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2016 Chevrolet Volt Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

Chevrolet Volt front quarter
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Introduction

In the years leading up to the Chevrolet Volt's introduction in December 2010 as a 2011 model, General Motors hyped the car relentlessly. This was their highest tech car ever, their vision of the future, their attempt to wrest green leadership away from Toyota. The Volt's technology was impressive, and the hatchback also drove pretty well, but it fell well short of changing the game and making GM an alt-fuels leader. The Prius remained the top-selling green vehicle by a wide margin. Meanwhile, Tesla seized image leadership and the attention of the general public.

For the 2016 model year GM has thoroughly redesigned and re-engineered the Volt. How much has the Volt improved? Is it enough? Should people who rejected (or simply ignored) the original consider the new car?

There's still no other car like the Volt, so I'll compare the car it sought to leapfrog, the Toyota Prius, also redesigned for 2016.

Volt Reviews: Chevrolet Volt front quarter

The color helps cover up the confusion at the base of the A-pillar. Otherwise a clean design. more Volt photos

Volt Reviews: Chevrolet Volt interior

Cleanly styled interior. I feel I should find this attractive, yet it leaves me cold.

Tested: 2016 Chevrolet Volt

4dr Hatch 149-horsepower Electric + Gas CVT FWD

Compared: 2016 Toyota Prius

4dr Hatch 95-horsepower 1.8L I4 Hybrid CVT FWD

Why the 2016 Chevrolet Volt?

  Compared to the Prius
Fuel economy
Fuel economy: Better Better Worse

From the start, the primary reason to buy either the Chevrolet Volt or the Toyota Prius has been energy efficiency. Which is more efficient depends on how many miles you tend to drive each day.

The Volt is a car like no other. It can travel much farther and accelerate much more quickly on electricity alone than other plug-in hybrids. Consequently, it usually operates like a fully electric vehicle (EV). Other plug-in hybrids must rely much more often on their gasoline engines. While the Volt can't travel nearly as far on electricity alone as pure EVs, they don't have a gas engine as a backup. As long as there's a fossil fuel dispensary around you never have to worry about running out of juice in the Volt.

How much farther can the new Volt travel on a full charge? GM's engineers enlarged and improved the battery pack, increased the efficiency of the electric motor and transmission, and reduced the car's weight by a massive 240 pounds. These changes increased the car's battery-powered range in the EPA's test from 38 to 53 miles. The 2012-2015 Prius Plug-in Hybrid had a range of only 11 miles even with the gas engine assisting with acceleration. (The upcoming Prius Prime should do better, but will likely still have much less battery-powered range and performance than the Volt.) As in all EVs and plug-ins, though, cold weather or heavy A/C use will significantly reduce the Volt's range.

If your drives are rarely long enough to run the Volt's battery down, and you live in an area where the price of electricity is at or below the national average (or discounted at night), the Volt will cost less to operate than the Prius. Be aware that the price of electricity varies far more than the price of gasoline depending on where you live. Also, with gas prices down and the Prius's fuel efficiency up, the advantage of running on electricity isn't as large as it used to be. If your electricity is expensive, the Prius will actually cost less to drive. But will gas prices remain low?

If you do need to run the new Volt on gasoline, then it manages very good but not amazing fuel economy, 42 mpg combined in the EPA's tests (up from the 2011-2015's 37 mpg). The Prius Eco scored 56 mpg, and in my driving easily exceeded this number.

If your focus is on the environment rather than the cost of fuel, the Volt at least potentially uses cleaner energy (depending on the source of your electricity).

Fully charging the Volt via a standard household outlet can take up to 13 hours. If you regularly drive more than 25 miles per day you'll probably want to get a 240-volt charger, which reduces the charge time to about four hours.


Price or payments
Price or payments: About the same Better Worse

When introduced as a 2011 model, the Chevrolet Volt was expensive, with a base price before tax credits of $41,000. When the car's sales fell short of expectations, Chevrolet cut the price. The 2015 started at $35,170.

Battery pack costs have been falling, and GM engineered the 2016 Volt's powertrain to cost less to produce. These lower costs have been passed on to car buyers, such that the 2016 Volt starts at $33,995. (The 2017, already available, costs $100 more.)

Still seem a little high for a compact hatchback from a volume brand, even one packed with energy-saving technology? Well, you likely qualify for a $7,500 tax credit if you purchase a Volt. Anyone who leases a Volt (often the smart way to go with EVs) gets a $7,500 discount up front.

