Mr. Green Car: Kicking the tires on the 2017 Volt

By Allen Penticoff 

Here it is July and I’m still finding things to report on from February’s Chicago Auto Show (CAS). In this case, it is the 2017 Chevy Volt.

I’d actually seen and sat in the 2017 Volt back at the 2015 CAS. It was a beautiful bright blue with much chrome trim and rakish lines of an all new body. Chevrolet must have gotten good responses to it, because at the 2016 CAS it was essentially unchanged from what I saw in 2015. I was impressed in both cases – although it’s styling is on the verge of gaudy. The 2017 Volt was produced in 2015 and sold in limited numbers, but is now widely available.

For 2016 I was able to sit with a pretty sales rep in the car while she told me its finer points and demonstrated functions on the infotainment system. No test drive was available, but since I own a 2013 Volt I figure it’s going to drive pretty much the same. What there that is different, are many changes in the drive system and battery.

Gone are the fussy switches of the earlier Volts. We have a couple switches on our pretty white console that get stuck and don’t operate without banging on them. One, the door lock switch is most inconvenient when it hangs up.

Also, on the first generation Volt, the HVAC is controlled entirely by the touch screen – which is a bit distracting to deal with while driving. But the new Volt has ended those problems by using more conventional switches and knobs.

The steering wheel controls are improved as well. The whole two-tone interior is completely redesigned as well. But the seats and tight fit are no bigger. The 2017 Volt has a new larger battery pack that has been reconfigured to eliminate the console between the rear seats and thus allows for a third (albeit uncomfortable) passenger in back.

Bodywork has reduced the right rear side blind spot some as well. Apple Play operates through the infotainment system so you can do anything your iPhone can do via the 8-inch screen that also now runs Google Maps for navigation as opposed the earlier lousy navigation system (we rarely use ours – use our phone/map instead). Adaptive cruise control and an upgraded emergency auto-braking system are included in the Premier package that includes many other electronic safety features.

Under the hood is a new drivetrain. The engine displacement has been upped to 1.5 liters with a lower compression ratio that allows the Volt to burn regular gas. This has long been annoying to Volt owners – the need to buy expensive premium fuel – although very little of it.

The engine is reported to be quieter as well, which would be welcome when on long road trips under gas power. The transmission has been revised such that when the engine is on, it is more directly powering the wheels more like a conventional hybrid.

Still, there are 149 horsepower combined in its two electric drive motors – 0-60 mph is now about a half second faster for this already plenty quick car.  EPA combined city/highway mileage is now 42 mpg on gas power versus previous Volts rated at 37 mpg. We’ve always done much better than that with our 2013 Volt, so one may expect even better with the new Volt.

Likewise, the battery pack is up from 17 Kwh to 18.4 Kwh increasing the all-electric range from 38 to 53. Again, we’ve done better than Chevy claimed with our 2013 Volt, so I would expect better with the 2017 as well.

Chevrolet has been using conservative numbers for the Volt so as to not disappoint buyers. We’ve gotten as much as 53 miles out of our older car, and lately, with some 30,000 miles of wear on the batteries – regularly get 46 miles in summer. We only use gasoline when driving out of town, so months go by without using any fuel while racking up thousands of miles of electric driving. Fast wireless charging at home ups our daily range as well.

A frequent question we field, is “Does the engine charge the batteries?”  Our answer has been, “No – not really.” Now, with the 2017 Volt, you can say yes, the engine/generator sends excess power to the batteries. Chevrolet also added a paddle to the steering wheel that allows for adjusting the effect of regenerative braking. I’d love to play with this feature to see if it is a real improvement. Around town we drive in “L” for maximum regenerative braking – only touching the brakes to make a complete stop, while on the highway we use “D” so the Volt coasts down hills more naturally and saves some energy. Approaching an exit we drop it into L again to regain the energy from being at highway speed while slowing down – rapidly.

Would I trade in my 2013 Volt on a 2017? Perhaps. More likely would be to buy a second Volt, a new one, as despite all the 2013’s issues, we love it very much. A newer, better car would be much to our liking, but I think I’m going to hold out for a Bolt and its 200 mile all electric range. We’ve proven that we don’t really need the Volt’s engine all that much – and the 2013 Volt would be our “out of town car” while the Bolt would likely become the “everyday car.” Both would be out everyday, not polluting the air and quietly blowing off gas powered cars at the traffic light.

Check with your Chevrolet dealer for pricing – which is often quoted with the Federal Tax Credit of $7,500 applied – look at the list price first as you may not be able to get the full tax credit in your particular circumstance and this credit may not be around much longer – the Illinois $4,000 electric vehicle tax credit is now gone.

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