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Compared to other plug-in hybrids, the Chevrolet Volt offers superior driving dynamics and more all-electric range. When the battery is low on electric charge, a gas-powered generator activates to give you the extra juice necessary for long drives.
Originally previewed by a concept in 2007, the first-generation Chevrolet Volt and its unique Voltec powertrain system debuted for the 2011 model year. It featured a T-shaped 16 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack coupled to an electric motor with 149 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. The battery pack’s capacity was later increased to 16.5 kW-hrs for the 2013 model year. In addition to the electric motor, the Volt also had a 1.4-liter I-4 that served as a range extender and powered a generator that recharged the battery. Most of the Volt’s weight is lower to the ground thanks to the battery placement under the floor of the passenger compartment, giving it a low center of gravity.
The Volt initially had an EPA-estimated 35 miles of EV mode range, but later models were increased to 38 miles. With a full tank of gas and a full battery charge, the first-generation Volt could travel up to 380 miles. Motor Trend named the first-generation Volt its 2011 Car of the Year and called it “a game-changer” in the automotive world.
GM also used the first-generation Voltec powertrain on the recently discontinued Cadillac ELR, which featured a more powerful electric motor with 233 hp and 373 lb-ft of torque. However, the additional power meant that the ELR had less range at 340 miles.
The Latest Generation
Debuting as a 2016 model at the 2015 Detroit auto show, the second-generation Volt took the same formula as its predecessor and improved it with more range and reduced overall weight. In the newest iteration of GM’s Voltec powertrain, the 1.4-liter I-4 has been replaced by a 1.5-liter unit, the lithium-ion battery’s capacity has been increased to 18.4 kW-hrs, and there are now two electric motors producing a combined 149 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. As a result, the second-generation Volt’s EV range is EPA-rated at 53 miles, and its overall range with a full charge and tank of gas has increased to 420 miles.
Compared to the robot styling of the first-generation car, the second-generation Volt looks more conventional, featuring a wedge coupe-like side profile and a large liftback. Inside, the interior also features a less polarizing design with a tablet-like touchscreen as the centerpiece of the dashboard and more traditional gauges.
In a 2016 First Test, we said that the Volt is much improved and now offers better driving dynamics and a more natural braking feel compared to the car it replaces. The car also rides better and doesn’t heave over uneven road surfaces like its predecessor did.
Why You’d Consider One
Thanks to its generous EV range and range extender gas engine, the Chevrolet Volt is an excellent urban commuter that can double as a road trip car. Add to that great driving dynamics, improved brake pedal feel, and quick acceleration, and the Volt becomes an ideal option for those not willing to sacrifice fun in the name of going environmentally friendly.
Why You’d Look Elsewhere
Unlike larger hybrid vehicles, the Chevrolet Volt doesn’t have much cargo space and the rear seats are cramped, making it hard to justify as a family vehicle.