It Really Is the Game Changer GM Proclaimed
Now there’s an all-new 2017 Chevrolet Volt. It is better in nearly every way than the first one—more electric driving range, more hybrid fuel efficiency, more comfortable, more attractive and even more affordable.
Will Chevrolet make a genuine effort to sell the Volt this time around?
The First Round
As one observer commented, the Chevrolet Volt is one of the most politically “charged” cars ever produced. Politics aside, the Volt is a remarkable automobile that delivered exactly what General Motors said it would when the concept was introduced at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
While the Volt has been the world’s best-selling plug-in hybrid since it was introduced in late 2010, sales haven’t set off any fireworks at GM’s Detroit headquarters. The electrified plug-in that paved the way for others to follow finally reached the 100,000 U.S. sales mark less than 30 days ago (this was written in August 2016).
Why hasn’t the Chevrolet Volt sold well? Why not more?
The Volt’s main nemesis is the technology under the hood; it’s more complicated than a five-word headline. As the driving public attempted to understand planetary gear sets (hint, the sun gear is in the middle) and high-speed generator motors, the Volt got parked in a confused haze of what percentage of torque from the gas engine turned the wheel. The Volt represented a major change in the automobile, and lots of people find change frightening.
Yet, here we are today and many potential buyers still don’t understand that you can plug a Volt into an ordinary home socket outlet to charge the battery or that the car’s gas engine will take over when the battery’s electrons are gone thus, eliminating the dreaded EV “range anxiety.”
This deficit of knowledge is squarely on the back of Chevrolet, who failed to properly market the Volt or train its dealers properly. Of course, this can be said about all car companies who sell plug-in hybrids (as well as pure EVs).
Enter the 2017 Chevrolet Volt
There are two trim levels available. A base 2017 Volt LT starts at $34,095 including destination charges, while the Premier has a sticker price starting at $38,445. Neither price reflects any Federal, state, or local incentives that may apply to a purchase.
Our Premier test car arrived sporting a Heather Gray Metallic exterior and Jet Black interior. An Safety Package added $1485, which gave a total vehicle price of $39,930.
All-New Voltec Electric Drive System
Chevrolet doesn’t position the Volt as a plug-in hybrid, but as an “extended range electric vehicle” (EREL). In practice, this means it falls somewhere between an electric car and a standard gasoline-powered car.
The Volt operates entirely as an electric car for its first 52 miles after a full charge of the battery. In some driving situations—accelerating with a depleted battery, passing and climbing steep hills—the engine chips in to assist the electric motors.
The engine’s main purpose is to power a generator motor that produces electricity to sustain a battery charge, which is then directed to an electric motor that powers the front wheels. Once the battery is depleted, the 8.9-gallon fuel tank adds an additional 367 miles of total range.
Chevrolet has dubbed the electric system “Voltec.” It has changed significantly from the original version and consists of the battery, electric drive unit, range-extending gasoline engine and power electronics. Here’s a quick look at what’s new.
Externally, the new liquid-cooled and heated lithium-ion battery pack appears to be no different than the first one; it is still T-shaped. Internally it is a different story.
A new lithium-ion chemistry formula increases the battery’s storage capacity by 20 percent compared to the original Volt. Additionally, the number of cells has been reduced to 192, down from 288, decreasing the weight by 30 pounds. Total battery capacity jumps from 17.1 kilowatt-hours to 18.4 kWh.
To fully recharge a depleted battery, budget about four and half hours for a 240-volt home charging station; double the time using a standard 120-volt outlet.
Two smaller electric motors replace a single large motor and can work individually or together to drive the front wheels. One can act as generator, and at times both can sleep while the engine
locks into an efficient single-gear ratio connected with the wheels.
Electric motor output is increased from 111 horsepower and 273 pounds-feet of torque to 149 horses and 294 pounds feet. The ability to use both motors helps deliver acceleration from zero to 30 mph in 2.6 seconds, which is Tesla territory. Chevrolet says the run from stop to 60 mph is 8.7 seconds; however, a couple of automotive publications have posted 7.1 seconds.
A new direct injection 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine adds 101 horsepower. It serves as the generator to keep the battery charged and powers the electric drive unit. In other words, the Volt operates as an electric car all of the time. To save a few dollars, premium gasoline is no longer required (as was the case on Volt 1.0).
A continuously variable transmission (CVT) directs all the energy to the front wheels.
While computer programming decides the powertrain’s most efficient operation, the driver can play a role with four different driving modes: Normal, Sport, Mountain and Hold.
Paddle shifters borrowed from the ELR operate “on demand” regenerative braking. Rather than the standard brakes, this system slows the car by using the electric motor and captures braking energy normally lost as friction heat to add electricity to the battery.
