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2019 Chevy Volt first drive review: Still one of the best plug-ins around – Roadshow

The second-generation Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid is about to enter its third calendar year of existence, so the powers that be are throwing a few key updates in its direction. There's absolutely no change in how it looks, but that's fine, because the Volt experience is all about what goes on underneath that skin, and that means Chevy focused on making its already-good hybrid even better.

Approachable inside and out

The Volt lacks the head-turning robotic aesthetic of its predecessor, but when the goal is to convince the mass market to consider an introduction to electrification, taking the conservative styling route is the smart one. Leave the weird looks to the Bolt EV.

Inside, liberal use of crease-free swaths of hard plastic means the cabin looks better than it feels -- a strong indicator that most of the car's window sticker comes from the guts, not the skin. Visibility is good both fore and aft. The seats are supportive, and the new-for-2019 power driver's seat is a helpful addition. I also like that Chevy moved the wireless phone charger to a more sensible location on the center console instead of under the armrest, which means less fumbling for my phone on my way out of the car.

One-and-a-half-pedal driving

The 2019 Volt's powertrain remains the same as before. It pairs a 149-horsepower, 294-pound-foot electric motor to an 18.4-kilowatt-hour battery and a 1.5-liter range-extending gas I4. That's enough for 53 miles of electric-only operation by EPA estimates. New for 2019 is a 7.2-kW charger that's optional on the LT trim and standard on Premium, which drops 240-volt charging time from 4.5 hours to 2.3. Plug into a standard wall outlet, though, and prepare to wait for 13 hours.

In the hills of Vermont, 53 miles is a tough number to hit, thanks to a whole lot of uphill climbs. But with the instant torque from the Volt's electric motor, climbing and passing is a breeze. The Volt's Normal mode is my favorite, as it provides the best blend of efficiency and power -- I find Sport mode a bit too thirsty for electrons. On the highway, I shift over to Hold mode, which maintains the battery's current charge. The battery drains quickly on the highway, so it's more efficient to let the range extender work a bit on the freeway, switching back to electric-only operation when the going gets slower.  

If you live in the mountains, there's a special Mountain mode that prevents the car from juicing up to 100 percent -- that way, if the first part of the commute is entirely downhill, the car will use brake regeneration to add that last bit of charge, saving a few bucks' worth of electrons in the process.

The Volt's brake regen system works great, slowing the car down to about 3 mph in every mode, falling just short of being a true one-pedal car. Additional regen is possible with the shifter in L, and even more comes by way of the on-demand regeneration paddle behind the steering wheel. That said, the paddle's extra assist comes on swiftly, which caused my head to bob forward every time. A smoother engagement would be a nice improvement.

One of the most interesting updates to the 2019 Volt can only be experienced from outside. Chevrolet created a new alert system that uses front- and rear-pointing external speakers to emit a noise at low speeds to make the car easier for pedestrians to detect. It works well, because when I first heard it, I wondered which colleague was listening to their Enya album too loudly. You can get an idea of what it sounds like via this link.

The gamification of electric-vehicle driving makes you want to improve your driving with every outing. I'm always trying to outdo myself.


Better infotainment, and a better camera, too

The major outward-facing updates for the 2019 Volt come from the tech. The Volt's center stack gets an upgrade to Chevrolet's Infotainment 3 system, which is a fancy way of saying it's the same reskinned software that first appeared in Cadillac's latest CUE. It looks good, it's plenty responsive and it even allows user logins that bring all your stored favorites (music, navigation, etc.) front and center, even if it's the first time logging into that specific vehicle.

The gauge cluster also gets a visual update that brings it closer to the look of the Bolt EV. It can display all manner of important information simultaneously, including the road speed, battery capacity and the meter that points out whether the car is using or generating electricity. I never need to dive into the hybrid-specific menus on the infotainment system with everything in front of my face like this, and I always appreciate reduced distraction.

Chevy also added a new backup camera for 2019, and I am geeked. Prior to this, General Motors' backup cameras have been some of the worst in the industry thanks to its first-generation-camera-phone resolution. This new camera is much sharper, which means I can actually see what's behind me.

As for other safety systems, they're only available on the top Premier trim. A package adds blind spot monitoring and rear parking sensors to the base LT, but if you want autobrake, forward collision warning and lane-keep assist, you need the Premier. That's not a good look in 2018, when most automakers are pushing out that kind of tech to even the most bare bones of base models.

If you don't mind this much hard plastic in a car that starts at $35,000, you'll have a great time behind the wheel.


Down to brass tacks

If you're of the belief that an electrified vehicle doesn't have to make its presence known through wild styling, the Chevy Volt is a better choice than something like the Toyota Prius Prime, which looks weird and packs half the EV range. You can get something even more pedestrian, like the Sonata Plug-In that's based on the regular Sonata, but again, the range is roughly half that of the Volt's.

That big battery is one of many reasons to love the 2019 Chevrolet Volt. It's the kind of car that is content to let the powertrain do the talking (or lack thereof), and its complement of tech might not be the most egalitarian, but it's fresh and gives a tech-hungry buyer plenty to swoon over. 

Editors' Note: Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel and hotel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists.

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