Back in 2010, Chevrolet launched its first-generation Volt range-extended electric car. Proving extremely popular and beating the Nissan LEAF EV in the sales charts for many months at a time, it offered a real-world range of around 30 miles per charge. Back at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show in January, GM unveiled its successor: the 2016, second-generation Volt, which offers a bigger battery pack, better EV range and improved fuel economy, as well as an additional seat and onboard tech.
But how does the new next-generation Volt compare to the first-generation model? To find out, our Canadian Correspondent and long-time first-generation Volt and Nissan LEAF owner Dustin Batchelor went to Quebec City to put the 2016 Volt through its paces at its official Canadian launch event. What follows is Dustin’s diary-style report of the event, which first appeared on his own blog and is being reproduced here (in truncated form) with his kind permission.
The all new Volt has been completely redesigned, but they have tried to keep some defining characteristics from the first generation model. The Volt label is still shrouded in black on the side of the car, but it’s not a huge band that goes underneath the side windows. The hood has similar indents on it, as does the rear of the car. The backup light was a unique identifier for the first generation, which they have moved to the standard taillight location, but they created a groove that matches the shape of the original back up light. The rear spoiler is not a separate piece but is instead just integrated into the hatch.
The car is definitely more mainstream. It has roughly the same amount of aerodynamics as the first generation, but brings forth a style that is far more in line with what other manufacturers are producing. You cannot look at this car and immediately know that it’s an electric. For some die hard electric car owners this may not be the desired outcome, but for the average consumer this is probably the best way to go. The car is the same width as the first generation, but has increased in length to give a bit more room to the back seats.
With the first generation Volt, I would say the rear of the car was one of the most recognizable features. With its lower rear window, flat deck spoiler, tall taillights, and single lower reverse light, it created a very memorable experience. With the second generation Volt, the front of the car is where this comes into effect. The lines on the hood are more pronounced, the upper and lower grilles are highlighted with chrome, and the headlights are finally running full LED.
Which generation of Volt do I like most just based on the exterior? The entire package of the new car is aesthetically more appealing. Try as I might I couldn’t find one line on the car that was off-putting. It’s a great looking car that you could use for all occasions.
On the other hand, I happen to be one of the hardcore EV enthusiasts I mentioned earlier, and I really think the first generation Volt did a great job of being an iconic symbol for change in motoring history. The first generation Volt feels like GM was trying to make it stand out. The second generation Volt feels like GM is trying to make it blend into the background. As always, everyone has different ideas about what makes something beautiful, and if you put the first and second generation side by side, I’m pretty sure more people would pick the new one (based purely on the exterior).
In comparison to the first generation Chevy Volt, the biggest difference comes from the inside of the car. When sitting in it, the placement of everything is different. The seats seem to sit higher and more upright, the doors, dash, and center display unit are completely changed, and even the center console has gone through a full redo. It was actually quite surprising how much has changed, so let’s get into some of those changes!
I’m going to start with the rear seat in the car. Yes, the vehicle can hold 5 people, but no, you don’t want to do it on a regular basis. The middle rear seat is going to be for emergency use only. The battery pack is still T shaped, and it still runs down the center of the car, with the top of the T going underneath the rear seats. This means that there is a raised tunnel right where your feet would go when sitting in that 3rd spot. Be it child or adult, their legs need to straddle this, which encroaches onto the other passengers area. If you have ever been in the rear seat of the first generation Volt, and you wanted to move from one side to the other, it’s the exact same issue – you have to hoist yourself over that battery tunnel. Essentially a cushion was added and mounts for the belt buckle. It was kind of wasted space before, so I’m glad they converted it into a seat, but don’t expect to use it on a long drive. The downside to having that 3rd seat is you lose out on some of the luxury that went with having 4 independent seats. On that note, if you get the top end new Volt model, it comes with heated rear seats (looks like just for the two seats, not the middle).
This leads into the center console which the drive selector, cup holders, storage area etc. are part of. This center console actually feels considerably higher than the first generation, so I found my arm was elevated more when using it as a rest. This isn’t a big deal and you would get used to it, but it’s definitely a big change. Also to note is that it’s softer than the first generation. The covered cubby that is under the armrest has also shrunk significantly, and the 12V power adapter has been removed. The range-topping model does have a wireless charging dock for your mobile phone, but I liked the versatility of having a 12V power plug. In addition, the USB ports that were there have now moved to a recess at the front of the center console right behind the shifter. There was a recess here before on the first generation, but it was harder to reach given the placement of the drive selector. It has also been made considerably deeper so things don’t go flying off of it (yes, it happens to my mobile phone regularly).
In relation to the drive selector, it’s far more conventional than the first generation model. Instead of being placed far forward, it sits further back so it’s easily accessible – no reaching forward required. It still feels a bit clunky as with the first generation, but it’s nothing that would turn you off of the car.
