Chevy’s redesigned Volt sacrifices some specialness for more prosaic luxury



CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer

volt-reviewDriving the redesigned 2017 Chevy Volt is like listening to Gaga and Tony Bennett. It’s a beautiful thing — a pleasure to behold — but you somehow miss the edgier Gaga that was carried about Hollywood in her egg-shaped womb-vessel. Gaga is a little more normal. Like the Volt.
While it’s a little less “special,” the new Volt looks much more dynamic. It’s still clearly a Volt, but with a more wedgy shape sporting silver grille inserts, signature LED driving lights, deep body sculpting, chiseled wrap-around taillamps and sporty 17-in. alloy wheels. Handsome as it is, you’ll have to blink twice to make sure it isn’t the redesigned Cruze.

2016-chevrolet-volt-039An updated interior trades concept car magic for everyday convenience. Gone are the touch panels, replaced by actual buttons for the automatic climate control and audio. There’s also a touchscreen to access navigation, audio and vehicle computer. A large LCD screen behind the steering wheel shows battery charging/discharging and driving range on the left side and gasoline engine performance and fuel level on the right.

And there are plenty of luxuries. Heated leather seats front and rear, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel and Bose audio came with our car — as did Apple CarPlay compatibility, wireless phone charging, 4G LTE Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Safety is enhanced by rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, blind zone alert, forward collision alert with automatic braking and adaptive cruise control. The car can even semi-autonomously parallel park itself.

But how to explain the powertrain?

Imagine a continuum from pure electric Teslas hard left to a gasoline-evaporating HEMI-powered Challenger Hellcat far right. If the Toyota Prius is dead center, then the Volt is left of hybrid. Chevrolet calls it an extended range electric. It’s electric because it is (almost) always driven by electricity from its lithium-ion batteries. It’s range-extended because it initially runs purely on batteries, but when they’re depleted, a 101 horsepower 1.5-liter gasoline engine fires up to continue the fun. It’s an electric commuter car that can drive cross-country on gasoline.

So, for the digits. The first generation Volt traveled about 40 miles all-electric, but the new one extends that to 53 miles — a 33 percent improvement. By EPA figures, the Volt achieves 106-MPGe on electricity, 42-MPG running gasoline, and can travel 420 miles from plug to vapors. Charging takes 13 hours on household 120v or 4.5 hours on 240v.

Driving in electric mode is as elating as sweeping the dancefloor with Gaga or Bennett. Stomp the throttle and you hear nothing as instant torque whooshes the car smoothly up to speed. GM claims the Volt will run 0-60 mph in 8.4s — not bad for a heavy compact car. Top speed is limited to 98 mph.

Additional features help owners. A drive mode selector configures the powertrain for Sport (more sensitive throttle, quicker battery depletion), Winter (less sensitive) and normal driving. There’s also a “hold” feature that preserves the battery level for future use. Owners can also set location-based charging preferences via GPS locator to take advantage of optimum charging rates.

Teaming with Tony Bennett showed Lady Gaga’s substantial range, insuring her superstardom for decades to come. I still have affection for the first-generation Volt, but the new one shows it can dance, sing, run on electricity, burn minimal fossils, and stretch is styling. It’s a better Volt for those who love Volts while drawing in drivers who never before liked its music.

A base price of $33,220 ($39,930 as tested) makes it a bright deal against the Nissan Leaf, Prius Plug-In and the Tesla Model 3.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2016.