After this tax credit the Volt costs only $1,235 more than a base Prius and only $735 more than a Prius Two Eco. Load both cars up and the Volt even costs $535 less than the Prius. Courtesy of the federal government, you're getting the Chevrolet's far larger battery pack for from next-to-nothing to less-than-nothing. Plus, if you live in state that provides additional tax credits, the Volt could cost significantly less than the Prius. Factor in the base Volt's larger standard wheels, 17s rather than 15s, and the Volt's pricing seems even more attractive.

Perhaps you're wondering whether any of the EV bits make financial sense. Even factoring in the tax credit a Volt LT costs $4,500 more than the related Cruze LT. About $2,000 of this difference can be attributed to the Volt's additional non-EV-related features, such that the EV bits and battery pack will set you back about $2,500. Based on the EPA's calculations, the payback for this amount is about six years, which is reasonable since the car should last at least twice this long.


Volt Reviews: Chevrolet Volt rear quarter

Much more athletic shape. But the high tail limits rearward visibility.

Volt Reviews: Chevrolet Volt instrument panel

Large, vibrant displays are the highlights of the Volt's interior. Usability way up.

Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: Much better Better Worse

Unlike other plug-in hybrids, the Chevrolet Volt performs very well on electricity alone. The electric motor reacts more immediately than any gasoline engine, feels tire-spinning strong at low speeds, and accelerates the car to highway speeds with at most a faint whine and no sign of strain. The driving experience is dramatically different from that in a gas-powered car (in that there's much less drama). An all-out run to 60 mph takes about eight seconds.

The Prius can barely accelerate on electricity alone. Even minimal accleration causes the gas engine to kick in. Run the Prius hard, and the noise of the engine is fairly high and not pleasant. Even then the Prius cannot acclerate nearly as quickly as the Volt despite retaining a quarter-ton weight advantage. The Toyota sounds and feels best when driven casually.

If you're a fairly aggressive driver, you'll enjoy driving the Volt far more than the Prius. Plus fuel economy won't suffer as much since an electric motor remains efficient over a broader operating range than a gas engine.


Why Not the 2016 Chevrolet Volt?

  Compared to the Prius
Rear seat room & comfort
Rear seat room & comfort: Much worse Better Worse

The original Chevrolet Volt's cramped rear seat could only hold two people. In the second-generation Volt the hump for the battery pack has been lowered to permit a third person to straddle it. But they'd better be small, and even then they won't be comfortable. This fifth spot could be the least comfortable seating position in any four-door car. It's best considered for short-term emergency use.

Even the Volt's outboard rear seat passengers better not be tall. The Volt's roof line sweeps dramatically downward, while the hatch extends unusually far forward. To squeeze rear seat passengers within this oddly configured space, Chevrolet has positioned the seat cushion very low and has located the rear passengers' heads beneath the hatch glass. The roof's rear cross-member produces an odd bulge in the headliner ahead of said heads. As is, both rear head room and rear knee room are in short supply and it is easy to bump one's noggin while getting into the rear seat.

Adding insult to injury, the Volt's rear seat feels even tighter than it is because the rear side windows are small and the front seats largely block the view foward. Claustrophobes better sit up front. One somewhat bright spot: the Volt's rear seat cushion angles sharply upward to provide more thigh support than you'll find in the typical compact car (or the Prius) despite the seat's ultra-low butt pocket.

The Prius's official interior dimensions might not differ much from the Volt's, but its rear seat passengers enjoy much more rear knee room (if slightly less rear headroom) and feel like they have far more room.


Driving position & visibility
Driving position & visibility: Worse Better Worse

The Chevrolet Volt also feels much less roomy the the Toyota Prius in the front seat, but largish adults will at least fit. The Volt's front seats provide less lateral support than those in the Prius--they're rather flat--but they're also less squishy.

Both cars have deep instrument panels. This said, the view forward seems much more normal in the Volt--unless you happen to be a goldfish. The view forward from the Prius's driver seat has more in common with a minivan--or a fishbowl, or perhaps a spaceship--than with other compact hatchbacks. Over the course of a week I never got used to it.

Rearward visibility isn't good in the Prius, and is even worse in the Volt thanks to its smaller windows and tiny side mirrors. While a rearview camera is standard in both cars, equipping either to include a blind spot warning system (recommended) bumps the sticker price to about $30,000 (after the tax credit in the case of the Volt).


Volt Reviews: Chevrolet Volt front

Chevrolet's current face, electrified.

Volt Reviews: Chevrolet Volt rear seat

A tight spot even for two.

