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2019 Chevrolet Bolt and Volt Drive: Chevrolet's Still a Leader

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【Summary】After piloting the 2019 Chevrolet Bolt and Volt in beautiful Vermont, we got to look at two vehicles that will help the American automaker fight smaller and more radical companies on the electrified front.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Oct 28, 2018 5:55 AM PT
2019 Chevrolet Bolt and Volt Drive: Chevrolet's Still a Leader
author: Vineeth Joel Patel   

The emergence of Tesla as not only a major player in the electric-vehicle segment, but also a leader in the space has been a tough pill for traditional automakers to swallow. Toyota has been perfecting the Prius for almost 20 years now, but it somehow hasn't emerged with any real competitors for Tesla, deciding to continue to develop hydrogen fuel-cell technology instead of focusing on fully-electric cars. 

While Toyota is avoiding electrified cars – for some strange reason – like the plague, other traditional ones have accepted the fact that electric cars are the future, and regardless of how expensive and difficult they may be to develop and manufacture, it's important to get into the field before being left behind. It's why Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volkswagen, and even Porsche are looking to EVs as the future. 

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If there's a ray of shining light from a traditional automaker that won't let Tesla own the entire market, it's Chevrolet. General Motors wasn't the first automaker to start looking into electrified cars, but the American automaker is given praised for being the first brand to come out with the first serious look at an electric back in 1996 with the V1. 

Fast forward 22 years, and Chevrolet's still finding new roads, or something like that, with electric cars. But this time, it's with vehicles like the Chevrolet Bolt and Volt. Unlike the EV1 from yesteryear, neither of these electrified vehicles are trendsetters, as the industry has changed a lot since then and the number of electrified vehicles has grown exponentially. 

Besides Tesla, there's the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, Jaguar I-Pace, Kia Soul EV, Volkswagen e-Golf, Hyundai Ioniq EV, and Ford Focus Electric. So what's Chevrolet doing to ensure that the Volt and Bolt are at the top of the pack? That's what Chevrolet brought us to Vermont to find out. 

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Starting With The Bolt

The 2019 model year doesn't get many changes, which means power still comes from a 150-kW electric motor that's good for 200 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. The electric motor is paired to a 60 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. No surprises there, as the Bolt continues to be one of the few affordable electric cars with enough range for daily use. 

With 238 miles of range, there's a lot you can do with the Bolt. For me, I'd be able to get to Norfolk, Virginia from my home in Baltimore, which is a little more than four hours away. That's not nearly as far as a vehicle with a combustion engine can go on a tank of fuel, but it's a lot better than 114 miles of range you get with the new I3.  

In addition to actually being usable, the Bolt is just a comfortable daily driver. While other electric vehicles make you compromise with some low-end materials and completely soulless personalities, the Bolt doesn't really make you compromise. It's actually enjoyable to drive and comfortable for both short long trips.  

But where the Bolt really shines is in its ability to be an electric vehicle that's easy to come to terms with. I've spent time in the Bolt before, when it first came out in 2016, but I'm always shocked at the ability to get into the vehicle and just feel like it's a car. A lot of automakers, Tesla included, have gown down the route of making their electric cars as Sci-Fi as possible. Chevrolet's taken a more practical approach to the way the Bolt feels and drives, which is reassuring for people that aren't well versed with electric vehicles. 

Another area where the Bolt impresses is when it comes to recuperating electric range. We started our short one-hour trip around town with roughly 230 miles of range and managed to make it back more than 200 miles in the bank. This, thanks to the Bolt's aggressive Low mode is a possibility around town and in stop-and-go traffic. 

Range anxiety will continue to be an issue with electric vehicles for the next few years, but with the Bolt's Low mode and the regeneration paddle on the steering wheel, there's a way for you to get some electric miles back. It's smart, easy to get used to, and helpful. 

Why change anything when you're on top? 

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Adding Gas To Quell Range Anxiety

The Chevrolet Volt came out in 2011 and, at the time, was seen as a game changer in the world of electrified vehicles. If you think today's electric cars will give you a bad case of range anxiety, you'll be shocked to hear that the Leaf, which was one of the more capable cars back then, only had a range of 100 miles. With that information in mind, the Volt was definitely a leader. 

With an electric motor and a 16-kWh battery pack, the Volt had a range of 35 miles on a single charge. While that sounds terrible, the Volt also came with a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that added an extra 344 miles of range on gas. Essentially, the Volt gave consumers the ability to travel on electricity when they wanted to and the range to travel across country, also if they wanted to.  

Few other vehicles gave consumers that kind of freedom, and the Volt did a lot to jump-start the plug-in hybrid segment. When the time came for Chevrolet to introduce the second generation of the vehicle in 2016, the automaker kept the Volt's ability to let you travel on electricity and gasoline intact. 

