Launched as a 2010 model, the Chevrolet Volt arguably did more to bring electric vehicle propulsion into the mainstream than any other model. Redesigned for 2017, the midsize Volt hatchback has lost its rather futuristic appearance, in favor of a contemporary look. It’s the first major makeover for Chevrolet’s “range-extender” electric.

Similar in operation to a plug-in hybrid, the Volt contains an on-board generator to keep the battery charged, making long trips easy. No need to be concerned about running out of electricity as the battery approaches depletion. The back seat is now a bench, for five-passenger capacity.

Pricing and Equipment

LT and Premier trim levels are offered. Starting at $33,220 (plus destination charge) in LT trim, the Volt comes in step-up Premier form for $37,570.

Under the hood, twin electric motors together develop 149 horsepower. After as much as 53 miles of driving (up from 38 last year), the gasoline-powered 1.5-liter generator kicks in. From that point on, the electric motors keep running and propelling the car.

With its generator operating, the Volt gets an estimated 42 mpg in combined city/highway driving (5 more than before), according to the Environmental Protection Agency. On rare occasions, the generator also provides a boost to propulsion. Four driving modes are available: Normal, Sport, Mountain, and Hold.

Standard equipment on my 2017 Chevrolet Volt Premier included:

  • Automatic climate control
  • Keyless access and ignition
  • LED headlights and taillights
  • MyLink infotainment
  • Six-speaker audio
  • Heated rear seats
  • Automatic parking assist
  • Wireless charging pad for phone
  • Auto-dimming mirror

For a total MSRP of $39,930, my Volt also was equipped with the available navigation and with two optional Driver Confidence packages. Included in those groups were blind-zone alert with lane-change alert, rear cross-traffic alert, front collision alert with automatic braking, lane-keeping assist, and adaptive headlights.

Performance Pros

BMW 640
  • Quiet running. Much of the time, the Volt is close to eerily silent—perhaps a little too quiet for some drivers. A light whine appears only while accelerating, and then only briefly. It’s nearly impossible to tell when the gasoline generator starts.
  • Ride comfort. A quick-reacting suspension helps achieve a particularly easygoing ride. Not that the Volt simply glides over bumps. You’ll probably feel most of them, but never more than momentarily, and buffered for minimal impact on cabin occupants. Crossing railroad tracks produced no harshness at all.
  • Fuel economy, naturally. When running on electricity alone, the Volt gets an EPA equivalent estimate of 106 MPGe. Total range is estimated at 420 miles.

Performance Cons

  • Nobody is likely to complain because a car accelerates too swiftly, but the Volt is quicker than it feels, because everything is so quiet. With so little aural feedback, it’s hard to tell how quickly you’re moving, except by glancing at roadside structures as they whiz past. Or, watching the speedometer.
  • Some road-testers frequently assert that vehicles lack sufficient steering feel. I’m not one of them, when evaluating non-sporty vehicles. Well, not only is Volt steering on the light side, I must admit that it’s largely devoid of that intangible quality called feel.

Interior Pros

BMW 640
  • Front-seat space is plentiful. The Volt driver gets ample headroom, leg space, and elbow clearance.
  • Manual (non-powered) seat height and fore/aft travel are easy to adjust.

Interior Cons

  • Front-seat comfort ranks as Pro/Con. Side bolsters aren’t very deep, so you may feel you’re not quite fully in position Otherwise, you can expect very good thigh support and adequate back support, though seat bottoms are quite short. Most notably, finding a suitable driving position was a challenge.
  • Rear-seat comfort. Seatbacks are a bit hard, though not really uncomfortable. However, the back seat is quite snug, with marginal leg space. Passenger heads might contact the juncture between the roof and back window.
  • The touchscreen gives detailed information, but it’s somewhat confusing and can frustrate. Also, the pushbutton start button is almost hidden behind the steering wheel.

The Most Pleasant Surprise

A definite sense of improvement is evident since my first drive of a Volt. Today’s version provides excellent solidity and overall refinement. Naturally, fuel economy is especially pleasing. So is the attractive price structure, considering what you get.

The Least Pleasant Surprise

This doesn’t happen often, but the Volt’s driving position seemed a bit off, partly because the cowl is quite low. Only after lowering the seat way down did the steering wheel seem to be in normal position. Otherwise, I kept noticing a curious sensation of having the steering wheel practically in my lap. On a more tangible note, making modern safety technology optional rather than standard, even on the step-up model, earns a demerit.

The Bottom Line

Chevrolet started production of the initial Volt with particularly high expectations that it would become a popular pioneer in the extended-range and plug-in hybrid segment of the alternative-fuel market. Despite a few quirks, that goal has been achieved, despite the addition of a number of competitors along the way. Though it looks more conventional now than it did at first, the Volt does exactly what’s promised, with little fuss. Can’t ask for much more than that of a vehicle.