Cargo capacity
Cargo capacity: Much worse Better Worse

The Chevrolet Volt's interior space shortcomings extend to its cargo area. With its rear seat up, the Volt can only hold 10.6 cubic feet of cargo, versus 24.6 in the base Prius and 27.4 in the Prius Two Eco and Prius Four (which do without a compact spare tire and thus have a lower cargo floor). While these specs likely overstate the real-world difference, the Prius definitely can hold significantly more stuff. This said, the Volt's cargo area is sufficient for most tasks.


Reliability & durability
Reliability & durability: Much worse Better Worse

From the 2004 model onwards the Toyota Prius has been among the most reliable models in TrueDelta's car reliability survey, and there's no reason to expect that the latest iteration won't continue this tradition. The first-generation Volt has been about as reliable as the average car recently, neither especially bad or especially good. Whether the second generation will be more or less reliable remains to be seen. It's not a near-sure thing the way the Prius is.

Beyond overall reliability, it has become possible to cheaply replace individual cells in the Prius's relatively small battery pack, and the same could become possible with the fourth-generation car. (While the Prius Two retains the old car's NiMH battery pack, the other trims have lithium-ion packs.) The prospect of potentially having to replace the Volt's much larger lithium-ion battery pack in toto once its eight-year warranty has lapsed renders it much riskier for people who hold on to cars for a long time.


Safety & braking
Safety & braking: Worse Better Worse

It's not yet clear how the new Volt's safety compares to that of the new Prius. While the Toyota aced its crash tests, the Chevrolet hasn't been tested yet. It does appear that the Prius's available automatic braking system effectively operates over a broader speed range than the Volt's.

In related featues, the Prius can be purchased with full-speed-range adaptive cruise control, while no sort of adaptive cruise is offered on the Volt.


Other features of the 2016 Chevrolet Volt

  Compared to the Prius
Exterior styling
Exterior styling: Much better Better Worse

GM sought to make the new Chevrolet Volt as much like a regular car as possible, and the new exterior styling reflects this. As much as I don't care for the wide band of black trim beneath the side windows of the original Volt, I find myself missing its bolder, more distinctive appearance. Aside from being easily mistaken for Hyundai, a Honda, or perhaps even the new Chevrolet Cruze, the new Volt's exterior has an unresolved mishmash of lines and black trim around the base of the front pillar.

Even with this mishmash, which is less obvious with the tested car's greenish gray than with more reflective colors, the new Volt is undeniably sleeker and more athletically proportioned than the original. It's also far more attractive than the new Prius. Toyota has been striving to make the styling of its cars less plain and boring, but the resulting exteriors tend to be crudely overwrought messes. I found the 2010-2015 Prius far more attractive than the new one.


Interior styling
Interior styling: Much better Better Worse

The story is much the same inside the cars. The original Chevrolet Volt's interior, though not perfect, successfully conveyed the car's distinctive, high-tech nature. It helped make driving the original Volt a special experience.

The new Volt's interior could be that of any recently designed Chevrolet. There's style in the way the various lines organically flow together, yet the whole still comes across as, well, vapid. There's no warmth here. An overwhelming sense of hard plastic likely deserves much of the blame. A pattern stitched into the center panels of the seats strives to lend them visual interest, but it fails to sufficiently distract attention from the blatantly synthetic cloth. A color other than the tested car's light gray might help. Only the vibrant LCD instrumentation suggests that the Volt isn't just another Chevrolet.

In contrast, the interior of the Prius appears bizarre, especially in the tested car's high-contrast color scheme. I didn't care for it, but my wife liked it. As for the materials inside the Prius, they look and feel even cheaper than those in the Volt. The Chevrolet seems more substantial and more solid from the moment you pull its door closed.



Controls and instruments
Controls and instruments: Worse Better Worse

The Volt's primary instruments are larger and conventionally located directly ahead of the driver, while the Prius's instruments are smaller, more distant, and centrally located. The central location might seem odd at first, but I've never come across an owner who continued to mind it.

GM refined the Volt's controls with the redesign. They're now much more like those of any other recently designed Chevrolet. A reduced number of conventional buttons has replaced the original Volt's plethora of finicky, non-tactile, touch-sensitive controls. The touchscreen-based MyLink infotainment interface is among the easiest of its genus to use.

Both the Volt and the Prius provide detailed feedback to help you improve the efficiency of your driving. The Toyota's feedback is more detailed and thorough, with separate ratings for your acceleration, cruising, and braking, plus specific tips. The car's mpg history can even be viewed daily for the past month then monthly. Because of the superior quantity and usability of its driving style feedback I've given the Prius an overall edge in this category.

