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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Upgrading from 2012 to 2017 Chevy Volt

I have been wildly enthusiastic about the Chevy Volt since before it went into production and acquired my 2012 model as soon as I could afford to.  I have been completely thrilled with the car and believe that it is the ideal electric vehicle since it cleverly addresses the "range anxiety" issue with its internal gas powered "range extender" generator that allows you to keep driving at 43mpg once the electric battery has been used up.

My dealer (GoodwinsChevrolet) here in Brunswick, Maine made me an offer I could not refuse which was to trade in my old Volt for a very affordable three-year lease on the all new redesigned 2017 model (base price US$33,170).  They graciously allowed me to park both vehicles side-by-side so I could do a detailed comparison review.  GM have redesigned the vehicle from the ground up, and while there is a strong family resemblance, there are fundamental differences that make for significant improvements in performance, functionality and styling.  Personally, I find the new exterior style lines to be much improved.  The GEN 1 design ran from 2012 through 2016.

The 2012 was really fun to drive and the new model is even more fun with it's crazy fast acceleration and ground hugging performance.  It is also very comfortable on long trips.

Driving Experience

Overall, the GEN 2 vehicle is 250 pounds lighter which translates into a more nimble feel which dramatically increases the 0 to 30 acceleration feel.  The 0 to 30MPH acceleration time has been reduced from 3.1 to 2.6 seconds while 0 to 60 mph performance has improved from 9 to 8.3 seconds.  From a performance standpoint, the low-end acceleration is quite thrilling, the vehicle burns rubber from a standing start if you floor it even in "normal" mode.  This was not even possible in the GEN 1 design.   But more useful is that the EPA rated range has been extended from a maximum of 37 to 53 miles, and I am hearing that  people are getting a range up in the mid-60s with careful driving.  Using MAX climate control in cold weather, I'm seeing a range in the mid 40'sFor someone like me who does mostly local driving to towns up to 15 miles away, this means I will be using gas much less.  In previous years I have used  between 40 and 60 gallons per year - mostly for longer trips.
 
The Gen 2 is noticeably quieter, road and tire noise is much lower due to quieter tires and an improved transmission that is 15% more efficient.  It also makes a lot less funny little mechanical pump noises because the hydraulic brakes pressurize on demand rather than at randomized intervals and the climate control and charging coolant systems seem to be quieter too.  

One does not notice it as a driver, but they have added an electronically generated "Pedestrian Safety Signal" that activates only under 20 mph to warn nearby pedestrians that the vehicle is running.  It is a peculiar sound that is hard to describe and does not really sound like an engine running to me and it is just noticeable enough to be audible without being annoying.  They have removed the "annunciator" button on the left stalk - when pressed the horn would emit a "bip-bip-bip" sound and I rather liked that feature because it was a pleasant way to advise neighbors that I was sneaking up on them on my quiet country road.

regen on-demand paddle
Something I am just beginning to get use to is the new Regen on Demandpaddle on the left side of the steering wheel.  While I normally drive in "L" mode to optimize regeneration while slowing ("D" mode completely disables regenerative braking), this paddle adds a whole another layer.  Basically you learn to use it as if it were a brake pedal and the vehicle slows much more dramatically when you pull the paddle towards the steering wheel.  It's difficult to convey the difference in experience, but suffice it to say I am using the paddle in place of braking when coming to a stop as often as possible to gain the regenerated energy and increase driving range.   Incidentally the paddle does engage the brake lights.

This feature is a mixed blessing because it means that the rear disc brakes are almost never used.  I had to replace the rear brake discs on my 2012 Volt after only 40,000 miles because they had rusted to the point where they would not pass inspection.  The dealer's service tech explained that I should get the vehicle up to 50 mph or so on a quiet road, drop it in neutral and brake very hard at least once a week to make sure the disc brakes operate forcefully enough to clean out any rust build up.
 

Tech details

charging data from my old and new vehicle
In order to charge the larger battery in less time the vehicle is drawing an additional 500 W from my 240 V JuiceBox EV charging station.  A full charge takes a nominal 4.5 hours to top up the 18.4 kWh battery (upgraded from 16 kWh).  Charging from 120 V is expected to take 13 hours at 12 Amps.
 
The new battery has 15% more power while weighing 30lb less due to battery chemistry improvements, an 8% decrease in weight.  Battery technology keeps improving, and the new battery cells are 20% more efficient allowing GM to reduce the number of cells in the battery by 96.

It seems that another way they are getting more power out of the battery is by using more of its capacity.  Based on readings taken from my DashDAQ-XL performance monitor I learned that the GEN 1 utilized from 22% to 87% state of charge, while the GEN 2 uses from 14% to 90% state of charge.  So the new Volt is using 11% more capacity from the battery.

