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Published on May 22nd, 2016 | by Steve Hanley


2017 Chevy Volt Review, Day 2

May 22nd, 2016 by  

Originally published on Gas2.

Yesterday was my first full day with the Chevy Volt the folks at Chevrolet have kindly placed at my disposal. I decided I would use it exactly the way I use my regular car, a 2010 Honda Civic, on a normal day. Apart from all of the “saving the planet” goodness of driving an electric car, I wanted to know, “Is this a car I could live with on a daily basis?”

Chevy Volt

When I am not parked at my keyboard creating stories for Gas2, I am a constable for the State of Rhode Island. That means I deliver court notices to people. Not many of my “customers” are all that happy to see me. Basically, what I do is leave the house and drive to dozens of locations in northern Rhode Island. If no one is home, I leave a note on the door asking someone to contact me. It’s surprising how many do. I call it “littering;” my wife calls it “disturbing the peace.”

I can spend up to 8 hours doing that on a typical day. Performance is rarely an issue, but comfort and getting in and out easily are important to me. My car is primarily a business tool. Ideally, it will assist me in getting the job done rather than putting roadblocks in my way. Reliability is more important to me than acceleration and style.

I started the day with 57 miles of range and 1754 miles on the odometer. I finished the day with 0 miles of range and 1837 miles on the odo. That means I drove a staggering 83 miles on battery power alone. The gasoline engine never came on, even after the range indicator told me I had no range left. This is what people want — a car that under-promises and over-delivers. Congratulations, Chevrolet. Color me impressed.

How do I account for that? I don’t. I drove the car exactly as I would my Civic. I stopped to see my son-in-law in Providence who drives a Honda Fit EV. We drove around a bit and did a few full throttle starts in performance mode just to see what the car could do. I drove mostly on city streets, got caught behind a school bus or two, and drove about 12 miles on a highway. I did not try any hypermiling techniques. I just drove normally, traffic permitting.

The Volt I have is loaded with every option known to modern science. Frankly, I don’t know what half the buttons are for yet. I noticed while I was driving on the highway that the steering seemed heavy. A couple of times it seemed like I had to fight the wheel. I noticed an indicator light was lit on the left side of the steering wheel and remembered the fellow who brought the car to me mentioning something about a lane departure system.

I cancelled the lane-keeping function and the steering immediately became more responsive to my input. Note to Chevy. I can do without the lane-departure technology, thank you very much.

While on the highway, I was approaching an exit I wanted to take. There was a knot of traffic around me that made it unsafe for me to get into the right lane. No problem. I pushed down on the accelerator and the Volt wafted its way, silently and effortlessly, to the front of the line. No drama, just the extra speed I needed when I needed it.

About halfway through the day, I got curious why there seemed to be little regenerative braking going on. Somewhere in the back of my head, I remembered reading about how the L setting on the gear selector would engage more regen. I tried it, and sure enough, there was the regen braking I had been expecting all along.

I have to say, I am uncomfortable driving around in L. That’s what we did in my Mom’s Impala years ago when we wanted to make a lot of noise and impress our dates. It just doesn’t feel right being always in L mode. Time to think of another letter, Chevrolet. I recommend D1 and D2, with a programmable function that allows the driver to choose which is which. People who like a lot of regen should be able to make it the default setting for them.

Chevy Volt

Regen adds a whole new level to the electric car experience. It makes true “one pedal” driving possible, where the brakes are used seldom if at all. With a little practice, the driver can bring the car to nearly a complete halt just by lifting off the throttle. It’s an acquired taste. I don’t think I would care for it on the highway. But around town in traffic, it is just about the best idea since sliced bread.

Here are a few more things I like. The blind spot detection is sweet. I know lots of cars have this today, but it was my first experience with it. It works great. The backup camera has an audible alert that warns of a person, car, or obstruction lurking behind you.

As I was practicing my one pedal driving technique, I got closer to the car in front at a traffic light than the car’s computer thought was prudent. Suddenly, a series of bright red LEDs illuminated directly in my line of sight and an audible warning went off. I was surprised the first time it happened, but I like how the system works. Definitely want this on my next car.

My first day with the 2017 Chevy Volt convinced me this is a car I could live with. Sure it’s “green,” but it’s also a darn good car. It is nearly silent but powerful. It tracks and steers accurately. It rides comfortably. I purposely drove it over some manhole covers that upset the suspension in my Honda, but the Volt handled them with aplomb.

