The 2015 Chevrolet Volt rolled off the line last year as the last of its kind — starting with the 2016 model year, the second generation Volt has already taken to the road, bringing Chevrolet’s take on the hybrid car into the future. The upshot is that you’ll probably start to see pretty good deals on older Volt models, including last year’s 2015 Volt, which saw improvements to performance and electric range along with a host of connected car features.
We got a chance to take the 2015 Chevrolet Volt on a weekend road trip recently and came away very impressed with what the car is capable of. We weren’t the only ones impressed, either — in just a couple days, we had plenty of people come up and ask us what we were driving. Asking in a good way, too — hybrids and electrics have a history of not being the most visually appealing cars (Tesla aside), but the 2015 Chevrolet Volt has been designed to be something you’ll be proud of driving, and it shows.
The Chevrolet Volt is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, which is distinct from a traditional hybrid. Usually, hybrid cars have small electric batteries that pull some of the lighter weight until the gas-powered engine kicks in when you need to get up to highway speeds. Those batteries are charged continuously by harnessing energy from the car itself — from brake friction, for example. A plug-in hybrid, on the other hand, has an electric battery capable of running the vehicle on its own, with the gas engine kicking in only when the electric battery nears depletion. Those batteries are bigger and need to be recharged, but the 2015 Volt makes that easy enough with a long charging cord that can be plugged into a wall outlet.
Because it’s a plug-in hybrid, we can talk about all-electric range. On pure electric cars like the Tesla Model S, this can be upwards of 200 miles on one charge, but those cars are still extremely expensive. Plug-in hybrids stay (somewhat) affordable by using a small electric battery that won’t carry you across long distances, but should get you through an average day’s worth of city driving, using a bigger gas engine to keep you going when the electric battery runs low. Chevy’s estimates give the 2015 Volt’s electric battery a 30-40 mile range, with an additional 340 miles for the gas engine. Our experience backed up Chevy’s estimates, as we got great overall mileage and were particularly impressed with the distance achieved on one charge and a tank of gas. The 2015 Volt was billed as very eco-friendly and efficient, and it lives up to the hype.
Inside, the ride was smooth and the vehicle seemed particularly speedy and responsive when driving on electric power, although it seemed a bit underpowered when using the gas engine. That’s a little bit of a disappointment because the kind of long-distance driving that will require the gas engine is the kind you’ll be doing over highways, so the extra power is going to be missed. But, for the daily city driving that the car is designed for, it seems like this would be a non-issue more often than not.
We talked a little about how great the car looks from the outside, but equal attention has been paid to interior design. That goes for aesthetics and functionality alike — the center console and dash were sleek and elegant, going for a futuristic look without going overboard. What we really appreciated were all the controls and infotainment features. The Chevrolet MyLink infotainment system has now been around for several years, so Chevy has been able to build up the feature set nicely, particularly where smartphone integration is concerned. Using MyLink apps from a smartphone through the dash is pretty simple, especially when using voice commands.
One feature still hanging around Chevy cars is OnStar. The traditional service that puts you in touch with an OnStar representative is still solid, and while we didn’t need to find out ourselves, we think it would still be handy in a roadside emergency. Otherwise, it’s a good, simple way to get questions answered (by a real person!) without worrying about smartphone connectivity.
OnStar is more than just a beefed-up dispatch service these days, though. In the 2015 Volt, Chevy implemented OnStar 4G LTE service, which you can subscribe to through AT&T. This keeps your dash connected to the internet to pull in app updates, but it can go a long way towards keeping everyone in the car entertained, too. The car includes a Wi-Fi hotspot that can route that internet service to several mobile devices and laptops in the car.
Last but not least, we found all the smart safety features to be a great help. In particular, forward collision alerts pleasantly surprised us by their restraint, not kicking in every time we got somewhat close to a car in front of us. When we did get an alert, we found it to be helpful — it’s easy to imagine that this feature has already saved a few lives on the road.
There are a few misses here, though. While Chevrolet has done a nice job honing MyLink over the years, it’s still not quite as intuitive as we’d like it to be. For a car boasting several safety features, we’d like to see their infotainment system err more on the side of safety, with even simpler menus, interfaces, and voice commands to make sure drivers don’t get distracted too much. The native navigation app also needs work — we didn’t find it to be as accurate as Google or Apple maps, and the lack of real-time traffic information made us go right back to using our smartphones. And, despite having such a great Wi-Fi hotspot, there’s only one USB charging port in the car — Chevy added more in the 2016 model, but it’s something to take into account if you’re still considering the 2015 Volt over the latest release.
While the 2015 Volt isn’t extremely expensive, it still has a price tag that will hold it back from going mainstream. There’s only one trim available and it starts at $35,000. That’s hard to swallow considering you’re getting a below average gas-powered vehicle once you deplete the electric battery, but if you know that you’ll mostly be driving the 2015 Volt around town, it’s a great way to get all-electric operation without paying all-electric prices.