2016 Chevrolet Volt: We’re Sorry, but it Really Only Has Four Seats (For Long Trips, Anyway)

Yesterday, General Motors officially unveiled the 2016 Chevrolet Volt to the world at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. With an all-new, larger-capacity battery pack, new drivetrain and more efficient 1.5-litre range-extending gasoline engine, GM says the 2016 Chevy Volt should manage an all-electric range of 50 miles per charge and a combined fuel economy of 41 mpg in range-extending mode.

There's plenty of room up front, but the middle rear seat isn't as spacious.

There’s plenty of room up front, but the middle rear seat isn’t as spacious.

As GM eagerly pointed out in all of its press yesterday, the new 2016 Volt does away with the four-seat arrangement of the outgoing model and adds and optional third seat in the rear to give five-seat capabilities.

Except the 2016 Chevrolet Volt is a five-seat car in the same way that the Tesla Model S is available as a seven-seat car. That fifth seat really only looks big enough for a ten-year old. And we think the lack of official photographs from GM showing the rear bench seat proves it doesn’t think it’s really a fifth seat, either.

Any time a new car is given its world debut, it’s generally accepted practice for the automaker revealing that car to release a set of beautifully-taken, high-resolution professional photographs of the vehicle in question.

Some will be studio shots, lit to perfection. Others will be action shots, showing the new model in an idyllic country setting or passing through a busy urban street scene. Then there’s the interior shots, showing the car’s dashboard, its luxurious new seats and cargo space.

Smaller than its predecessor, the T-Shaped Volt battery still intrudes into the cabin.

Smaller than its predecessor, the T-Shaped Volt battery still intrudes into the cabin.

In the official photographs released yesterday by Chevrolet, there wasn’t a single rear-seat shot.

So we went hunting. And we’ve found a couple.

Here's what that rear seat looks like. (Photo: GM Twitter Stream)

Here’s what that rear seat looks like. (Photo: GM Twitter Stream)

The folks over at InsideEVs are ecstatic about the fifth seat, saying “That’s seating for five! The one change we insisted (and confirmed 2 months ago) General Motors had to include in the 2016 Volt. Gone is the seating-for-four restriction. Hooray!”

The photographs we’ve seen of the rear seats tell a different story however. Alongside two regular-looking rear seats, there’s a smaller, shorter central seat. Far narrower than the seats either side, the central seat even lacks a headrest (something we’re guessing Chevrolet will fix before the 2016 Volt makes it to production but which isn’t required by law in the U.S.). There’s also less upper thigh support too, since the seat’s lower cushion tucks in by a good few inches in the centre to make way for the rear cup holder.

It gets worse. Because the 2016 Chevrolet Volt still uses a T-shaped battery pack, there’s still a visible intrusion into the cabin. While the battery tunnel isn’t quite as large as in the outgoing Volt, the top of the T-shaped battery tunnel provides the surface to which the seats are mounted. Anyone seated in the rear central seat therefore will find themselves straddling the battery tunnel and the two cup holders.

There's not a single publicity shot yet that shows the rear seats.

There’s not a single publicity shot yet that shows the rear seats.

Audobloggreen’s Sebastian Blanco is less impressed than InsideEVs with that fifth seat.

“Finally for now, let’s talk about the fifth seat, which requires the person sitting in the middle rear seat to straddle the battery tunnel,” he said yesterday. “At the preview event, we were able to sit in the back seat alongside two other adult males, and let’s just say that everyone was more than happy to get out after barely three minutes cramped together.”

His conclusion? “It’s clear that this fifth seat is designed purely for kids or very short rides.”

We’ve got to agree. Although that new middle seat has a seat belt and can *technically* accommodate a third person in the rear of the new 2016 Chevrolet Volt, we’re doubtful that anyone more than five foot in height or 100 pounds in weight will be comfortable there.

And even then, we think children may struggle to feel comfortable, forcing them to either rest their feet on the centre tunnel. As for a child restraint for younger children? We’re doubtful even that would fit, given the oh-so-narrow centre cushion.

Early Land Rovers -- like this Series I example -- had a similarly compromised middle-row seat.

Early Land Rovers — like this Series I example — had a similarly compromised middle-row seat.

General Motors isn’t the only automaker to ever pull this trick of course. We’ve driven plenty of 2+2 coupes in our time with luxurious seating up front but barely room for children in the rear. And for years — at least until it was made illegal — Land Rover offered a third front seat in its Defender off-roader by placing a rudimentary cushion and lap-belt in between the two main front passenger seats, allowing for a small adult or child to straddle the gear selectors in the middle on short trips.

We’ll be able to give you a more considered opinion on that extra rear seat in the all-new 2016 Volt when we’ve had a chance to try it ourselves, but in the meantime, there are two observations we have to offer.

Firstly, we’re glad to see GM has got rid of the awkward opening between the rear seats found in the first generation Volt. As anyone who has owned a Volt will tell you, that gap — while it looks cool — can cause a whole world of hurt when transporting objects or animals in the rear unless bridged by the official ‘partition’ accessory offered as an optional extra by GM.

Second, it looks like the centre arm rest — tucked into the centre backrest — is still there in the new 2016 Volt, perhaps even larger than the arm rest in the previous generation car. So for now, we think the logical way to use the new Volt is to lower that arm rest and treat it like a four-seat car.

Because frankly, that’s what the 2016 Chevrolet Volt really is for all but those ’emergency lift’ or ‘short trip’ scenarios.

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