I mentioned that my son-in-law drives a Fit EV. He is an electric car enthusiast, someone who looks with scorn at any car with a gasoline engine. At the end of our test drive, he said, “Nice car. I’d buy one.” Coming from someone who already owns a battery electric car and has sworn never to own a car with an internal combustion engine again, that is high praise indeed.

I could do without some of the bells and whistles on this fully equipped car, but overall, I was thoroughly impressed by the Volt. No roaring engine, no shuffling gears — just quiet, confident, sure-footed driving. It reinforces the opinion I and so many others have — the best way to sell someone an electric car is to get them behind the wheel and let them drive one. Are you listening, Chevrolet?

Photos by the author.

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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.

  • JD234

    Even experienced users misunderstand aspects of how the Volt works. For instance, the regen paddle and driving in L generally decrease efficiency relative to D. The “brake” pedal is regenerative up until the last few mph (or an emergency brake), but unlike the regenerative braking of L or the paddle, the brake pedal regeneration is much more finely modulated, allowing one to coast more and brake more gently. The less negative acceleration the better. So actually just driving in D with the brake pedal is usually more efficient than driving in L or using the paddle.

    • m2cts

      thanks for clarifying this. As a Volt 2013 driver (although bought in Jan 2016) I want to add that driving in L is acceptable for the driver but shitty for the passengers. I find it much easier to drive smoothly in D.

  • On my Gen1, 2011 Volt in warmer weather I typically see 45mi to 50mi of range with an EPA rating of only 35mi. On a Gen2 Volt, if the same % increase over EPA were to apply, I would expect to see 67mi to 76mi of range. Now the upper end does require some hypermiling techniques in my case but I have hills and climbing to do on my daily commute. On flatter ground in decent weather I could see 80 being possible, but it still feels like a bit of a stretch.

    • michaelnola

      An expert hyper miler got in the region of 110 miles of pure electric driving.

      How unique to see a product that is under promised and over performing.

  • Tom Moore

    Thanks for the info! Give me a convertible Volt and I’m there. And I agree about the regen. Our Lexus 400h used the same approach, except that cruise control would not work in “L”, which was a shame because the car could not control its speed going downhill in cruise control “D” and would readily coast up to over 80 in a 65 speed zone.

  • Lynne Whelden

    Steve, if you’ve got Chevy’s ear for a moment, please suggest that they create a DVD as well as offer a weekly webinar for buyers/prospective buyers. Looking on youtube and chat rooms for information is an exercise in frustration because everyone’s got an “opinion.” It’s hard to sort through all of them. I’d like to hear it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

    • m2cts

      I second that. Hidden features are worthless by definition

  • Don Murray

    Are you sure the ICE never came on? It’s very quiet and seamless when it does, and you may not even notice unless you watched the flow display. With general around town driving you can consistently get more than 60 EV miles, but I think more than 80 is very unusual. Good review.

    • Lynne Whelden

      This is what frustrates me. I want to love the Volt, I really do. But when numbers like this pop up, nobody seems to know why!
      I read the chat room stuff and the numbers posted there are all over the map. Everyone has their own theory about what’s going on. Nobody really knows.
      I’m guessing the weather (re: temp) was optimal. I wish you were testing this in the dead of winter instead. I’m also guessing the terrain was mostly flat.

      • Shane 2

        GM claims around 50 miles of pure electric driving. That will cover most daily drives. If you go over that occasionally you will burn a little gasoline. If you have to suddenly drive 200 miles in an emergency you can do it without worrying about range issues. The car is very flexible that way. Going from a Cruze to a Volt would reduce gasoline consumption by 90% for the average user. If everyone did that it should bankrupt Russia, Venezuela, Exxon, Alaska, Saudi and various other cretins who thought it was a good idea to rely on pumping fossil sludge for a large chunk of their income. Of course I shouldn’t be smug. We Oz cretins rely too much on selling coal and LNG. Bankruptcy awaits.

      • Don Murray

        Well, if you need a number you can count on, use the 53 GM publishes. I like my number. 1,000 miles since I left the dealer with a full tank, and I’ve used 1.6 gals. After each evening charge it shows 67 EV range, that’s the EV range the Volt computes based on my driving history. Mild weather, mostly local 35-50 mph driving, with 2 longer highway trips where the ICE was used. I should have told the dealer to not fill it up. The beauty of the Volt is you really don’t have to worry about it. Just set it in D, put your favorite station on the display and enjoy the great quiet listening environment.

