Quickies: Higher Voltage
You can never give up when you truly believe in something.
Electrification is a part of the mobility scheme for the future. Though the indicators show that we will see growth in electrified vehicles – everything from light hybrids to plug-in battery-charged models – early indicators have been mixed. While you see plenty of Tesla’s premium vehicles on the roads, other EVs have not been as present. Toyota saw growth in the Prius, but that has been cooled down in the past several months.
This is not stopping Chevrolet from trying. The 2017 Bolt EV has been winning accolades left and right – including Motor Trend’s Car of The Year and the North American Car of The Year. The Volt continues in an all-new guise with its mission still intact, along with some improvements.
Over five years ago, I had a chance to work with a Chevrolet Volt. It was a ground-breaking vehicle that was designed for electric propulsion as its primary power source, backed up by an internal combustion "range extender." The result was something that was odd looking, but worked quite well. Yet, it battled hard in the marketplace, while hybrids were trying to nudge their way into the mainstream of the market.
For another publication, I was invited to drive the 2017 Volt by a local dealership. I did…briefly. I will say that it has certainly improved in this second generation model.
The key points to make on the new Volt is the longer range on both battery-only power and in total. Chevrolet claims it will get up to 53 miles on a single full charge, up to 420 miles when the battery and the gas tank are empty. These are good numbers to have, augmenting the fact that the Bolt EV can get up to 238 miles on a single full change alone.
The Volt’s system enjoys improved propulsion and energy storage. The electric motor is improved, although the "range extender" gasoline engine is increased to 1.5 liters. While the range has improved, the overall power response is more robust. There is the instant torque form the electric motor, which smoothly transitions to gasoline power without any delay or physical response. The gas engine put out great power by itself. In all, one would be fine with the propulsion unit – though remember to juice up the battery and fill the gas tank when you are low on both.
The Volt is lighter than before. It certainly feels lighter. In fact, one would think this is a Cruze in the way it drives and handles. The battery weighs things down in the rear, which helps in tracking. I found the suspension "normal," but a bit more controlled than in a normal compact. Steering is quite sharp and the brakes are a bit touchy – thanks to its regenerative action.
The tester I worked with an LT trim model. The Volt comes in a more luxurious Premier model, also. The LT is a bit plain for the sticker price, but it is quite purposeful and well equipped. By well-equipped, the Volt features Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment, along with OnStar telematics and 4G LTE Wi-Fi connectivity. The instrument binnacle is a full TFT screen that is customizable not only by drive mode, but by selected information for vehicle functions. It is also well-informed with battery and gas levels, range information, speed and the famous “drive ball” that measured acceleration and brake by the glowing green ball.
If there is a down side, it is comfort. The seats were a bit too firm for my back, but they did form-fit me overall. Head and leg room were pretty good. Though I fear the back seat passengers. Because of the battery pack's "T" shape, you can only seat two in the rear. Sadly, there is still not enough leg room for adults back there. Cargo space is shallow, thanks to the battery pack. The two rear seats do fold flat for more space.
If there is one thing I enjoyed overall is the exterior design. It looks more…normal. This is a sexy compact hatchback, even with the satin-chrome “grilles” and black trimmings contrasting the body color. The doors open wide up front and the hatch opens very wide. Even the alloy wheels on the LT tester look handsome.
Before you ask the IRS and your state tax authority for credit on buying one of these, the base retail price for the Volt LT is $33,220. The sticker price for this tester came to $36,420. Chevrolet will also sell you a Level 2 (220 volt) charger for installation at your home, though a 110 volt plug-in charger is available in the rear cargo compartment when you need to recharge on the go.
The one thing I came away from the Volt is how hard Chevrolet is trying to be on the forefront of electric vehicle solutions for those who cannot afford a Tesla of any sort. Or, rather, to compete head on for Tesla’s customer base. The toughest part of selling sustainable and alternative propulsion vehicles is consumer awareness and acceptance. While it is easier in California and other states to sell an alternative to paying higher fuel costs, it is the flyover states where I am based out of that will have a harder time with EVs. Perhaps Chevrolet’s strategy will pay off in these crucial markets.
Back in 2011, this awareness began with the Chevrolet Volt. It continues with this car. Perhaps a more "normal" look and drive would convince the doubters to consider one.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Rosedale Chevrolet, Roseville, MN
All photos by Randy Stern