First Drive: 2016 Chevrolet Volt

I like to think of myself as my own person, with my own thoughts and opinions.

But it's tough to argue with a good idea.

Like Brad's about which is the best electric vehicle on the market: The Chevrolet Volt.

Whereas other EVs struggle with the daunting issue of range anxiety, the Volt, since its launch in late 2010, has been marketed as worry-free thanks to its range-extending gas engine.

Some five years on, Chevrolet is introducing a second-gen Volt that offers better looks, better range, and better efficiency than before.

Which begs the question: Can the best get even better?

Since the Detroit auto show this past January, Chevrolet has been calling 2015 the biggest launch year in the brand's history, with five redesigned cars unveiled culminating in the new Volt.

And for the first time since its inception, the Volt actually looks like it fits with the rest of Chevy's lineup.

Park it next to any of the overhauled cars introduced since January—the Malibu, Cruze, Spark and Camaro were all oredesigned for the 2016 model year—and the Volt slots in seamlessly.

Whereas the last generation was a touch quirky-looking, as most electric vehicles are, the 2016 Volt is handsome and modern, and almost—almost—looks like a hatchback version of the new Cruze.

Where it differs from that car, and the Volt it replaces, is in the powertrain, with a brand new EREV drive system that is lighter, offers a longer electric driving range, and burns less fuel than its predecessor.

While identical to the first generation in layout, the new EREV system features a new two-motor drive unit that is 12 per cent more efficient and 100 lbs. lighter than the outgoing version, along with an 18.4-kWh battery pack—up from the old Volt's 16.1-kWh battery—that is 20 lbs. lighter.

The new battery, which makes use of 192 cells versus 288 cells in the older design, also provides for a longer pure-electric driving range, with the car now able to travel up to 85 kilometres before the range extender kicks in compared to the first generation Volt's electric driving range of 61 kilometres.

The second-gen Volt's 1.5-litre range-extender—a gas-powered engine that powers a generator, making more electricity after the battery is depleted—is also new and more efficient than the previous car's 1.4-litre.

Making 101 horsepower, up from 85 horsepower in the 1.4-litre, the engine burns a scant 5.6 L/100 km combined, and, unlike the outgoing Volt, runs on regular gasoline.

Combined with some frugal driving and regular battery charging, and the folks at GM claim drivers can expect to travel more than 1,600 kilometres between fill-ups.

And speaking of battery charging, the 2016 Volt makes do with the same 120- and 240-volt options, with the added bonus of GPS location-based charging that allows the car to recognize when it's at home and follow preferences for charging at off-peak utility rates or before a pre-set departure time.

The Volt also gets an overhaul inside and feels less like an electric vehicle than its predecessor, with the centre stack no longer decked out with finicky little buttons and weird touch-sensitive icons.

While the eight-inch infotainment screen is still controlled by touch, the Volt now features actual buttons and knobs for climate control.

Also new inside the Volt is the so-called Regen on Demand feature, borrowed from the Cadillac ELR, that allows the driver to control energy regeneration through a paddle on the back of the steering wheel, putting power back in the battery for later, and a five-passenger seating capacity.

But with a massive console in the middle of the floor, hiding the battery pack, stuffing more than two passengers in the back seat is not ideal, and should be saved for trips with friends and family members you like the least.

After spending a couple of days cruising around the beautiful countryside of Quebec's Chaudière-Appalaches region, I can honestly say the Volt was a pleasure to drive—and it made me understand what the hypermiling hype is all about.

It's peppy and comfortable and fun at times, even if it's in a non-traditional way.

Everywhere I went I was trying to maximize efficiency, using the Regen on Demand paddle to top up the battery when I could, and going easy on the throttle to keep the total driving range as high as possible.

When combined with the Volt's pretty reasonable price—the base MSRP sits at $40,090 before any government rebates, like the $8,500 one offered in Ontario—it was genuinely the first time I ever considered the possibility of buying an EV for myself.

So did the best electric vehicle on the market get even better in its second generation?

Considering how much the Volt does right, it's tough to argue with the logic.

Base price: $40,090

As tested: $40,090 (freight included)

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