      • Steven F

        The strange numbers are mainly due to regenerative breaking. About a year after getting my 2015 Volt I visited my sister just outside of Yosemite national park. We left her place on highway 49 and used up most of the batterys charge before we got to the park. However just before you get to the park on highway 140 there is a big descent to the Merced river. Regenerative breaking recharged the battery to about 20 miles. Used up most of that 20 miles in the park. But then on the way home on Highway 41 regenerative breaking again kicked in. By the time we go back to her place the battery was almost fully charged. The 2015 volt software will not allow the engine to fully recharge the battery. Normally the computer limits recharging by the engine to 15 to 20 miles of charge. However the computer will allow a full recharge due to regenerative breaking. If one is very careful with break application you can get a lot of regenerative recharge of the battery.

  • Andrew Doolittle

    Destroyed the Bad Boy styling. This car is made to be burning rubber…

  • JamesWimberley

    The blind spot detection camera are a step towards replacing wing mirrors with webcams feeding a HUD. The industry has actually asked for this to be legal (link); the regulators are being cautious.

  • Outrageous Hypnotist

    You should learn to use turn signals when changing lanes.
    The lane departure won’t fight you if you actually do a proper lane change.

  • Kraylin

    My friends Tesla Model S, 2014 model year I believe, turns on the brake lights when regen is engaged by taking his foot of the gas. He has reported the occasional driver that gets mad at him in heavy traffic because they think he is flashing his brakes at them while not actually needing to brake. In reality he is simply taking his foot off the accelerator momentarily to adjust speed slightly.

  • RickJJ

    Very nice review and well written! The new Volt seems really impressive, for sure. Amazing that you got 83 miles on battery alone! Wow!! I happen to buy cars specifically for modern tech so I’m glad you can load the Volt up with all of these safety enhancing features. Nice job GM!

  • Dan Kegel

    The Leaf’s shift lever lets you switch between B (regen) and D (normal).
    So maybe GM could use B instead of L.

    (And then it has a button on the steering wheel which adds an independent variable, Eco or non-eco. It’s kinda confusing.)

  • I attempt one pedal driving with my ice car on the expressways. It’s a lot harder because even with the foot off the gas a tiny bit of power is being sent to the wheels. But at least I achieve my goal of no brake lights being fired up.

    Which brings me to an interesting concern about this Volt (and other regen EVs?). Shouldn’t the brake light go on when regen is engaged. Or am I just ignorant and it does go on?

    My daughter, a bicyclist has always wanted some kind of braking signal on the front of cars so she can better gauge the actions of approaching cars. I have always wondered what a variable light in the rear, either brightness or colors or both, that indicated the intensity of acceleration of deceleration.

    • Steve Hanley

      According to my contact at Chevrolet, using the regen paddle on the steering wheel will illuminate the brake lights once the level of retardation reaches a certain preset level.

    • Runciter

      I guess you haven’t driven a standard (manual) transmission car? With engine braking it is easy to slow downat lower speeds without using the brake.

      Regarding EVs, depends on the make and manufacturer and I suppose how aggressive the regeneration is, but some do that. I personally wouldn’t want that… as soon as the they get off the accelerator it goes out but comes back on. In stop and go/aka commuting, the light would be going on and off all the time and desensitizes you for when they are actually braking (vs slow regeneration).

      I think when using the regeneration paddle on 2nd gen Volt, the brake light does go on. This seems to be a good compromise since this is an active application by the driver (vs increased L regeneration)

      • Ah the good old days of down-shifting and popping the clutch. Just wait for self-driving cars when you will be commenting to someone who doesn’t even know how to drive. “Wait, you mean some people could actually do the complex operation of getting into a parallel parking space just using their eyes and mirrors and something called a shift stick?”

    • AaronD12

      The BMW i3 (and likely i8) and the Tesla Model S/X illuminate the brake lights when your regen is set to high levels (Eco Pro on i3; Standard on Tesla).

      • Frank

        I think they should glow green for regen, and red for braking, and the brightness or number of LED’s should go up with how fast it is decelerating. 😉

    • JeremyK

      Brake light activation is mandated by at the Federal level and is based on the rate of deceleration. There’s an old thread about this on gm-volt.com. When in “L”, the first Gen Volt would decelarate below the threshold which required brake light activation; no faster than a moderate downshift in a manual transmission car.

  • Pobrecito hablador

    Great review.

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