Another huge change was the center stack. Gone are those controversial capacitive buttons and integrated heater controls. There is a single high resolution screen sitting up top which controls the stereo, GPS, vehicle settings, etc. The heating controls have now moved below that screen and function as they do in most normal cars. They are very easy to understand, and I’m sure are a welcome improvement to many. The upper screen has a tilt to it which was very different from the almost straight up-and-down characteristic of the old display. After driving and using it for a few minutes, it was apparent that using the new screen is very easy and intuitive, and the tilt doesn’t have any negative effect.
One thing I love about my first-generation Volt is the Bose stereo system. If you are looking at the base model Volt, I will highly suggest you upgrade to this system. Now with 8 speakers, and a much larger sub woofer, the Bose stereo eclipses my first generation Volt considerably (at least in the bass department). It sounds fantastic. The audio interface was easier to follow on the first generation Volt, although I’m sure this wouldn’t be an issue after spending a few days with the car and figuring out all the settings.
A major gripe for many owners of the first generation was the wind buffeting when one window was open in the car. I have experienced this and it doesn’t really bother me — I just open another window to counteract it — but if you hated it, you can rejoice that it has been fixed. I tried to get it to buffet but I couldn’t. This isn’t to say it’s not possible, but for me it was completely erased.
Surprisingly, there are still lots of buttons in the car, but they are spread out to different areas. The steering wheel has taken on a bunch of new buttons, and I have to say I’m not a huge fan. I prefer the steering wheel on the first generation model.
The main display behind the steering wheel has gone through some well deserved changes. In the first generation Volt a lot of people were overwhelmed by how much data it was showing, and how it wasn’t structured very well. The new system is very simple to understand, and still shows you the relevant information you want to know. Its another big step, and I wish I had it on my first generation.
Driving the new Volt feels very different than my first generation. They have considerably refined how the vehicle reacts both in electric and electric generation mode (gas). The accelerator pedal now has a far more linear feel to it, which makes accelerating and cruising much easier. Not to say it was bad in the first generation, but the second generation lets you drive very smooth.
Acceleration has been increased somewhat in battery mode, and increased considerably in generation mode. In the first generation, when the battery was used up, if you wanted to suddenly go faster the car would take a second or so to react to heavy throttle input. The gas motor would start spinning quickly to make electricity, and then the car would go. The new Volt does this as well, but in a much better way.
In the first generation, it seemed as if the Volt had 4 basic RPM settings. The new Volt now has several different RPM settings which it accesses more frequently. For example, in the similar acceleration scenario, the car goes through multiple levels of RPM (high, higher, highest) in a very quick way so that you eliminate that initial lag as soon as possible. In addition to this, when the battery is at zero, the car utilizes a connection of all three motors more frequently, so in essence the car is being driven by the gasoline motor. Once again, this is only when the primary battery has depleted, and only in certain scenarios. I have confirmed both of these with a GM expert, and it was done for driving experience and efficiency.
Another feature which is available in newer Volts, but not my own (as it is too old) is the Hold mode. This is a special mode that forces the gas generator to come on and save your primary battery capacity. This is an interesting function as higher speeds use your battery a lot more, so it can be beneficial to use the gas while at higher speeds, but then to switch back to battery only in slower traffic (where it’s more efficient). This is a standard feature on all models of the new Volt, and it feeds into the idea that this car is intended to recover as much electricity as possible. The drive selector still has Reverse, Neutral, Drive, and L mode (L is heavier engine regeneration), but the car has noticeably more regeneration in both Drive and L.
In addition to the engine braking built into the drive systems and the brake pedal, Chevy has added a paddle button behind the left side of the steering wheel. If you pull the paddle towards you (which pushes a single digital button down), then the car engages heavy engine braking. Depending on how fast you are going it can come on slower or harder, but for the most part it’s very heavy – as if you were braking for a reasonably rapid stop. I was kind of disappointed in this feature as I was hoping it would have analog level input so that you could adjust the amount of regeneration based on how hard you pulled. It looks like that would have been quite the difficult thing to implement, but it would have made this function a lot more usable. It comes on hard enough that the brake lights are lit when depressed. Before I drove the car I expected this feature to be one of the best new additions, but I don’t see it being used that often.
Lastly, there have been huge improvements over the sound of the car. When in battery only mode, if you go full acceleration, the car emits a very satisfying whining sound (as if Iron Man’s suit was powering up). After talking with a GM engineer, this sound is probably caused by the 2 smaller motors coupling under high voltage, but it’s still very cool. Besides this whine under full acceleration, the car is ridiculously quiet. You get some road noise, but nothing even close to what I get in my first generation Volt (which is still very pleasant).