So what does all this electrical and mechanical wizardry mean to a Volt owner? Here are the official EPA numbers:
- Electric only driving range is 53 miles, up from 38 miles.
- Gasoline fuel economy is now 42 mpg, increased from 37 mpg.
- MPGe is 106 versus 62 MPGe.
- Energy Impact Score is just 2.0-barrels of oil used yearly.
- CO2 emissions of 0.8 tons is close to paradise.
What these numbers say is—this is General Motors at its best engineering.
Chevrolet Volt—New Insides
While the first generation Volt resembled Honda’s previous Insight hybrid and the Toyota Prius, the 2017 edition is more akin to the 2017 Chevy Cruze. While it’s not a daring design, I like its
clean shape and balanced proportions. Carved body sides and fenders blend into the hood, and up front a revised split-faux grill sits lower to the ground.
For 2017, the car continues with a hatchback body style, which made for easy loading and unloading. The cargo area has 10.6 cubic feet of space with the rear seats up; the rear seatbacks fold down to give the Volt substantially more cargo space than any sedan in its class.
The first thing I noticed when sliding into the driver’s seat was the generous helping of refinement to the cabin. Tossed was the swath of white plastic on the center console along with the touch sensitive center screen, which, without intimate familiarity, could result in driving down the road like a drunken sailor.
Everything in the interior is new: seats, steering wheel, door panels, headliner and refined materials. The new eight-inch screen features Chevrolet’s MyLink system, one of the best in the auto industry, and the dash layout is more pedestrian with easy-to-use controls.
One thing is a carry over—no power seats. But, a manual height-adjustable driver’s seat and tilt/telescopic steering wheel make it easy to adjust for a good driving position. Plus, heated seats are available whether they are fabric or leather.
The 2017 Chevrolet Volt on the Road
The Volt whirred to life when I pushed its start button to pull away from our driveway. The instrument panel glowed, and a meter promised I could cover 53 miles on the battery’s charge.
After more than an hour of stop-and-go driving city streets and the rolling rural countryside, the car’s onboard generator switched on. I’d driven almost exactly the 53 miles Chevy says a full charge should cover.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the Volt ride is how quiet it is. When the gas engine kicks on, it purrs only so slightly. The stop-start system on the gas engine is flawless, making it difficult to tell when exactly the engine has turned over.
The Volt didn’t major in driving excitement, but it is surprisingly fun to drive and dispenses predictable front-wheel drive handling. It scoots quickly when merging on to freeways, and once up to highway speed it is nearly as silent as a Lexus ES 300 luxury sedan.
Like a good conventional automobile, the Volt steered nicely with decent on-center feel and some driver feedback. It rounded corners with sufficient agility to satisfy drivers whose other car isn’t a Mazda Miata or Corvette. It stopped promptly, the new regenerative brake system feeling more like a standard car.
Engineers have tuned the independent strut-type front and a semi-independent torsion beam rear axle with soft spring rates and matching shock rates for good comfort and control. The setup absorbs the bumps and potholes of everyday driving quite well.
The Volt isn’t without flaws. The snug interior and very large front A-pillars can cause difficult visibility for some drivers. Also, the rear bench seat is really only adequate for two adults and a car seat or small child.
Your Fuel Economy May Vary
Every window sticker label pasted on new vehicles reminds us that fuel economy may vary depending on a number of variables. With the Volt, I think, if you drive reasonably it will vary upwards.
Getting those 53 miles of EV range is no quip. I drove the Volt like I would any other car, accelerating quickly when necessary and slipping through traffic when called for.
On one reasonably flat driving route of 78 miles I achieved 61 miles of EV driving before the engine kicked in. During our week with the Volt we drove 396 miles—40 percent in town, 30 percent in the countryside on moderate speed roads and 30 percent on freeways, Our gasoline fuel economy was 42.3 mpg, three-tenths above the EPA estimate and our MPGe was 104, two less than the government’s rating. I call those numbers dang good.
Since its introduction the Chevrolet Volt has been a party of one. It was and is the plug-in hybrid standard. Almost six years later the best the competition can muster is 27 miles of electric driving range—and that’s not the new Toyota Prius Prime plug-in, it’s the Hyundai Sonata plug-in, which starts at $34,600.
If the new 2017 Volt is something you would consider purchasing—you are taking it for a test drive, aren’t you—comparing the price of the Volt with other plug-in hybrids will be a deceptive activity. Because of its large battery size, the Volt is eligible for the full $7,500 federal plug-in tax credit. All of the other plug-in hybrids with smaller batteries are capped at a $4,200 incentive or less.
Chevrolet got it right the first time and the 2017 Volt is even better. The Voltec powertrain system is an innovative engineering design that provides drivers with an all-electric car to use for city driving that will function as a normal economy car when the battery runs out of electricity.
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