korean company LG Chem. The bigger battery saves 20 pounds and is in the same T shape.

Unclear is the exact “buffer” of held-back energy, but the thermally managed T-pack is believed to be designed for long life as was the case for the 2011-2015.

The original Volt was conservatively set up, GM says it has a “pharmaceutical grade” quality, and its but two failures per million is off the charts – a much better record compared to the Nissan Leaf’s air-cooled pack for example.

Under the hood, the range extender is now an all-aluminum direct-injection, DOHC Ecotec 1.5 liter four from GM’s new family of small engines co-developed with a Chinese partner, SAIC. This is a bit bigger than the 1.4, rated 41 mpg instead of 37, and requires regular gas instead of premium.

An issue with Volt drivers who hate the engine to come on is “Engine Running Due To Temperature” (ERDTT) in cold climates to augment the HVAC. The new car is a smidge better at not running the heat-generating engine, but it may still come on as needed.

Drive unit.

Drive unit.

The electric front-wheel drive transaxle – the “drive unit” is now a new two-motor design and not engineered for a 12-percent efficiency improvement.

And, the drive unit is adaptable now to other vehicles whereas GM says the gen-one Volt’s was not. This has less bearing on Volt ownership but is good for GM. The Malibu Hybrid was co-developed with the new Volt, for example, and the new Volt is meant as a DNA donator to plant new electrified vehicles within the automaker’s future lineup.

Dimensions

The Volt rides on GM’s Delta II platform. It remains a compact class car when competitive other brands of plug-in hybrids are midsized.

It is most comfortable up front, and depending on stature, less so in the back seat.

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The dimensions of the new car are similar up front and in the oft-criticized tight rear seating area, the 2016 gets 0.6 inches more leg room, and 0.2 inches less head room.

Also there’s now a center rear jump seat of a perch for kids and child seats.

Car Features

A look at GM’s online ordering guide shows the new base LT adds a number of details here and there over the outgoing Volt while significantly less equipped than the LTZ which commands a $4,350 surcharge.

Click to expand, To see entire 25-page ordering guide, click here, go to "print book."

Click to expand, To see entire 25-page ordering guide, click here, go to “Print Book,” choose “Volt,” then “Print model.”

Gone is the CD player, in are A/C controls changed from touch-sensitive to knobs. New also are dual center displays increased from seven to eight inches diagonal.

The new car has more airbags and one additional USB port. The front reading lights are now LED, included is a leather shift knob and there’s a rear-view camera too.

“Location based” charging is also now included as is a different charge indicator light and interface.

Missing on gen-two is also one power outlet with two now instead of three, also gone are visors with illuminated mirrors as found on gen-one, and deleted as well are outside heated mirrors with integrated turn signals.

No power seats are offered, and this was the case for gen one. It saves weight for a car with a mandate to be efficient.

The 2016 Volt rides on new Michelin 215/50R17 all-season, blackwall, low-rolling resistance tires.

Also new for 2016 is an automatic audible signal during low speed driving. For previous Volts, a Safety Alert Signal was a double horn chirp the driver manually actuated by pushing a button on the end of the turn signal stalk.

For 2016, the signal tone has changed to more of a mechanical pump sound that was derived from the ELR and Spark EV and automatically turns on below 19 mph and remains on continuously. The driver typically cannot hear it, but pedestrians can.

Styling

The Volt is a clean sheet, all new, and the lines were developed, GM has said, to offer more “mainstream” appeal with a touch of “upscale” styling.

Many observers have noted the similarity of both Volts to Honda products, and the first generation from 50 yards away might make some do a double take wondering if it’s a decade-old Acura TL. The 2016 has more than a passing resemblance to a few-year-old Civic or 2015 Kia Forte.

Kia Forte left, Volt right.

Kia Forte left, Volt right.

We think the Volt is unique enough, does present a fresher arguably nicer visage and truth is copying goes on all the time in the car world. Even Tesla all-but cloned the rear clip of the Model S from a Jaguar XF.

The Volt is designed as a sporty looking car, it now gets a shark fin type antenna, LED lowbeam headlights, and cuts through the air with a similar 0.285 coefficient of drag.

