Car Reviews First Drives

2019 Chevrolet Volt First Drive: 108 Million Saved

Gallons, that is, and the savings rate increases for 2019

Gallons, that is, and the savings rate increases for 2019

Long ago, McDonald’s signs kept a running tally of the number of burgers served globally. At the launch of its midcycle enhanced 2019 Volt, Chevrolet triggered my memory of those signs by announcing that drivers of the 140,000 Volts sold to date had logged 2.8 billion electric miles (4.5 billion km), saving 108 million gallons of gas. That is, after all, the Volt’s raison d’etre—to provide swift, silent electric operation with a just-in-case engine and gas tank onboard as a range anxiety cure. As the initial chaperone of our 2011 Car of the Year–winning long-term Volt, I can tell you that a tiny piece of me died every time that engine fired up. For 2016, the second-gen Volt minimized those engine startups by stretching the EV-only range another 15 miles (24 km), and for 2019 two additional improvements promise to keep that engine quiet for even longer.

A new 7.2-kW onboard charging system (standard on Premier models and a $750 USD option on base models) doubles the charging rate. This cuts the time required to restore full charge roughly in half and significantly increases the amount of energy that can be stored during brief “opportunity charging” stops while shopping or running errands. And Rust Belt drivers like me will hear a lot less engine noise in the winter thanks to a change that lowers the temperature threshold at which the engine fires to assist with heating to -13 degrees Fahrenheit. My 2011 Volt fired up whenever the mercury dropped below a comparatively balmy 27 degrees.

Other noteworthy improvements: The amount of regenerative braking provided in the L gearshift position and via the regen-on-demand steering wheel paddle is revised to enable easier “one-pedal driving.” Upgrading to Chevy’s new Infotainment 3 system brings a higher-resolution 8.0-inch touchscreen featuring a new energy app that indicates the impact of things like terrain, climate-control usage, exterior weather conditions, and driving style on the car’s electric range. But instead of a dimensionless score, results are expressed in miles of EV driving either saved or—in my case—squandered.

You see, our drive route through hilly rural Vermont in the fall-color preseason included delightful twists, turns, and elevation changes that I utilized to probe the Volt’s modest limits of adhesion. By the time the battery was exhausted the app scolded me for having enthused away 14 miles (22 km) of potential electric operation. (It turns out that a bigger piece of me dies when I fail to exploit a spectacular stretch of road.)

 

Other changes mostly bring the Volt up to date with the latest Chevy hardware. Premier models get a six-way power seat, the cruise control system can now be operated in adaptive or normal mode, the rearview camera is improved, a tire-fill alert system toots the horn when the target pressure is reached, and the wireless charging pad moves ahead of the shifter for easier accessibility. Cosmetic upgrades include new stitching patterns on the seats, a new porcelain blue and jet-black two-tone interior offering on Premier models, and the addition of Pacific Blue to the paint color palette.

During our hilly test drive I mostly left the car in L mode and used the regen-on-demand paddle to avoid pressing the brake pedal (which, when used normally provides slightly better than average feel as blended hydraulic/electric regen systems go). The tires are still optimized for rolling resistance and therefore tend to complain when you lean on them in sharp corners, but body motions are pretty well controlled when transitioning in and out of the hairpins.

I fell deeply in love with that first Volt, but I don’t find myself bonding with this one in the same way. Having now driven so many great new EVs promising 200-plus miles (322-plus-km) of range (like Chevy’s Bolt EV), the Volt’s electric acceleration seems less, well, electrifying, and the range anxiety that Volts aim to cure seems far less acute nowadays. Then there’s the realization that, while the Volt can still crisscross the continent as easily as any conventional car, it’s not as ideally suited to that duty cycle in terms of size and shape as, say, a Pacifica hybrid would be. Maybe this is a great idea whose time has come and gone already—and if you feel otherwise, you’d better act soon because 2020 is expected to be the Volt’s last year.

2019 Chevrolet Volt
BASE PRICE $34,395-$38,995
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback
ENGINE 1.5L/101-hp/103-lb-ft Atkinson cycle DOHC 16-valve I-plus two electric motors; 149 hp/294 lb-ft comb
TRANSMISSION Cont. variable auto
CURB WEIGHT 3,550 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 106.1 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 180.4 x 71.2 x 56.4 in
0-60 MPH 7.5 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON (gas) 43/42/42 mpg, (elect comb) 106 mpge
ENERGY CONS, COMB (gas) 80 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB (gas) 0.46 lb/mile
ON SALE IN U.S. Currently