Test Drive: 2017 Chevy Volt

From Santa Monica to Monterey, we explore the vehicle's substantial upgrades

by Justin Kaehler

Chevrolet dreamed big when it first launched the Volt. Designed to be the next big thing in alt-fuel vehicles, Volt gave drivers the ability to travel 40-ish miles on electricity alone. And when the batteries ran out, a switch over to a gas-powered engine helped keep things moving. In other words, the Volt offered the feel-good vibes of pure EV driving without the penalty of range anxiety. It was such a sure-fire recipe for success, Chevy thought, that its goal of selling 10,000 units a year was surely conservative.

Turns out the Volt didn’t hit its sales targets upon launch. And even with the new and improved model now on the streets, Chevy is still having a tough time selling the things. But that’s not to say that the vehicle is a failure. Here in Los Angeles, at least, the Volt has a rabid following. Its pure EV capabilities help it qualify for HOV exemption status, and as dealers are trying to move units by putting a bunch of cash on the hood, Volts are slowly taking over LA freeways. We had yet to sample the Volt for ourselves. So when an opportunity to drive from Los Angeles to Monterey and back presented itself, we secured a Volt to help us make the journey.

First thing’s first: Chevrolet—and GM as a whole—has been making huge strides in terms of perceived quality. The old plastic-y penalty boxes of recent memory are gone, and in their place are thoughtfully designed—dare we say stylish—machines. And the 2017 Volt is an amazing expression of Chevy’s new design language. Its aggressive front fascia gives a distinctly in-your- face “American” vibe to this mid-sized sedan, while the pulled, taut surfaces bring a certain elegance to the overall appearance.

Inside, things are just as nice. Leather-trimmed seats and surfaces adorn our tester, bringing a bit of luxury to a segment typically outfitted with recycled plastic. A large touch-screen display takes center stage in the dash, giving easy access to all the multi-media features we expect. So you can get directions, adjust vehicle settings, plug in your iPhone to access Apple Car Play and more. Its crystal-clear high-res display immediately impressed, not only overshadowing systems found in other GM cars, but even a few quarter-million dollar rides as well.

So before we even fire things up, the Volt has a lot going for it. But people don’t buy a Volt for the Bluetooth connection—they buy it for the EV drive. This latest model is said to deliver up to 53 miles of driving on electricity alone. We never managed to deplete the battery during local drives—charging nightly at home and all—and we found a lot to like about the electric powertrain.

The Volt’s charge goes a long way. Leaving our Los Angeles suburb, we hit the 405, then the 5 freeway, en route to Monterey. Merging and keeping up with Los Angeles traffic—at speed, no less—proved to be a breeze. And when climbing the steep inclines of the Sepulveda Pass and the Grapevine, the Volt never felt like it was lacking power. It conquered the hills like a champ on battery power alone, and when the gas engine kicked in to help power things, it did so smoothly and imperceptibly.

Chevrolet claims a total combined range of up to 420 miles, assuming a full charge and a full fuel tank. We don’t know where this number came from, as every full charge/full tank in our test car showed a total range of maybe 330 miles. Google Maps shows a total driving distance of about 336 miles from our LA suburb to Monterey, and when we arrived at our hotel, our trip computer showed we had just 20 miles of driving range left. So take from that what you will.

For the way home, we took the long route, driving down Highway 1 through picturesque Big Sur. With its tightly wound roads, it would be a great way to experience the Volt’s handling. Unfortunately, it seems like everyone else in the state wanted to drive down the road as well, so all we can really mention is that, at 25 miles per hour, the Volt can make it through some tight-ish bends rather comfortably.

Our return drive took over 8 hours, and through most of it, we never felt a sense of fatigue. The Volt offers a fairly supple ride—it’s not pillowy soft like the Cadillacs of old, but it’s also not as firm as those cars that try to substitute sportiness for quality. However, once we got back to Santa Monica, where the 405 South gets bumpy, the Volt returned a very choppy ride. Not the greatest thing to come home to after 8 hours in a car.

Overall, the Volt is proof that Chevrolet is doing a lot of things right these days. It’s an incredibly stylish ride, loaded with tech inside and out. It comfortably fills the space between Tesla and Prius, offering a pure EV drive for the day-to-day and the added range for those times when you need to go beyond the supercharging station. And as it starts at just $33,220, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than the Tesla, too. For those curious about EVs, and especially for those a good distance from the Supercharging highway, this is one ride worth checking out.

Image by Justin Kaehler