Mountain Wheels: Second-generation Chevy Volt goes (sorta) mainstream
Aesthetically and functionally reconfigured to a degree that’s moved it from an oddball offering to a reasonably practical vehicle, the new rendition of the Chevy Volt still enjoys something that owners of all-electric automobiles do not — a backup plan.
As an extended-range EV, Volt’s now 53-mile-long all-electric range is fine for small urban commutes, but it’s the 101-HP four-cylinder under the hood that can save the day, with a 420 overall-mile range.
It’s also got a more real-car feel than some of the still-esoteric electrics, having been considerably normalized from its own awkward first iteration, with a smoothed-out physique that incorporates design elements from Chevrolet to Cadillac. And things are, this time around, much more traditionally presented on the inside, as well.
A new Corvette-styled instrument panel provides all that potentially mind-melting data that EV drivers love, better color-coded to push you toward more efficient driver, with range, battery drain or replenishment information at the ready.
The slightly off-the-dash navigation screen, also seen in the new Camaro (look for that story soon), is also data-rich, with red light camera locations, and even more feedback on efficiency, power flow, charge times and your personal energy use patterns.
The upshot is a vehicle that’s got a lot more practicality and day-to-day user friendliness than most of the moderately affordable electrics out there. Start-ups still produce giddy carnival noises and stats on your last drive; actual vehicle operation is whisper-quiet, eerily so.
A new twin-motor electric drive unit is lighter and more efficient than the early system, and the battery system, while still pretty gigantic, now consists of 192 individual cells (down from 288), with a smaller and lower-to-the-ground position that is collectively 100 pounds less than before.
Deplete the battery — which, in urban situations, doesn’t have to happen that often — and the transition to gas is also very smooth and quiet. Use both the electrified boost and the gas engine together and you get a considerable wack of overall power, which makes for a fairly pleasant driving experience. My all-gasoline-powered drives generated a decent but not explosively efficient 43 MPG, one higher than the window sticker figure; my test vehicle suggested that it had garnered 49.2 MPGe over its entire lifetime.
Braking also helps regenerate the battery and is less intrusive than it was in the first model, part of a whole motion-fuelled “Regen on Demand” system in the car. Ride quality might be considered a bit brisk for a car of this size and the fact that the vehicle is often completely noiseless does give you a bit more time to focus on the rigidity.
Volt, like the upcoming Bolt (an SUV-styled rendition of the vehicle), will indeed seat five, though foot space for a middle-of-the-second-row passenger is compromised.
Interior design has a stylish wraparound feel and a charming two-tone leather treatment, with chrome-plastic highlights around the vents, instrument cluster, AC controls and shift lever console — you’re limited to “drive” and a low gearing as your shift choices.
There’s also a superblue knob on the top, and that blue starter button, both of which might have you feeling like the car is powered by plutonium.
The biggest revolution is the car’s overall appearance, with the square and strange first-gen looks now swoopy, glass-heavy and a little like a hatchback version of a Malibu, shrunk down.
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