When the gasoline engine turns on due to the battery being empty or driving in Hold mode, you have to try quite hard to actually hear the motor. It’s insulated so well that you will have a very hard time knowing what the internal combustion engine is doing. This makes the transition between the drive states nearly 100% seamless, and I think this is going to be a huge selling point for many new buyers. This is also why you should invest in that nice stereo, as you will get an incredible sound even at highway speeds.
The morning after I arrived in Quebec City, a buffet breakfast was served, and then various employees of Generationeral Motors Canada gave a presentation regarding the new Chevy Volt. This included a comparison between the first and second generation, but also how the Volt has allowed Generationeral Motors to reach an entirely new market. Many buyers of the first generation Volt were first time GM owners, and their household income was higher. There was was double the level of post graduate degrees among these buyers, and their careers were far more specialized. It is still a small market, but it’s a very important market for GM to be capturing.
Pricing of the vehicle was discussed, and which options the vehicle included. The base model Volt (LTE) is priced at $40,090 and includes special Canadian only standard equipment (heated steering wheel, heated front seats, heated mirrors). The Premier model runs $44,190 and adds leather seating, Bose stereo, automatic park assist, heated rear seats, and a few other small accessories. Most of the benefits of the new model were talked about: longer EV-only range (85 km), regular fuel gasoline (87 octane), more legroom, 5 passenger seating, extra airbags (10 total), and less noise.
Other highlights include:
- Inspiration of the exterior styling being elite athletes and wind-blow sands
- More balanced two electric motor design (similarly sized)
- With the electric drive unit, 80% reduction in heavy rare earth metals, 50% reduction in rare earth metals
- Drive system is 12% more efficient and 100 lbs lighter
- 0-60 mph in 8.4 seconds
- 20% more energy capacity per battery cell
- 192 cells vs 288
- Battery pack is 20 lbs lighter
- Battery pack is 6% larger
- 4.5 hours for full charge on 240V
- Location based charging – uses on-board GPS to modify your charging settings based on location
- Same HP as first generation (149) but more torque (294 vs 273)
- Gasoline engine puts out 101 hp vs 83 hp of first generation
- On-board charger upgraded from 3.3 kw to 3.6 kw
Besides the presentation, the room was also equipped with several displays. This included the first & second generation motors, second generation drive unit, T-shaped battery pack, and a sample battery cell from first & second generation. These were very interesting to look at, and you could really tell how different the design is.
GM Canada did a good job of spacing all the people out over a few days so that it wasn’t very crowded. We were given lots of time to look everything over and interact with Volt experts. It was a good experience.
I used the opportunity to talk to the GM Volt experts about why EV adoption rates in Quebec are so high, and not across the rest of the country. The Volt allows people anywhere to get into an EV, without having to really worry about charging infrastructure, distance etc. The answer was what I suspected. Some key dealerships in Quebec have bought fully into the idea of electric vehicles and have made it a point to become educated about the car and market, to offer it to customers, and to maintain stock. Outside of Quebec, no other dealership across Canada has taken this kind of initiative. Sure a few of them are sold, but until dealerships start buying into the idea, we will probably still see minimal sales north of the US border.
Unlike other automakers, GM decided to not include a higher power onboard charger on the new Chevy Volt. The reason? GM says it just wasn’t necessary for a car that has an on-board range-extending engine. While this is true, most Volt owners will tell you that the name of the game is to use as little gasoline as possible.
Case in point: if I’m on a long trip and stopping at a restaurant for 2 hours, I would much rather get close to a full charge than a 50% charge. When I mentioned this during the event, a GM employee responded by showing that most drivers of Chevy Volts regularly use the 110 volt standard wall charger that came with their car, and that the higher power on board charger just isn’t relevant on a regular use basis. I may have to agree on this, but I still wish there was an option to spec it.
The trunk of the Volt has gone under some serious redesign. In the back left side of the trunk there used to be an access panel for fuses. This is now the place where the 110 v charger is kept. The Bose subwoofer is mounted on the opposite side. The new charger has no cable management (the cord previously wrapped around the charger before), so I actually had a difficult time putting the charger back. I’m sure you could get yourself some Velcro straps to help out, but it was clearly an area where money savings took precedence over convenience.
The changes in the rear trunk didn’t stop there either. In the first generation Volt there was a handle to lift up a cover where the tire repair kit was, the charger was stored, the subwoofer was housed, and a little cubby was found. There is still a cover here, but it is clearly meant to not be lifted on a regular basis. The standard 12 volt car battery is located down here and easily accessible, but that’s basically it. To get to this area you have to grab the edge of the carpet. There shouldn’t be any need to regularly get underneath here, so I don’t see any issue with this, although it is another area where cost savings took priority.
