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2016 Chevy Volt (2nd Gen) v.s. 1st Gen Chevy Volt

In December of 2010, I lined up to buy one of the first Chevrolet Volt’s produced in the world.  Two questions often come to me.  1.) How do you like it?  And 2.)  Would you recommend purchasing a Volt?  The answer to the first was always the same.  Love the car.  It is perfect for me.  To the second however, the answer was not always so clear.

While the 1st generation Chevy Volt was the perfect car for me at the time, there were a variety of things that could be a hurdle to happy Volt ownership to the broader buying public.  The very good news with the 2016 Chevy Volt (2nd Gen) is that many of those things have been addressed and it is a car that is ready for the mainstream.

The 2nd generation Chevy Volt has just started to ship to dealers and I’ve had the opportunity to spend 4 hours alone with the production 2016 Volt in the Marin headlands.  Here’s my experience.


The Hard Numbers

We’ll start with the hard numbers – the easy to compare quantitative stuff.  Some important refinements contribute to more of the stuff everyone will want.

1.)   More electric range:  The official estimated EV range is 50 miles (up from 38 miles in the earliest first generation cars).  On my drive through rolling hills, I got 58 miles pretty easily without trying.  This makes me believe the 50 miles number as being very ac
hievable in normal highway driving (which usually runs down the battery faster than the moderate speeds that I was driving due to the wind resistance) The extra range was very noticeable.  It took me a LONG time to run down the battery.  Based on previous Volt driver’s numbers, it should increase the number of trips you can take all electric from 80% to 90%.  This is very believable.

2.)   Higher gas efficiency when running on extended range (gas) mode.  The reported numbers are 42 mpg.  In my driving, (not trying to drive any special way) I got just over 42.  This is a real world number.  When I drove my 1st gen Volt, I would typically only get 38 miles per gallon.  Realistically, this is more of a mental feel good than a practical difference for me.  (40 feels like a lot more than 30) but I drive so little in gas mode anyways I don’t notice.  One nice thing now though is you can now use regular unleaded vs. premium.  It will make filling up the Volt feel even lighter on your wallet.
chevy volt range

3.)   Less weight:  The car now weighs 200 pounds less.  (3500 v.s. 3700 lbs)  While the average driver may not notice, the reduced weight really comes through in two ways.  While the 1st generation Volt “felt” noticeably heavier to drive, the 2nd gen Volt feels like driving a normal sedan.  It’s easier to maneuver, feels more composed and just feels more like driving a regular car.

The Finer Details

Beyond what’s just on the spec sheet, driving the 2nd generation Volt just felt different to drive.  All and all it had the hallmarks of a contemporary car, ready for anyone (even if you aren’t super comfortable with new technology) to hop in and enjoy.

1.)    My favorite little detail:  The “cell phone slot”.  I don’t know why no one else has though of this.  For years, I’ve been putting my cell phone in the cupholder or inside the center storage.  The problem with center storage is that you keep forgetting your phone in the car.  The problem with the cupholder, is well:  It doesn’t really hold the phone in any practical way.  The slot allows me to fit my iphone 6 plus easily in there and leaves room to plug the data cable to it.

cell phone slot

2.)    The cabin is much quieter:  So quiet that I can hear my watch “tick” while driving 30-40 mph.  The noise reduction comes from a quieter set of tires (the noisy Goodyears are gone) as well as a quieter electric drive train.  (Less electric motor whining)  And no more brake vacuum booster accumulating!  (it’s now on-demand brake booster so no more strange pumping noises)  All this without a ton more weight in sound deadening.  Also, notable is when running in gas mode, the engine is much less intrusive.  (They have a specially designed 1.5 liter engine now that doesn’t need to rev as high to do the same work)

3.)    The visibility of the car is much better.  You can now see through the A pillar much better.  With the original Volt there were more “blind” spots that you had to look around.  The pillars are now smaller, more compact and out of the way and sitting in the Volt feels upright and comfortable.

A pillar chevy volt

4.)    The charging cord is much smaller, more manageable, and you don’t need to unload your whole trunk to get to it!

charge cord g2 volt

5.)    The infotainment system is snappy, clean, and intuitive.  Nothing special in here compared to other cars but it works and has Apple Carplay.  The old system was a little laggy and sometimes clunky.  The new version with a combination of touchscreen and physical buttons and knobs are just intuitive.  It doesn’t scream “special concierge service” it’s selling point is how little you notice it.  You don’t need to read any manuals to figure it out.

In Summary

Everything about the new Volt just makes more sense.  It really is better in every way.  Whereas the first gen Volt had some odd quirks that you could live with, the new one feels comfortable with what it is.  It is comfortable, straightforward, and accessible to all.  Take a look at it, even if you’ve never thought about an EV before and you will find yourself in very familiar and comfortable car.



6 Responses to “2016 Chevy Volt (2nd Gen) v.s. 1st Gen Chevy Volt”

  1. James says:

    Hey Patrick – Nice writeup!

    Here in Washington I can’t buy a 2016 Volt unless I travel to another state. It’s mind-boggling the way GM markets these cars – all based on calculations done by beancounters playing with a 2017 Bolt introduction, remaining $7,500 tax credits, battery price, thin margins and C.A.R.B./ZEV credits…
    Wouldn’t it just be nice if GM cut loose all the static and just set Volt free to compete with Prius and all other hybrids and PHEVs on a car-to-car basis? Just some clever Tweets and a relatively inexpensive ad campaign could see a sharp rise in sales now. Volt is so much nicer looking than Prius, and the Gen4 Prius looks like a science-project-gone-bad mated to a Ford Probe from back in the day!

    I know you’re still smarting from the whole ELR experience. I’m sure you don’t feel any better that you’ve been one of the top early GM promoters of everything electrified, only to get the financial rug pulled out from under you when ELR prices plummeted. To add insult to injury, the held back ELR one year and revised it, adding performance and refinement then announced a nice lower figure for it’s impending MSRP!

    All that said, as previous owner of Volt #10, will you be sufficiently humble and forgiving enough to buy/lease a gen 2? I see ELR in many areas on gen2 Volt. There’s the ambient lighting in the doors and optionally in the cupholder and footwells ( I know you like the bling! ). There’s the ELR-like dash CRT and the nice, simplified, MyLink endowed center panel with Apple Car Play! The seats are richer and nicer without being “Cadillac ritzy” ( to me, all that Alcantara and carbon fiber with the wood was busy and overdone. I mean, I liked it – just didn’t $80,000-like-it.

    I know you only had 4 hours with 2016 Volt, but how do you compare/contrast the handling vs. your ELR? While Volt’s newest suspension is still uber-simple, as an engineering type you know simple is often better. They both have the twist-beam out back ( gen4 Prius has double wishbone independent rear! ), but I know ELR handled pretty well up to 75% of max, unlike Volt which was planted and secure, just not “high performance”.

    Lastly – As I wait for the chance to buy a 2017, at least I can rest assured some bugs will have been dealt with, and Android Auto will be baked in ( I’m not an Apple guy ). The 2017 will have the U.S.-built 1.5L range extender and not the 2016′s unit built in Mexico. I can live vicariously through reports like yours and am glad you still have top access.

    Will you buy the 2nd gen? Are you planning to drive the heck out of the ELR to try to recoup some of those losses?

    Are you still a GM guy?

    These are my burning questions.

    • PatrickZWang says:

      Hey James, Great questions. Let me try to answer. (This is to your first post)

      -Fortunately, I leased my ELR. So not on the hook for a ton of depreciation. Still not a great ownership experience though in terms of the brand promise. I like the car though and it’s stood the test of time quite well.

      -The new Volt “handles” better than the ELR because frankly it weighs 500 lbs less. Not much extra suspensions or tires can help when the car weighs a lot more with the same footprint. ELR tires are “stickier” but it’s just heavy and you can feel it.

      -The ELR rides better than the Volt and is still quieter in EV mode because of all the extra suspension tech and the extra noise dampening material.

      -Not planning on buying a 2nd gen atm, I still have 14 months left on my ELR lease, after that: We’ll see what’s on the market.

      -Am I a GM Guy? I like the tech, just hoping they have the right car for me the start of 2017. A working Supercruise would go a long way.

  2. James says:

    Oh, I almost forgot… What are your observations about 1) the improved battery pack 2) The new-think re: using more direct ICE connection in more situations more often while getting more efficiency out of the new motors and redesigned power electronics system 3) How do you feel about chain drive vs. gear drive?

    The uber-geek in me is stoked about little things like the cellphone Qi wireless charge port THAT IS ALSO A PHONE COOLER! – That’s something that got me from left field – some engineer just thought that up one night and made it so…pretty neat, not even the ELR has this ( at least ELR 1.0 ). I really think GM got it right with gen2 Volt – except for the nagging fact that gen2 Cruze ( North American version ) looks nearly exactly like a stretch Volt with a nice-sized back seat for 3 across family driving.

    I’d like to see an accomplished guy like you drive a gen4 Prius alongside a 2016/17 Volt and do a shootout/comparison story.

    • PatrickZWang says:

      -The new drive unit is really cool. I like how much they removed from it and still let it function effectively. I think it’s a much more elegant solution than Gen 1. The chain drive is only to do a final reduction and to put the power to the transaxle, still many gears with the planetary gear set. I think it’s all around better. (It’s also quieter as well in general even in EV mode if you could believe that) There’s a less pronounced humming from the power electronics.

      -For the Prius, maybe a bit of a stretch for me to comment on :) . I did get a chance to drive a Toyota FCEV Highlander though for a month. I actually think Fuel Cell has potential, just not quite there yet.

  3. Laura says:

    Thanks for the write up. We are strongly considering a 2017 Volt, and your web site has been very helpful. We have been trying to find as much information on owner satisfaction as we can – and it sounds like you have been very happy with yours.

  4. Keith says:

    Much of the exterior appeal to me is Gen I looks more prototype and futuristic – Gen 2 looks more ‘conventional’ as I heard it described. Even Gen I controls separate it from the standard. Chevy played it safe with Gen 2, but hope Gen 3 will be stunning

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