The 2017 Chevy Volt: Final Wrap Up

My week with the 2017 Chevy Volt has come to an end. The lads from Chevrolet are coming to pick it up today. I will be sad to see it leave my driveway. Here’s my final assessment of the Volt:

This is a brilliant car. Chevrolet engineers have done an awesome job making a technologically advanced automobile that will appeal to mainstream drivers.

Chevy Volt

The Chevy Volt works beautifully. The power is plentiful, the transition from battery to generator mode is seamless, the handing is the equal of any 4 door production car on the market. The car is also a visual treat. The restyled exterior and interior got rave reviews from everyone while I had it. On Saturday, I drove by some prepubescent youths playing on a sidewalk. They turned to gawk at the Volt and one called out, “Hey, nice car, mister!” I don’t get comments like that when I drive my Honda Civic.

The Volt is the right car at the right time. We all know that electric cars are the wave of the future, but let’s be honest. The electric cars you can buy today are not precisely what mainstream shoppers want. Their range is too short. They cost too much money. Resale values are poor compared to the Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas that are the gold standard of the used car world.

Changes are coming. Breakthroughs in battery technology and cost are happening almost daily. Electric cars today are like personal computers in the 80s. Improvements are happening all the time, but the journey from Apple II to the MacBook Pro took several decades to complete. I think the same can be said about electric cars.

Will the Chevy Volt be the answer for car buyers in 2035? No. But it is the answer for car buyers in 2016. It looks like a normal car. It drives like a normal car. If you have an available 110 volt outlet in your garage, you can drive the car every day on battery power alone and recharge it overnight. No need to pay an electrician to hook up a high-power charger.

We all get excited about new technology, but we want our cars to feel familiar when we get behind the wheel. The Chevy Volt looks, acts, and drives like a normal car. That’s important for Mr. and Mrs. America and it’s an important milestone on the way to our electric car future.

The Chevy Volt eliminates range anxiety completely while empowering people to drive with no tailpipe emissions the majority of the time. As wonderful as the cars from Tesla are, they require drivers to take one extra step that drivers of ordinary cars do not. They need to plan when and where they will charge when away from home. For some, that adds a measure of engagement with the driving process that they find enjoyable. They feel like pioneers, out on the cutting edge of change.

For most of us, the thrill of being actively involved in driving has long since faded. We want to get in the car, go where we need to go, and get home when we want, with no drama, worries, or cares. That’s precisely where the Chevy Volt shines. It has one foot in the future and one foot in today. It cossets its passengers in comfort but demands nothing from them in return. There is no reason not to like this car. It opens up the world of electric cars to regular car buyers and that is its greatest strength.

Is the Chevy Volt perfect? No, it is not. I found some things to quibble about during my week with the car. The structural member that supports the rear hatch is too far forward. It intrudes into the headroom available for rear-seat passengers. The enormous hatch is great for carrying bulky items, but I would put a higher priority on passenger comfort than the ability to fit a major appliance into the back of the car. A smaller hatch would work just fine.

The power button on the dash is located in the wrong position. For me, it was totally blocked from my line of sight by the right side of the steering wheel. I found many of the buttons on the steering wheel of my fully loaded car confusing and not intuitive. I am not a big fan of touchscreens. I know they are all the rage today, thanks to the Tesla Model S, but I find they require me to take my eyes off the road more than is prudent. I think that can lead to distracted driving almost as much as texting does.

My biggest complaint is with the Chevrolet marketing department. In yesterday’s story about taking the Volt to an autocross, one person commented that I did more marketing for the Volt in one day than the company has done in 5 years. If it were up to me, I would have a Volt parked outside the front door of every Chevy dealer. That way, everyone who goes in or out could see it, touch it, and ask questions about it.

I would also introduce a YouTube channel exclusively for the Volt. A few well produced videos would help demystify the Volt for a lot of people. I went to YouTube this morning to see what was available. There is nothing from Chevrolet. Some of the videos from independent reviewers were up to 5 years old. The only good recent video I found was done by Burien Chevrolet in Washington state. After it, another video loaded by some clod named JiminiVids, who started off by listing several reasons why he hates the Volt. The video is actually quite useful, but most viewers will click out of it after the first 30 seconds of his negative diatribe.

Chevrolet seems to have some corporate ambivalence about the Volt. They spent tons of money making a great car but seem reluctant to tell anyone about it. They treat it like a brilliant but socially inept uncle who has to be kept locked in the attic. This is a great car, Chevrolet. You should be singing its praises from the highest mountain tops. Instead, you are hiding one of your brightest lights under a bushel. Why?

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.