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2016 Chevrolet Volt Review +VIDEO

2016 Chevrolet Volt In Avila Beach  (select to view enlarged photo)
2016 Chevrolet Volt In Avila Beach

A Shunpiker Travel Review
Having your cake and eating it too

By Steve Purdy
Senior Editor
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

2016 Chevrolet Volt In Avila Beach  (select to view enlarged photo)

About three hours north of LA, as Highway 101 turns north just past Pismo Beach, we find the quaint and quiet little town of Avila Beach looking south into San Luis Obispo Bay. About three blocks of storefronts and eateries face the broad sandy beach swarmed by beachgoers on weekends but nearly deserted during the week. This is as quiet and serene an ocean spot as you are likely to find along California’s central coast.

We’re driving a new, second-generation Chevy Volt, not the most ideal car for this week of exploration, particularly considering our resort has no place to plug in this “extended range” electric car. Fortunately, it gets great gas mileage even when you’re running it as a conventional car.

For those unfamiliar with this automotive genre let me explain.

2016 Chevrolet Volt In Avila Beach (select to view enlarged photo)

The Volt is primarily an electric car, sort of a “plug-in” hybrid, but unlike most of that genre the car’s gasoline engine never (we should say seldom) actually powers the car, rather it powers a generator that feeds the batteries that store the electricity that runs the car. GM insists that because the gasoline engine does not actually power the car it is really an “extended range electric vehicle,” rather than a hybrid. Sounds like a semantic distinction to me. The bottom line is that you can run the Volt on just electricity for about 50 miles between charges but as far as you like on the range extender – a classic case of having your cake and eating it too.

And, it’s a good thing we have an extended range. We picked our Volt up near LAX and headed north for about 200 miles to get to Avila Beach, first along the 405 then the 101. The midday LA traffic coagulated a few times but less than expected. In a bit more than three hours we were watching the crashing waves on the beach from our fifth floor balcony at a lovely older resort in Avila Beach.

2016 Chevrolet Volt In Avila Beach (select to view enlarged photo)

Initial impressions of the Volt are mixed. It looks fresh and stylish particularly in the “Kinetic Blue Metallic” of our test car. We struggled to stuff our two suitcases and related cargo under the hatch. Space is small, access is limited and lift-over is high. This is a compact car, after all, so we shouldn’t expect generous cargo space.

Otherwise it was a most comfortable size. Up front we were quite comfortable in the nicely finished cabin. The mostly intuitive controls caused little annoyance as we programmed our destination into the navigation system and got under way onto the northbound Santa Monica Freeway passing the Getty Museum in short order.

Our test car has the optional Driver Confidence Package that includes what they call “Lane Keep Assist,” a feature that tries to push you back into your own lane if you wander near the lane markings or try to change lanes without a turn signal. It is rather disconcerting at first and it includes an audible signal as well under some circumstances. The package also has the “Forward Collision Alert” that beeps frantically if you are closing too fast on a vehicle in front, and automatic braking that will bring you to a stop from low speeds if you don’t do it yourself. We accessed the first two of these systems a few times in that awful LA traffic and got used to them fairly quickly.

2016 Chevrolet Volt In Avila Beach(select to view enlarged photo)

Much of our time when we travel to a new destination is spent exploring by car. Just a bit north and west of Avila Beach the historic and scenic Highway 1 rejoins the coast at Morro Bay, as it does intermittently for hundreds of miles. The coastline here is alternately rocky, sandy and steep. From here to Monterey Bay we found some of the most beautiful winding roads in the world offering nearly endless photogenic vistas. And, of course, we took advantage of them repeatedly all week. Our drive to the edge of Monterey Bay at Pebble Beach, with lunch at a quaint little café in Carmel by the Sea, took all day providing a primer to the deep-pockets culture of that area. It is easy to see why people are drawn to the majestic beauty of this part of the country.

The Volt was up to the task of plying that challenging road with responsive suspension, tight steering and gobs of torque. This generation II Volt gets lighter and more efficient with a new gasoline range extender (named one of Ward’s 10 Best Engines), new architecture based on the Chevy Cruze, a more energy-dense lithium-ion battery pack and entirely redesigned electric power system. Electric range is up to 53 miles from barely 40 on the previous model. Using just the range extending gasoline engine to make electricity without plugging in, the EPA says to expect around 42 mpg, and that is exactly what we achieved. The EPA’s MPGe (an arbitrary measure of overall efficiency) is 106. That is only relevant in comparison to other electrics.

2016 Chevrolet Volt In Avila Beach (select to view enlarged photo)

2016 Chevrolet Volt In Avila Beach (select to view enlarged photo)

The famous Hearst Castle, once the exquisite west coast home of newspaper magnate Randolph Hearst, it is now an art museum as well as an architectural marvel and located just an hour north of Avilia, in the hills above the village of San Simeon. From that verdant 1,600-foot hilltop we can see for miles up and down the coast and to the surrounding pastures. A few miles further north past the castle are beaches where elephant seals come to have their pups and rest up before going back to sea. They look like giant slugs taking over the shoreline when the light gets soft in the evening. They also smell rather funky but they are beautiful creatures in their own way.

While watching the sunset from a sandy bank just above the sedentary seals (they call this a “rookery”) we photographed the car. This new Volt benefits visually from a major restyling. The exterior is much improved with crisp, coupe-like styling that makes it look more conventional. Inside it looks and feels a good measure upscale with nicer interior trim, redesigned dash, better seats, a third seating position in the rear (on some models) and more technology throughout.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Chevy’s new car warranty covers the whole car for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the powertrain for 5 years or 60,000 miles. The battery pack and other Voltec electric propulsion parts get an 8-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

Our loaded Volt “Premier” shows a beginning price of $37,520. The entry-level car begins at $33,170. The Premier trim level gets you lots of extra content including leather seating, Bose premium audio, heated and folding outside mirrors, heated front seats, and availability of the driver assistance options. With a plethora of those options our tester shows $40,245 on the sticker’s bottom line. Federal and sometimes state incentives apply to the purchase but usually in the form of tax credits, which means you’ll pay the whole price up front and hope to get the subsidy back when you file your tax return the following year.

So, can we have our cake and eat it too? Yes, by all means.

If you drive less than 50 miles/day, as do most people in urban and suburban areas, you’ll never have to buy gasoline making this one of the nicest electric cars for the price. But, if you need to make some longer drives you have a very efficient, gasoline powered range extender that will allow any length of trip as long as the fuel tank is filled up.

©Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved