The 2017 Chevrolet Volt Might be the World’s Best Commuter Car

Critic's Notebook takeaway: an athletic eco-minded daily driver in near-luxury garb.

Chevy Volt Review
Chevrolet

Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff collection of impressions, jottings, and marginalia on whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2017 Chevrolet Volt.

The second-generation Prius, in all its eggy glory, probably doesn’t deserve to be a cultural punching bag. The model has saved thousands of gallons of gas from being combusted and sent into the atmosphere, and for that I’m thankful. Still, the car literally makes me nauseous. Between an overly-soft suspension, gooey power delivery courtesy of the CVT and battery, and lurching stops, I cannot ride longer than five minutes in Tom Hanks’ favorite car without feeling deeply ill. Even the plastics, when sun-baked, give off a particularly funky smell.

So, I was worried to approach the new 2017 Chevrolet Volt. It apes the shape of the older Prius—and of course, the original blobs, the GM EV1 and Honda Insight—and also uses a hybrid propulsion system, though with a much larger and more robust electric drive system that can be charged from a wall. Was this going to be a similarly GI-upsetting wolf in American sheep’s clothing.

Chevrolet

I needn’t have worried. Sliding into the cabin is pleasant. Our LT Premier had two-toned leather seats, a Bose sound system, and nicely-patterned metallic trim. Starting the car brings a fun, jet-spooling sound and, with Apple CarPlay on the crisp center screen, the first minute in a Chevy Volt is a charming, well-orchestrated welcome to the future of motoring. Beside the manually-adjusted seats, the Volt feels and smells nice enough to justify its near-$40k price.

Cabin test: passed. Now for the drive. When I picked up the car, it was almost fully charged, with an estimated 50 miles of all-electric range. Pulling out of the parking lot, the Volt feels strong, with the kind of oomph—at least at speeds under 10 mph—that I last sampled in a Dodge Charger Scatpack. Torque, whether borne of electrons or hydrocarbons, is torque. (The Volt has almost 300 lb-ft from 0 MPH.) So far: sporting, absent the Prius’ Gumby-like pull. Zooming out onto a pockmarked Brooklyn street, the Volt pulled off the same tiny luxury car trick as the Chevy Cruze, without the Toyota wallow.

Chevrolet

There’s also a particular fun to the Chevrolet Volt’s two-column speedometer display. Flanking the speed are two gauges: one measuring electric charge, the other noting fuel reserve, to power the 1.5-liter, 100-horsepower Atkinson-cycle engine that can both recharge the battery and power the front wheels in tandem with the 149-horsepower electric motor. I like to imagine that a conscientious owner with less than a 25-mile commute could feasibly sell the car after several years with the same tank of gas the car came with from the dealer.

I really loved this car. It’s small, comfortable and the most athletic eco-minded car I’ve ever driven. Considering state tax breaks for EVs, the low-cost of nighttime electricity, and a bounty of free charging stations in urban and suburban areas, the Chevrolet Volt might be the least expensive commuter car out there. Plus, you get to park in the holier-than-thou Eco-Friendly Vehicle spots at Whole Foods, which is worth the MSRP twice over.

Drawbacks? The back seat is cramped, with the middle portion offering zero leg room. (Thank the Volt’s T-Shaped battery pack.) Otherwise, the Volt belongs in the pantheon of Great Small Cars. Get hip to Chevy’s new look, folks.

Chevrolet

2017 Chevrolet Volt
BASE PRICE (AS TESTED): 
$33,220 ($37,570)
POWERTRAIN: 1.5-liter I-4, 100 hp/Voltec twin-motor, 110 kW; front-wheel drive; Voltec multi-clutch pack
WEIGHT: 3,543 lb
0-60 MPH: 7.8 seconds
MPG: 53 city / 45 highway MPGe
Commuter Status: King of the Toll Road