First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: 2016 Chevrolet Volt amps up style and range

Second-gen powertrain system boosts new Volt’s range, performance

2016 Chevrolet Volt

SCOTT, QUE. – Sleeker styling and greater range highlight the upgrades Chevrolet has developed for its all-new 2016 Volt plug-in hybrid sedan.

Chevrolet chose this scenic region of la belle province near Quebec City to take the wraps off its second-generation Volt for good reason: half of all electric vehicle sales in Canada are in Quebec and General Motors’ plug-in sales here are even higher at 75%.

This vehicle introduction is just part of Chevrolet’s expanding commitment to electric vehicles, assistant brand manager Nicalas Longpre told journalists gathered here for the Volt’s national launch.

“Chevrolet is getting serious in ‘green’ vehicles,” he said, noting that other bow-tie electrification plans include the expansion of the Spark EV into the Canadian retail market (it's now fleet only), confirmation the Bolt EV concept subcompact is going into production, and the upcoming introduction of the 2016 Malibu Hybrid sedan, which will utilize some of the Volt’s components and technologies. 

Improved range and efficiency

Chevrolet engineers sought input from current Volt owners as they planned this second iteration of GM's pioneering plug-in hybrid. The most repeated request was for an increase in electric range – and they got their wish.

The all-new Voltec propulsion system now has a rating of up to 85 kilometres of pure electric driving – up from the current model’s 61-km EV range. In normal, real-world driving (I wasn’t attempting to set any economy records) my Volt managed 74 kilometres before the new 1.5-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine took over.

Overall, the combined drive system has a range of more than 650 km, up from the Gen 1’s total of 590 km.

Owner feedback also noted the need for better fuel efficiency from the gasoline-fuelled range extender engine and requested that it be capable of running on regular-grade gasoline, not the pricier premium fuel the previous 1.4-litre engine required.

More power too

The new Volt's four-cylinder is the first application of a line of modular engines GM has developed for global use. (Expect to see this same engine, turbocharged, in the 2016 Malibu.)

It generates more power – 101 versus the Gen 1’s 85 horses – and it does so more efficiently. It’s rated at 5.6 litres/100 km. During my drive, the onboard diagnostic system reported gasoline consumption at 4.8L/100 and the overall tally for the car from new was 5.0L/100.

The difference in the level of engine noise intruding into the cabin was also noticeable, compared with the earlier Volt. One could barely hear the four-cylinder at work, especially at cruising speeds, and the transition between the electric and internal combustion -engine drive was impressively seamless.

There was no jerky switch between the two systems; in fact I found myself checking the eight-inch display screen to confirm which power package was driving the car.

Revised electric drive

Chevy engineers have made significant improvements to the Volt’s EREV (extended range electric vehicle) propulsion system. The new two-motor electric drive is 12% more efficient and 45 kilograms lighter than the first-generation system. Like the previous version, the Volt can run 100% on electric power until the battery is depleted and it is capable of speeding up to 158 km/h in pure EV mode. GM says it will accelerate to 96 km/h in 8.4 seconds.

The new electric drive unit is comprised of two new motors, both of similar size and smaller than the previous package, resulting in not only a lighter unit, but one that’s far more compact. The motors also feature an 80% reduction in the use of heavy rare earth metals and a 50% reduction in rare earth metals while still delivering the same total power capability.

The 1.68-metre long, T-shaped lithium-ion battery pack has also been redesigned. Its capacity has been increased to 18.4 kWh while reducing the number of cells from 288 to 196, resulting in a mass reduction of 9 kilograms. However, revised cell chemistry has boosted the energy capacity by 20%.

The battery pack can be recharged using either 240 volts or common household current (120 volts.) At the higher voltage, the battery will recharge fully in 4.5 hours; using 120 volts and 12 amps, a full recharge will take 13 hours.

Power cords for both are included with the vehicle and the 120-volt charger has been redesigned as a more compact package. Its onboard storage bin has also been relocated behind a panel in the left rear quarter panel. You no longer need to dump the trunk’s contents to gain access to the cord storage area below.

Regen on Demand

The Volt also has a new Regen on Demand feature that enables the driver to boost energy regeneration on the go by activating a paddle on the back of the steering wheel.

While the system regenerates on its own under braking, this feature increases the recovery rate. The drag is significant and comes in handy to help slow the car on steep downhill grades.

It will also bring the vehicle to a stop, but you can’t modulate the rate of deceleration – it’s either braking or not. Still, I found by using the button on and off, I was able to bring the car to a halt, albeit not the smooth rate one normally expects.

Longer, prettier, roomier

While the improved technologies incorporated into the drive system are truly impressive, Chevy hasn’t ignored upgrades to the more obvious elements of the Volt.

In particular, the exterior has been redesigned to be sleeker, giving it more of a sporty flair. It’s also more aerodynamic, including new active grille shutters to help improve efficiency.

Overall length has been stretched 84 mm, while its height has been lowered fractionally (7.6 mm.)  The wheelbase is marginally longer, as well (10 mm.) These changes have helped eliminate the somewhat quirky proportions of the first-generation model.

The additional length enabled the interior designers to increase rear-seat legroom by 15.2 mm and knee-room by 10.1 mm. Chevy presenters here were proud of the fact the rear seat will now accommodate three persons, bringing the car’s passenger capacity to five.

In reality, however, that middle-seat occupant won’t be a friend for long – there’s nowhere for his/her legs, other than straddling the console/cupholder/battery-pack hump.

The upside is that the added seatbelt now makes it possible to strap a child seat into that centre position.

Up front, the seats were comfortable and the driving position was fine. There are lots of high-tech features to keep the driver informed, including a programmable, eight-inch colour display in the centre of the instrument cluster, as well as the one in the centre stack. New connectivity features include Apple CarPlay for iPhone users (Android Auto will be available in 2016.)

A pleasure to drive

Driving the new Volt was a pleasant experience. With plenty of torque on tap, acceleration wasn’t an issue, whether moving from a stop or merging and passing on the highway.

The electric-assisted power steering was suitably responsive, the ride was quiet and comfortable, and the handling was decent. The Volt is not intended to perform like a sports sedan, but as a family car it cruises well on the open road and is nimble enough to meet the demands of urban driving.

Safety features include an all-new body structure with expanded use of high-strength steel to improve structure strength and reduce weight, a standard rear-view camera and 10 air bags, including knee-bags for the driver and front passenger.

Available active safety features includes lane keep assist with lane departure warning, side blind zone alert with lane change alert, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision alert with following distance indicator, front automatic braking and advanced park assist with front and rear park assist.

The Volt is offered in two levels – the base LT, which starts at a new lower MSRP of $40,090, and the upscale Premier, formerly badged as the LTZ. Its pricing starts at $44, 190. That pricing includes freight charges, but does not reflect available provincial green vehicle rebates – $8,000 in Quebec, $8,500 in Ontario and $5,000 in BC.   

SPECIFICATIONS:

Model: 2016 Chevrolet Volt

Price: LT, $40,090; Premier, $44,190

Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder, DOHC, direct fuel injection, 101 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 103 lb-ft  torque; plus two-motor electric drive (motor A: 48 kw/65 hp/88 lb-ft; motor B: 87 kw/117 hp/206 lb-ft); combined power output to the wheels -149 hp/294 lb-ft of torque.

Transmission: Two-motor continuously variable transaxle with integrated controls

Length: 1,481 mm

Width: 1,809 mm

Wheelbase: 2,694 mm

Height: 1,432 mm

Competitors: Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus EV, Kia Soul EV

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