Is The 2016 Volt Worth Buying?

As orders are being taken now in California, Chevrolet hopes its 2016 Volt due in a couple months will prove to be a superior fuel and money saver for more people.

Since the first-generation model was launched in December 2010, the Volt has had a polarizing effect on people – or ducked under the radar – for too-many nuanced reasons to elaborate here, but those who “get it” mainly love it.

The outgoing 2015 Volt had an electric range of 38 rated miles and the new one is pegged at 53. Less-well known is the EPA rates it for 57 all-electric miles in the city, and 49 all-electric miles highway.

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Efficiency on electricity has now been bumped from 98 MPGe combined to 106 MPGe. Fuel economy on gas only has increased from 37 mpg to 42 combined – 43 city, 42 highway – and the new range-extending engine runs on cheaper regular fuel.

The 2016 Chevrolet Volt can run on pure electricity for 53 miles

The compact Volt still will catch criticism by some for having a tight-ish back seat but where it is like the super genius in the classroom is in the efficiency spectrum.

“The 2016 Volt is engineered to offer customers more of what they want: range, range and more range,” says Chevrolet, and this is not exaggeration.

The next-closest plug-in hybrid competitor is the Ford Fusion Energi EPA-rated at 19 miles all-electric miles. Hyundai’s 2016 Sonata plug-in hybrid is expected to deliver 24 miles all-electric miles – so the 2016 Volt more than doubles that.

How important is just 29-more electric miles per charge that the 2016 Volt affords? This message may be lost on people who hear of EVs going 80-270 miles, but for daily driving, this is enough to put lots of people over the top and stay in pure electric mode.

The average daily drive is under 40 miles says government data, and electricity in most parts of the country is far-less to pay for than gasoline, even at presently low prices.

2015 Volt Total Cost of Ownership. Data for the 2016 and 2016 Prius and Fusion Energi following is not yet available. Source: Edmunds

2015 Volt Total Cost of Ownership. Data for the 2016 and 2016 Prius and Fusion Energi following is not yet available. Source: Edmunds

Given the Volt – which starts at $33,995 – is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit, and in California and other states further money back from governments encouraging low-emitting cars, the value proposition looks like it could be good-to-great.

According to Edmunds.com’s True Cost To Own calculator, the present 2015 Volt, though priced higher, already compares favorably to the most-efficient hybrid sold in the U.S., the Toyota Prius Liftback.

2015 Prius trim level IV. Note cash price less, but TCO is more than Volt. Source: Edmunds.

2015 Prius trim level IV. Note cash price is less, but TCO is more than Volt. Source: Edmunds.

Next to the Fusion Energi, the Volt comes in around $12,000 less to own over five years based on the averaged numbers and algorthms Edmunds applies.

When the Volt was first launched GM wanted to say it was good for 230 mpg, but facts get confusing when mixing potential gas savings by turning the engine off and running on battery power for a span.

As it is, Volt fans for the past four years have been raving that they do indeed exceed the EPA’s conservative estimates and net crazy high “mpg” – but of course this is augmented by electricity, which is not free but still less.

In Detroit this year at the generation two’s launch, the two top General Motors engineers responsible for the Volt’s development separately told us the main thing Volt owners wanted was to not have to turn on the gas.

Why? A few reasons, but one is once people get used to the Volt’s gas-free operation, it makes them want more. Frankly, the noise, vibration and harshness of engine-on versus engine-off spoils them for the all-electric drive experience. GM says the NVH is superior for the new 1.5-liter Ecotec replacing the 1.4 in the gen-one Volt, but the real goal is it not be used more than absolutely necessary.

2015 Fusion Energi SE TCO. Source: Edmunds.

2015 Fusion Energi SE TCO. Source: Edmunds.

Beyond those considerations, saving gas of course means less money spent, and fewer greenhouse gases emitted.

With its hands tied by liabilities and higher accountability, Chevrolet says conservatively the improved 2016 Volt will do well.

“Chevrolet expects many next-generation Volt owners will use power solely from their batteries for more than 90 percent of trips,” the automaker says based on OnStar telematics data. “Today, Volt owners use battery power on 80 percent of their trips.”

The carmaker hinted around the edges the vehicle may over-deliver with people who drive it sensibly and take advantage of recharging.

SEE ALSO: 6 Ways the 2016 Chevy Volt Has Been Improved

“Data shows that drivers of the first-generation Volt achieved, and often exceeded, the published EPA-estimated mileage,” says the automaker. “Chevrolet expects the same label-exceeding result with the next-generation Volt.”

In cold weather, the estimates will go down to one degree or another and the Volt does still need to run the engine due to cold temperature in frigid conditions.

But while the TCO compares available 2015 data, progress continues for everyone.

Unknown is how the new Volt will fare against the fourth-generation 2016 Prius due to be revealed later this year.

With regards to the Volt’s ability to run on battery only, that is a slam dunk – 53 miles versus maybe 1. How it may do later against a Prius plug-in hybrid is also an open question and rumors have it more EV range will be provided than the present car’s 11.

Volt

What Toyota has going for it is a long track record back to 2000 in the U.S., and superior gas-only mpg. Daily drives will still see the Volt averaging better but longer trips will see its edge diminish as the new Prius may get close to 55 mpg versus 42.

Of course a buying decision is based on far more than these narrow factors so other criteria even beyond those weighed in TCO estimates will need to be considered.

But within the other set of criteria – average-length daily driving – the Volt offers advantages of a pure EV with a built-in gas engine to go farther and stands heads above.