Still, the Volt has some clear advantages. Want to use phone-based Apple CarPlay or Android Auto instead of the car's built-in interface? While the Prius supports neither, the Volt supports both.


Ride smoothness
Ride smoothness: Worse Better Worse

With firmer tuning and a less sophisticated rear suspension, the Chevrolet Volt doesn't ride as smoothly as the Prius. Its lower profile tires clomp more loudly over minor road surface imperfections. This said, both cars ride well, and more smoothly and quietly than their predecessors. Those who prefer a "sporty" ride could prefer that of the Volt.


Handling
Handling: Better Better Worse

Both cars handle better than their predecessors, with very good body control, moderate lean, precise steering, and more than a hint of agility. While the Prius has improved more dramatically--it had more room for improvement--the Volt's more firmly damped suspension and weightier steering will still make it the favorite of people who enjoy driving. This said, neither steering system communicates much, and even the Volt won't be mistaken for a driver's car.

In Touring form, with 215/45R17 tires instead of the 195/65R15s fitted to the non-Touring trims, the Prius should ride and handle at least a little more like the Volt (invariably shod with 215/50R17s). Or maybe not. At least one major car magazine found that the Touring's tires gripped the road less well.


Conclusion

When I first drove the Volt, I found the experience exciting. The car looked and felt so different. With the redesign, Chevrolet has sought with much success to make the Volt look and feel more like a regular car. For me, something has been lost. I experienced little excitement driving the new Volt. Instead, I felt like I was driving an appliance.

As appliances go, though, the new Volt is an excellent one, with improved efficiency, performance, handling, and controls. I'd much rather look at and drive the new Volt than the new Prius. But the Toyota is much roomier, much more efficient than a Volt running on gasoline, and likely more reliable.

The key distinction: the Volt remains the only car with enough range and performance on electricity alone that most people will rarely need to run it on gas, but also with a gasoline engine for convenient travel over long distances. For people dependent on a single car for their daily transportation, but who want an EV, and who don't need a roomy rear seat, it's the most sensible choice.

Making this choice easier: despite its much larger battery pack, the Volt costs little more than the Prius once the federal tax credit is factored in. Once GM reaches the 200,000-unit cap on the tax credit, which will occur in 2018 if the upcoming Bolt EV sells well, it will become much harder to justify buying a Volt, especially if gas prices remain low.

Volt Reviews: Chevrolet Volt engine and motor

Lighter, more efficient, and less expensive to product than the original Volt's powertrain.

Volt Reviews: Chevrolet Volt cargo area seats folded

Huge hatch opening.

See more 2016 Chevrolet Volt photos

Chevrolet and Toyota each provided cars for a week with a tank of gas (most of which did not get used). Matt Poches of Serra Chevrolet (248-415-4785) helpfully provided a second, 2017 Volt so I could drive it back-to-back with the Prius.

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2016 Chevrolet Volt pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2016 Chevrolet Volt. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.

Response from Member445

9:16 pm June 6, 2016

As a non-plug-in gas car, the Prius really competes more with conventional gas cars than it does with the Volt. I don't like talking about "payback periods" since that makes it sound like you have to wait 5 yrs for the benefit of a fuel efficient car when, in reality you benefit right away with every fill-up. Instead, I assume the cars are financed and compare the monthly cost including fuel and maintenance. Using MSRP, 7 yr financing @ 3.26%, 12000 mi/yr and $2.48/gal the Prius is cheaper per month than many conventional gas hatchbacks with automatic (or CVT) transmissions and backup cameras -- e.g. the Elantra GT, Golf Sportwagen, Focus and Forte5. Once the Prius is paid off, you continue to save on fuel. The Prius has reached price parity with comparable conventional cars if you drive enough per year.

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Response from mkaresh

8:12 pm June 7, 2016

When I write up the Prius I'll be comparing it to the Ford C-MAX, since it's the only other current compact hybrid. What I'd really like to compare it to is the upcoming Hyundai Ioniq.


This particular review focused on the Volt, such that the question was what car does the Volt most directly compete with? The Prius seemed the closest match.

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Response from Member445

1:07 am June 8, 2016

The way I calculate, the CMax Hybrid is 23% more expensive per month than the Prius. To get a backup camera, you need to get the SEL trim plus a $2200 option on top of that. It has been getting only 35.7 mpg on Fuelly vs 54.8 for the Prius. You'll have to replace the OEM tires before the 7 yrs are up and that will cost $250 more for the CMax than the Prius (TripleTreds on TireRack). The CMax has about 5% more total interior room than the Prius but it is much more expensive to own. It will also probably cost more in repairs once the warranty is up. The 2016 Prius can compete with conventional gas hatchbacks and I hope people shop it that way.