Performance

The ultimate test will come in another quarter year or so when third-party drive reviews start to pour forth, but meanwhile the 2016 Volt promises improvements where it counts.

Zero-to-30 mph was quickened 20 percent to 2.6 seconds compared to a former 3.1 seconds, and 0-60 is said to be 8.3 seconds instead of 9.0 seconds by GM’s reckoning.

Top speed drops 2 insignificant percent from 100 mph to 98.

Note the horsepower is the same at 149 (111 kw) but torque has been improved from 273 pounds-feet to 298.

Also better should be noise, vibration and harshness from the 100cc larger, newer, and more-sophisticated engine.

And as for the all-important efficiency, GM says miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) is now 102 compared to the former 98 although fans at the GM-Volt.com forum are hoping GM will have a surprise that this is even better.

As mentioned, combined fuel economy is 41 when the battery is depleted and running in charge sustaining mode. GM has not listed city or highway, and the EPA has no listing on its website yet either.

Electric range of 50 miles speaks for itself. The former car got 35-38 rated, and up to 40 unofficially for the 2015 with its 0.6-kwh larger battery compared to the 2013-2014.

Value Proposition

The original Volt started just shy of $40,000 in 2011 and in 2014 GM chopped it to just below $35,000. Loaded earlier examples could easily top $47,000 before taxes and fees making it a $50,000 compact Chevy.

GM has lopped $1,175 off of an already discounted – but still pricey for a Chevy compact – car. The new one offers more of everything existing Volt owners said they wanted. This is doubly important with the unique “E-REV” because this is a car that has had a mental block surrounding it.

GM has said actual Volt owner input helps because outsiders may think they want this or that about the Volt, but experienced users have a finer understanding of what’s important. And they understand the car, period, which can’t always be said for many others.

Surveys have shown for the past five years many have remained oblivious to its benefits, not to mention unmotivated Chevy salespeople, who “don’t get it” as to what an amazing gas saver the Volt can be – not to mention its quiet smooth ride, and respectable road manners.

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That said, even among those who do comprehend the vehicles’ operational attributes, there are those who will still not be satisfied with Chevrolet’s new green halo.

The smallish interior packaging makes this still a car best suited for two plus kids or short-hop trips with large adults in the back seats.

Its pricing is not below the sweet spot of $29,995 for which many were hoping. Options will still drive the base price up and nice ones will be in the 40s. Federal and as-applicable state credits will still help reduce the effective price, as may lease deals or manufacturer and dealer incentives and as needed eventually, discounts.

GM has a history of going for the gusto with its alternative energy vehicle pricing, pushing to the limit, and after sales suffer and it maybe feels a PR backlash, it has been known to then lop off money as needed.

In 2014 it cut the Volt’s price by $5,000 after dealers were already doing as much in active markets.

Speaking of which, California has accounted for over 40 percent of the Volt’s sales and has been the only state in which it was advertised. Talk of ever being a Prius beater by sales volume is a topic present Chevrolet marketers do not wish to entertain, and it’s been dismissed from the top as irrelevant.

The Volt has morphed into a bit of an upper socioeconomic compliance vehicle and first roll-out states will be the original CARB states.

Volt_Ikes

GM’s modus operandi appears to be reading from a similar script as before while its fiduciary obligation is to recoup its development costs for the all-new car.

One way it can do that without selling volume is the Volt’s powertrain architecture may be used in an untold number of hybrids and plug-in hybrids.

SEE ALSO: Study Shows Chevy Volt Can Burn Less Gas Than Any Other PHEV
But on a positive note, GM has kept the Volt alive, and improved it, and is committed to it as it now stands. So we’ll see if it surprises analysts such as Michigan-based Alan Baum who projects 25,000 unit sales for 2016, 21,500 for 2017, and 20,000 for 2018 as new all-electric models like the Chevy Bolt, Tesla Model 3, 2017 Nissan Leaf come along.

Meanwhile, today the Volt is all-new and stands heads above not only the benchmark it has set the past five years, but against all others in its class.