2019 Chevrolet Volt Review – An Elegy

Fully electric cars keep popping up, from startups and legacy automakers alike. They are likely the future. But I’m not ready for them, and likely neither are you.

Until nationwide infrastructure and car charging technologies allow for both a 300-mile range (typically the range of a kid’s bladder) and a 10-to-15 minute full recharge time, the internal combustion engine will always find a home in my driveway. I need the flexibility to drive across several states without plugging in.

That’s where a plug-in hybrid, like this 2019 Chevrolet Volt, makes all the difference. While it can run for over 50 miles without using gasoline, the gas engine charges the batteries, allowing for range similar to that of a traditional car. It’s the real-world way to go green.

Check that price — yeah, it’s a bit strong for a four-seat* hatchback. This Volt is the Premier trim, mostly because automakers typically want journalists to sample the best of the best. I’d be doing you, the car-shopping public, a disservice were I not to mention that the Volt LT can be had for $34,395. You lose a few nice features, certainly — namely wireless cell phone charging, heated leather seats, the fast (7.2kW)  charging system, and parking assist — but for the money, a more basic Volt is both attractive and competitive with other plug-in hybrids.

Once the gasoline engine fires up, the sound is a touch coarse; a dull roar — it’s mostly noticeable as the engine seems to maintain the same speed no matter the driving speed. It’s just a tiny bit annoying.

Driving the Volt is a surprising experience. The low center of gravity yields impressive handling, though the low rolling resistance tires do suck a bit of fun out of the drive. The electric motor provides instantaneous torque, allowing for quick launches and excellent acceleration when merging onto the interstate.

The regenerative braking provided by the electric motor — which helps to recharge the battery when slowing — can be modulated by a paddle behind the steering wheel. While you can’t completely stop the car without using the foot brake, gradual speed adjustments while in traffic can be made with a pull of the left fingers. An unusual experience, but something the driver easily adapts to.

It seems the Volt doesn’t appreciate being unplugged unless you have the keys with you and the car is unlocked. I walked outside, sans keys, to put the kid on the school bus. Unplugging the car as I walked by, about ten seconds later the alarm sounded as I went back inside. I’m guessing the neighbors, if they don’t already hate me, now do.

Interior space is a bit cramped, mostly in the rear seats, as the center seat (*the car is technically a five-seater) is mainly eliminated by the center hump and a pair of cupholders. It did help separate a pair of sisters engaged in a disagreeing over something trivial, however … but the loss of space was noticeable. Rear-seat legroom wasn’t impressive, either — the 12-year-old had her knees pressed into my back.

The front seats, conversely, are comfortable enough for all-day driving. Standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay were welcome when I tired of the selections on SiriusXM blasting through the Bose eight-speaker audio system.

For those who haven’t heard the news, the Chevrolet Volt ceases production soon, part of GM’s plan to rationalize in the face of increased competitive and regulatory pressures. The Volt arrived in my driveway two days after GM announced the impending closure of its Detroit-Hamtramck plant.

I feel for those in the several factories slated to close, but I struggle to lay all of the blame at General Motors. The corporation exists, as they say, to service the shareholders. Ultimately, the business needs to do whatever it takes to survive.

Shame, because this Volt is very nearly a brilliant car. It’s not perfect, but it does a good number of things very well. Regardless of whether poor marketing killed the Volt — how many regular car shoppers know what a plug-in hybrid is, really? — or whether blame rests on an overall move away from traditional cars, the writing was on the wall.

Suggestion to General Motors: drop a derivation of this drivetrain in an Equinox, price it under forty grand, and maybe keep some plants open. As is, the Chevrolet Volt is quite close to being the ideal electrified car for most buyers.

a version of this review first appeared on TTAC

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