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Response from colin42

9:56 pm June 15, 2016

I'm on my 2nd gen 1 Volt (2013 & 2015). I love the smoothness of the electric drive and the rarely visiting the gas station, however I also like that I'm not range limited. I've use our volts as a primary car for vacations, airport runs, communiting and the weekly grocry shop. In the summmer i see ~ 40 miles per electric charge and ~ 40 mpg on highway

I was hoping the 2nd generation address the main short fall of the gen 1. Yes the extra range is nice but honestly 30 mile electric is plenty for my daily needs. The styling is an improvement, but now looks alike a last gen Honda Civic.

The biggest complaint is the interior space, both for rear passengers and cargo.The rear seat room of my Gen 1 is cramped, it's ok for my 2 young kids, but not much more. And the Gen 2 doesn't look any better

I wish GM woud put this drivetrain in a larger vehicle - something the size of th Prius V or Rav 4 would be ideal. Until they do I will be checking out the Chrysler Pacifica Plug-in once that launches (althought it's probably larger than I need).

I'm sold on the plugin Hybrid concept I just wish there were a few more choices across different vehicle size. just bcause I want to drive electic doesn't mean I want to drive a tiny car.

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Response from ReVolted

8:22 am June 24, 2016

As an owner of the original Volt, i will say this..

The reliability of a bus pass is better than the volt, i have had mine a total of nearly a year, and in that time it has been serviced 53 times, of those times nearly every electrical system, wire, and mechanical item has been replaced. The car has less than 25K miles.. The Toyota Sienna it replaced was terrible on gas, but at 379K miles with only an exhaust manifold cracking in that time was a MUCH more reliable vehicle, and as such i would never recommend a Volt over anything, even the bus pass..

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Response from colin42

8:54 am June 24, 2016

I'm sorry to hear that - It sounds liek you got a badcopy as the reliability stats don't reflect your pain (http://www.truedelta.com/Chevrolet-Volt/reliability-1048). My 1st volt had 3 faults in 3 years and only one of them I consider serious a bearing failure in the transmission. My 2nd volt has had no repairs in the 9 months I've owned it . My biggest (quality?) complaints of my 2nd car are 1.The paint marks and chips eaisly - although this might be that it's more obvious due to the color. 2. Even thought it has the slightly larger battery it appears less efficient than the 2013 - still above what is expected stated by GM, but definately a slightly lower miles/kWh.

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Response from mkaresh

11:03 am June 24, 2016

ReVolted: 53 repair trips is extreme. How many independent problems were these for? Were many for one or two problems that they couldn't figure out how to fix? I do wonder how well dealers are able to figure out problems with such a complex powertrain. Do independent shops touch them?

colin42: I am surprised to hear that energy efficiency declined, as the opposite should have occurred. I wasn't able to measure any such change precisely enough in my testing of the cars (too many variables, too little time with the cars).

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Response from colin42

4:16 pm June 24, 2016

Michael My examples are both gen 1 Volts (2013 and 2015). The 2015 had the slightly larger battery pack. 10.8 - 11 kwh usuable range vs ~ 10.2 - 10.5 kwh for the 2013 (this is according the vehcile display). In Mild weather ~ 65 - 75 degF I'd typically get over 40 miles on the 2013, where as the 2015 I get ~38-41 miles on a full charge. I put this down to normal variation, maybe a slightly higher friction on the transmission etc.

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Response from mkaresh

6:47 pm June 28, 2016

Thanks for the clarification. I don't know why I assumed the new one was a Gen 2 Volt.

Same tires on both?

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Response from Member4887

7:32 pm August 22, 2016

I sat in the rear seat of a 2017 Volt. My two sons and I are all about 6 feet tall. My head pretty much hits the headliner, except when it is in a very specific location relative to the glass hatch. Based upon this, the back seat should probably be used only for very short trips. For our family, it might be better to think of this as a 2 seater with a good amount of cargo capacity. I agree with colin42's comment that this drivetrain (or a similar one) should be placed in a larger vehicle.

As far as driving, I have no complaints. I thought that it was quiet and handled reasonalby well. It had reasonably good acceleration. If you expect BMW-like performance, you will be disappointed.

I were to get a Volt, it would probably be through a lease. I had an absolutely awful new car experience the last time that I purchased a GM product (2005 model year). It squeaked and rattled its way through the 2.5 years that I owned it. This was much worse than any new car that I have purchased (10 other new car purchases). By the time that I traded it in, I hated it. It depreciated about 55% in those 2.5 years.




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