Most Improved Player: The 2016 Chevrolet Volt

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Chevrolet Volt
The 2016 Chevrolet Volt.
What a difference four years makes.

It was late February, 2012 that I had my last seat time in a Chevrolet Volt.   As tested it cost more than $43,000 before tax breaks, had an interior that, looking back today, tried too hard to scream "tech" , the exterior styling was at best an acquired taste and it largely delivered on its promise of 35 miles from its electric engine before switching over to gasoline operations from its 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine.

At the time, I lived 17.3 miles from my office. A lunch run, an off-site meeting or an after-work detour meant I would dip into the gasoline side of things every single day.

Rear 3/4 view of 2016 Chevrolet Volt
2016 Chevrolet Volt.
The 2016 Chevrolet Volt is more like an entirely new take on the concept rather than an evolution or next generation.  More conventionally styled than the previous Volt, but not boring or unattractive. Significantly lower priced (the LT model we tested starts at $33,995 and optioned up to $37,305 and even the Premier model is priced below the old one with a base of $38,345 to the previous gen's $39,145).

And there have been major changes to the propulsion system. 35 miles on a charge then---53 now.
I now live 24.8 miles from my office.  And in a week's worth of driving, it was only a trip into downtown Sacramento and an encounter with a broken public charger that caused me to use any gasoline at all.

Instrument panel of 2016 Chevrolet Volt
2016 Chevrolet Volt instrument panel at the end of our week-long test.
That image above is what the trip computer read when I parked the 2016 Volt for the final time.  That's right...I managed the equivalent of 194.2 miles per gallon over 247.7 miles.

Four years ago, with a shorter commute, the best I could say about the Volt's range extender was that I could get 35 miles of gas-free driving a day.  So maybe I'm saving a gallon of gas a day.  Not bad.  But the new Volt means that, absent the occasional broken public charger, I could drive a Volt day-in and day-out and not use a drop of gasoline except for unexpected errands (a charger at work would even solve that) or long trips (in which case, I'd still be travelling the first 53 miles gasoline-free).

Charging port for 2016 Chevrolet Volt
2016 Chevrolet Volt charging port.
The EPA says the Volt has gone from 95 MPGe combined city/highway to 106...a significant jump that puts it #4 on TireKicker's Top 10 Fuel Savers on the right-hand side of this page...ahead of two pure electrics (Kia Soul EV and Nissan Leaf).  And unlike those cars (and all pure EVs), the Volt will never strand you when the electricity's gone (as long as you remember to keep gas in the tank).

Interior view of 2016 Chevrolet Volt
2016 Chevrolet Volt interior.
And the interior has gone from attempting to project a Tomorrowland image to simply integrating today's tech in the most state-of-the-art ways we have.  Most of what you need is on the flat screen that protrudes from the center of the dash.  The HVAC controls are simple, intuitive buttons and knobs.  The comparison to the old Volt is like going from Windows 8 to an iPhone.  Sleek and smooth.

And the car is enjoyable to drive, feeling lighter and better-handling than the previous Volt, while also exhibiting a great deal more refinement.

Some say the Volt lives in a no-mans-land between "real" EVs and hybrids.  But with the new Volt, I think Chevrolet has found the better way---a car that you can drive as far as you need to without the limitations of battery range or the need to eat travel time with charging, but that can, for an increasing number of people, be used for days or weeks on end without consuming gasoline or adding to tailpipe emissions.

The Volt is ingenious, affordable (especially when you factor in federal tax credits up to $7,500 and another rebate up to $1,500 for those of us in California) and practical.  Not only does it move up on the TireKicker Top 10 Fuel Savers, it has earned a place on the list of TireKicker's Best Cars.