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The first-generation Volt was a bit of a hard car to love, one of those cases where a product shoots down the middle and fails to impress on either ends of the spectrum. It had styling that looked like a very conservative attempt at being different, performance quite good in some regards and quite middling in others, and a powertrain that behaved unlike a hybrid but certainly wasn't an EV -- despite numerous marketing attempts to the contrary.
It was, in short, a bit of a tough sell for many, but those who bought into the cult of Volt tended to be pretty happy campers. For the rest of us needing more convincing, here's the new 2017 model. It's better-looking, better-performing, goes further on a charge and has a whole raft of new abilities that will keep you safer and more entertained when on the road.
For 2017, the Volt gets a 20-percent boost in battery capacity, up to 18.4 kWh. Despite that, the battery pack is actually 20 pounds lighter than before! (Viva technology.) These improvements plus plenty of other engineering tweaks result in a huge, 40-percent improvement on EV range compared to the outgoing Volt, offering up to 53 miles on a charge.
But the Volt's changes aren't restricted to improvements under the skin. There's the new look, which brings the car more in line with Chevrolet's other offerings. In that way it asks for a little less attention than the outgoing Volt, but it also lacks the sort of edgy appeal found in other modern Chevys, like the latest Corvette or even the new Malibu. It is, in other words, a fine but boring-looking car with a very orthodontial grin.
Many more updates are found on the inside, including a raft of new safety and convenience features like adaptive cruise control, lane-keep-assist and support for both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Those last two earn the car major bonus points in my book, but even if you're not the sort of person who wants to let their smartphone call the shots, the Volt's updated infotainment system is a much faster and more compelling option than that found on the original Volt.
The best thing about driving the last-generation Volt was the throttle response. It zipped away from the line with far more aplomb than you'd expect, and I'm glad to say that genetic trait has been inherited. The new Volt, too, will squirt itself into openings in traffic with just a light twitch of your right foot, which makes this thing far more fun to drive than to look at.
The handling, however, is pretty conventional. The Volt pitches and rolls quite a bit and is easily disturbed. The car tips the scales at 3,500 pounds, down about 200 pounds over the outgoing model but hefty for a car of this size. Still, given the bulk of that mass is positioned down low, I'd actually hoped for better handling. Steering, too, is vague. The lack of resistance makes for a relaxing drive, but the lack of feedback makes you wish the car would just drive itself.
Headroom and comfort up front is fine, offering much the same relaxed seating position as found in the old car. Rear seat legroom is ample too, but headroom back there leaves a lot to be desired. I can't help wishing Chevy would turn the Volt into a proper hatchback, giving a lot more room in the rear for passengers, cargo, plants, dogs and whatever else you feel like hauling emissions-free.
And how far can you go without burning any gas? A long way, as it turns out. I actually had to force myself to stop charging the Volt at night because I was having a hard time depleting the battery in a single day's driving. But, when I finally did, I was able to easily match the 53 miles promised by Chevrolet. Overall MPG over a week's worth of driving? Just short of 80, and if I'd kept plugging it in every night I probably never would have burned a single drop of fuel.
Given the Volt isn't quite a typical hybrid and certainly isn't a full EV it's a little hard to find direct competition. Still, the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron is a pretty compelling choice, offering nicer dynamics and options but with a lot less EV-only range and for a substantially higher price.
For the pure EV lifestyle, the recently upgraded Nissan Leaf is an option, now offering 107 miles of range on a charge for well under $30,000. Still, it's a car that feels dated in a lot of ways.
Perhaps the biggest competition for the new Volt has yet to come. Toyota is bringing a plug-in version of the refreshed Prius to market later this year. Dubbed the Prime, it will offer just 22 miles of EV driving on a charge. That's less than half what the Volt can do, but given that the regular Prius is pushing 60 mpg already, we're expecting great things from the Prime.
Individually, no single update to the new Volt is particularly noteworthy. But, brought together, the additions and improvements found here make for a much more compelling choice. Yes, it's still quite a bit more expensive than a comparable sedan with comparable performance and comparable features. But, factor in the notion that you could very well go months without having to fill up the gas tank, maybe even longer, and the new Volt starts to look very, very appealing.
Even if it does look a bit boring.