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2016 Chevrolet Volt boasts better electric range, more electrifying looks

Boasting improvements to range, performance and styling, the 2016 Chevrolet Volt kicks off the Detroit auto show on a very positive note.

DETROIT -- The 2016 Chevrolet Volt, unveiled here, rocks a new, sportier look and a more efficient Voltec powertrain that boasts an improved 50-mile pure electric range.

The first thing you'll notice curbside is the new sheet metal that, to my eye, looks a heck of a lot like a Honda Civic Si . The sedan's skin is more tightly drawn, giving a muscular finish to the sharper front end. Around back, glossy black plastic and bold tail lamps punctuate the look, while a liftback grants access to the rear storage area.

The 2016 Volt is, plainly, a good looking car, not just an eco-car. It would seem that the Volt's designers are out to make a statement to those of us who complained loudly about the first generation model's upright and angular styling.

More important than the new form is the upgrade in function that the 2016 model will bring. The new Volt features a fully revised "Voltec" powertrain -- a plug-in hybrid or a range-extender EV depending on your taxonomic preferences -- that starts with a physically smaller battery pack than the current generation.

Despite using just 192 cells (96 fewer than before) the new battery manages to boast an increased power capacity of 18.4 kWh (up from 16.5 kWh). The smaller battery is also 21 pounds lighter and allows the Volt's designers to both lower the vehicle's center of gravity and reduce the second row's center tunnel, going with a more conventional five-seat configuration.

The 2016 Volt's look is more athletic from nose to tail. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

That battery pack sends power to a new two-motor electric drive unit that is 12-percent more efficient and 100 pounds lighter than the first generation's electric motor. Maker GM also claims that the new drive unit is also stronger and boasts improved zero-to-30 mph acceleration, which should result in more responsive around-town driving.

Charging the Volt's battery should take about 4.5 hours with a 240V fast charger and about 13 hours when plugged into a 120V wall outlet. The Volt's 120V charger is also "location aware," able to automatically set itself to your home charging settings based on GPS.

The 2016 Volt is able to cruise for about 50 miles under pure electric power (an improvement of about 12 miles over the current model) before the new 1.5-liter, direct-injected gasoline engine must kick in to extend the total cruising range to 420 miles. The automaker estimates that the combined fuel efficiency should average out at about 41 mpg, but also states that with regular charging between short trips the average Volt driver could go as far as 1,000 miles between fill-ups.

I'm extremely excited to see that Chevy has redesigned the Volt's dashboard and digital instrument cluster. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Helping the driver to maximize electric range and efficiency is a new regenerative braking system that, according to GM's claims, offers both better at stopping power and better pedal feel. The system also features an interesting "Regen on Demand" feature that enables driver control of energy regeneration via a paddle on the back of the steering wheel. I'll reserve judgement on this until we can test it on the road.

Perhaps the biggest, but most understated, improvement that the 2016 Volt will see is a new dashboard interface. I hated the first-generation model's poorly designed digital instrument cluster and confusing center stack, so I'm very pleased to see a more cohesive interface and the automaker's MyLink system ahead of the driver's seat.

The 2016 Volt goes on sale in the second half of 2015, and pricing has not yet been announced. Be sure to check out the rest of CNET's coverage of the 2015 Detroit auto show.

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