Visibility in the front of the car while driving has been increased dramatically, and the car feels way less like you are in a cockpit. My first generation Volt reminds me of my wife’s 1989 Nissan 240SX in terms of how low you sat and how everything wrapped around you.
In the new Chevy Volt you seem to sit higher and as a consequence can see more around you. Rearward visibility is less, however.
That’s because there’s no lower hatch window as with the first generation Volt. On my test drive, I found myself wanting to look through there like I do in the first generation Volt. If you didn’t have a first generation — or if you hated that window — then you aren’t missing much, it’s just something I’m used to. The rear view camera comes on almost instantly, and the proximity sensors now have a visual display to go with the audible tone, making maneuvering the car easier. The sensors are only available on the top end model.
There’s lots of new tech such as collision detection, lane departure warning, heated steering wheel, LED taillights, extra airbags, and the wireless cell phone charger. The entertainment system is also compatible with the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interface software. The Android system is still being rolled out by Google, but with the Apple you can simply plug a USB cable in, and then project your phone’s screen onto the main display. If you were to get a base model with no GPS, this would allow you to display your mapping application on the vehicle screen. The first 2016 Volt I drove was a base model, and after becoming a bit lost, my driving partner plugged in their iPhone, loaded up our destination, and in no time we were following the guidance. It was very cool. One thing to note is that the iPhone display seemed to show at a lower resolution than the standard graphics.
Finally, the key fob has undergone a large change. It no longer has a swing out key, and instead has a removable key similar to the Nissan Leaf. This key is only used to open the locks of the Volt if the batteries for the key fob are dead, or if somehow all the batteries to the car were dead. There is a little plastic cover you need to remove on the exterior of the car which exposes this key hole, and it’s clearly intended to not be used on a regular basis.
Previously if you wanted to start the car with a key fob that had dead batteries you had to open the compartment on the dash, remove a rubber mat, and insert the key into a key hole. On the new Volt all you need to is open the center stack arm rest cubby, lift a mat, and place the fob in an indent. This will allow you to operate the car. It’s easier and makes more sense. The fob has gained a bit of width though, and is roughly the same height.
To be fair, I’m only going to compare the brand new Volt to my 2011 first generation Volt. The discussion between going full electric (BEV) vs Extended Range EV (EREV) has been discussed on this blog several times (yes I also own a 2012 Nissan Leaf). After the first day of driving the 2016 Volt, I saw it as a really nice progression in the series. After the second day, I kind of fell in love with it. Everything just worked so well together, and it started to make me doubt whether I should have maybe waited a few years on buying my 2011 Volt. The second day drive only went into the afternoon, and before I knew it I was flying back to Victoria, British Columbia. It was midnight PST when I touched down at YYJ, and I was thoroughly done. I got off the plane, picked up my luggage, and walked to my Volt in the parking lot. I knew this was the moment where I would actually decide if I had made a mistake by buying first generation.
As the car came into my view, I remembered why I liked it so much. It’s sharp lines, black accents, rear spoiler, and overall stance all appealed to me just as much as they did before. I sat in the car and immediately felt at home. The EV motors electrified instantly, the heated seats turned on, and in an instant I was driving out of the lot. The whole drive home I was pumped, re-energized. The first generation drove great, the stereo system sounded fantastic, and when my remaining battery ran out, the gas generator started seamlessly, and quieter than I had remembered it. I arrived home, parked in my garage, went inside, and spent some time thinking about the experiences I went through over the past 3 days.
The 2016 Volt is a better car. It’s improved on nearly every aspect of the first generation, and it costs the same. If my 2011 Volt was to be written off in some car accident, I would without question be putting my name down on a new 2016. I think General Motors will see great success with this car, and I would encourage you all to start pestering your dealerships to get their hands on these things as soon as possible.
Do I have regrets about buying a first generation EV and not waiting? Absolutely not. When the Volt, Leaf, and other first generation electric vehicles came out, they showed me that all the other combustible vehicles on the market just couldn’t stack up. In my mind, and to this day, I will never go back to a combustion only car. The driving experience is so much better in an EV that I just couldn’t be dragged back to that older way of life. My Volt still does this to all of the new combustion vehicles that are being released – it makes them look outdated, inferior, and undesirable.
With the all new second generation 2016 Chevrolet Volt, it’s easy to see all the areas the car has become superior. Where the first generation showed us how much better it can be than a combustion car, the second generation shows us how much farther EVs can progress. I’m really excited for the time we live in and the amount of innovation we are seeing in this segment. Whenever I drive my now outdated 2011 Volt, I’m still surrounded by a sea of toxic spewing vehicles. It’s a constant reminder of what used to be for me, and I can’t help but be enamored with my first generation whenever I’m in it. EVs are here to stay, they are going to change the world, and kudos to General Motors for continuing to support the segment.
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