The second generation of the Volt got some major changes, including a two-motor design, a larger 1.5-liter four-cylinder range-extender, and an 18.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The changes meant that the Volt could now travel 53 miles on a single charge and go 367 miles on gas, which was more than the previous generation. With the changes, the new Volt was an even better proposition. 

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What's New For 2019?

It's been three years since the second-gen Volt came out and the new 2019 model gets some more changes. The most noteworthy of which is the addition of a new 7.2-kW charging system. Just to be clear, the 7.2-kW charging system is optional on the base LT trim, costing an extra $750, and standard on the Premier trim. If you don't pay the extra money, you're stuck with the old 3.6-kW charging system as last year. 

The new charger reduces the amount of time it takes the Volt to recoup its 53-mile range in just 2.3 hours, which is half the amount of time it took last year, when connected to a Level 2, 240-volt charger. The 2019 Volt may not be a game changer, but the new charger sure is. 

Another change for the Volt is the addition of new Low and Regeneration modes that were inspired by the ones found on the Bolt. While not as aggressive as on the ones found on the Bolt, they allow for one-pedal driving, which is something Chevrolet really brought to the market with the Bolt. And, when you use both together, you're looking at roughly 53 kW of regeneration.

While other features have been added, like an optional power driver's seat for the LT trim, a driver-switchable adaptive cruise control system, a digital rearview camera, Chevrolet's Infotainment 3 system with an 8-inch touchscreen, and the ability to keep the gas engine off until temps hit minus 13 degrees F, the charger and the new regeneration profiles are the most important for the plug-in hybrid. 

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Giving You The Best Of Both Worlds

In practice, the Volt is the perfect electrified vehicle for consumers looking for something that can run on electricity, and on gasoline when they decide to go for a longer trip. Our first 40-mile journey in the Volt included a quick highway blast, steep hills, curvy roads that we took enthusiastically, and some light off-roading. We drained the Volt's 53-mile range on the trip, but were impressed, as we weren't driving the electric vehicle in the ideal setting or in a fuel-efficient way. 

After draining the battery pack, we switched the Volt into Low mode, which physically required shifting the gear knob into "L," which usually stands for Low gear in regular cars. In the mode, the car will come to a gradual halt on its own without requiring you to push the physical brake pedal. In Low, we saw 30 kW of regeneration. Pair that with the paddle on the steering wheel, which brought 23 kW of regen, and you're coming to a stop without touching the brake pedal and regenerating 53 kW of electric juice. When running on electricity, the Volt can get up to an EPA-rated 106 MPGe. 

By driving the Volt without touching the brake pedal, you could extend the vehicle's electric range by a few miles. But eventually, you'll run out of electric, which is when the 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine turns on with little noise. It's a smooth process that also happens to be efficient – we got 49 mpg over the next 35 miles, which is better than the 42 mpg EPA average. 

We stopped for an hour and a half at the Ben & Jerry's factory, plugging our Volts into Level 2 chargers before getting a tour. After that amount of time, we returned to our vehicles to see that we had approximately half of the Volt's available range. We conducted the last 25-mile journey to the airport on nothing but electricity, revealing just how impressive the new 7.2-kW charging system is. Even more impressively, we actually drove in an efficient way, using Low mode and the regen paddle whenever possible and managed to make it to our destination with a little bit of range still in the tank. 

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The Bottom Line

Vehicles like the Bolt may be the future, but the majority of consumers would find the Volt to be the ideal set up. With a generous 53-mile range, which happens to be best in class for the plug-in hybrid segment, you can do more than just get to work. Depending on how far you drive, that could be a week's worth of fuel. And with the gas engine there to give you some extra miles, you could use the car for the family's summer vacation. Clearly, Chevrolet's need to ensure that consumers get the best of both worlds with the Volt continued for the 2019 model year. 

The changes also ensure that the Volt stays at the top in terms of affordable plug-in hybrids. Previously, the vehicle was the head honcho of the segment, the option to beat and one of the best selling electrified vehicles on the market. With quicker charge times, more comfort, and the ability to regain more electric miles, the Volt solidifies its place at the top of the pile.

Electric vehicles are in an odd place at the moment. Ranges run the gambit of being enough for daily use in urban locations to daily use depending on your access to a charger. For consumers that don't meet those two pieces of criteria, plug-in hybrids are the best options. You get some electric range, in the case of the Volt, the best range in the segment, and a backup plan for when you run out of range. 

At the end of the day, the Bolt is a car that blazes a new path for Chevrolet and traditional automakers, proving that those with V8s under some vehicles can make something without an internal combustion engine and do it well. But some consumers aren't ready to compromise on things to be leaders, which is where the Volt comes in. It's everything you need in a regular car – being quiet, comfortable, and fun to drive – while being efficient. If you're not ready to dive right into the electric deep end, the plug-in hybrid Volt is the perfect wading distance, giving you all of the best qualities of a plug-in hybrid and a regular car. It really makes you ask the question of: what more could you want in a daily driver? 

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