I have also noticed that the GEN 2 draws power from the charging station in frequent brief bursts, presumably to maintain the battery within a safe operating temperature range.  The chart above shows two days of energy from my charging station while temperatures varied from just below freezing  to the mid-40s Fahrenheit.  Those brief spikes represent periods of less than 10 minutes with an energy draw ranging from a few hundred Watts to about 2300 W.

The old 1.4 L gas engine (originally from one of their other models) has been replaced with a new 1.5 L engine.  This allows it to generate 75 kW, a 33% increase over the old 50 kW generator making the engine much more efficient.  This is why the "range extender" mode has increased from an EPA rated 37 mpg to 42 mpg or so.  The new engine can also use regular gas rather than premium which is a nice bonus.  In practice I used to get a nominal 40 mpg in the GEN 1 on long trips, so I have high hopes for at least 45 mpg in the 2017 model.  Apparently the new engine can run at lower RPMs - presumably making it quieter under high demand situations like going up long hills, or recovering from an extended period of acceleration.  My 2012 Volt would ramp up to 4000 RPM making it quite noticeable.  The new engine is generally much quieter.


The transmission in the Volt is a very complicated affair incorporating planetary gears and clutches to connect the two electric motors (known as the MGA and MGB) and the gas engine to the drive train.  Click here if you really want to know moreIt has been completely redesigned to be 12% more efficient and also noticeably quieterIn my 2012, I used to notice a slight whirring sound at slow speeds with the window open, and that is no longer as noticeable.

The stock low rolling resistance Goodyear tires from the GEN 1 have been replaced with slightly less efficient Michelin tires with a net reduction in road noise and no noticeable trade-off in performance.  The recommended tire pressure is 36 lb, but I'm inflating them to 38 lb to try and improve efficiency slightly.  My 2012 tires wore out after about 30,000 miles which was very disappointing.  I upgraded to Continental low rolling resistance tires that are rated for 70,000 miles, but as they aged in they seemed to become louder and louder to the point where it was almost like I was driving with heavy snow tires.  In a vehicle this quiet you really notice road noise.

Exterior

The funky rubber air dam is scaled down and tucked underneath  in the new model and the front grill looks a lot more attractive.

The rear spoiler is much better integrated into the visual aesthetic.  The original spoiler felt like a cheap plastic add-on and road grime would build up underneath of it.  I also think the taillight design is much more attractive.

The headlight design is a little more attractive.  But the significant improvement is in the quality and brightness of the headlights. 

The GEN 1 used a single relatively dim halogen light with a beam that was not wide enough to light the sides of the road.  A mechanical shutter blocked the light for the low-beam.  The 2017 model uses very bright white LEDs and the high-beam adds in a bright (warmer toned) halogen.  Overall, the headlights are a vast improvement.

The backup light in the GEN 1 was a single light down in the bumper for European compliance.  There are now two normally placed backup lights in the GEN 2.  

Surprisingly, all of the rear lights including turn and taillights are still incandescent, I would have expected LEDs by now.  I like the swooping curves in the new model though.

The charge port no longer requires that you unlock it by pressing a button on the armrest, you just press it in to click release like a standard gas tank.  This requires a small behavior change because with the GEN 1 Volt one got use to automatically turning the power off and then pressing the button to open the charge port when coming home to connect it to your home charger.  Now you just turn off the vehicle then step outside and click open the port and connect the charge plug.

I like the chrome detailing on the door handles and note that the mechanical key slot has been moved to the bottom surface where it is not visible, and the key must be inserted vertically into the concealed slot in the absence of a functioning remote. 

The key can be completely removed from the keyfob in the new design - The GEN 1 keyfob key flipped out like a switchblade.

I had replaced the original factory wire antenna with a Stubby Antenna because it stuck up too high when I used my Rhino Racks to carry my canoe.  The new shark fin style antenna is a nice design refinement and also stays low enough to stay below the roof rack.

 Interior

The most noticeable difference in the 2017 model is the interior.  Everything has changed  on the dashboard.

GM engineers wisely decided to remove the "sexy" center console with touch activated buttons and went with a more contemporary styled user interface with separate manual climate controls and a touchscreen above.  It was far too easy to accidentally bump one of those pretty touch buttons on the old white center console.

power outlet and 2 USB inputs for media
plus a 3.5 mm audio input jack
Some of the  the features I have come to enjoy already include the Wi-Fi hotspot, and voice command for the entertainment system.  For instance I can press a button on the screen to enable voice-recognition and then simply say: "play Adele 25" and it will begin playing the first song on the album.  I have plugged in a thumb drive with all of my favorite music to one of the two USB jacks in a small lighted cubby in front of the shifter.  There is a slot to the right of the shifter for a phone or music player, I leave my phone there whenever I'm driving both to charge it and for Android Auto navigation.  The Android system put live Google maps on the center console screen.
 

A major improvement is the re-positioning of the POWER and MODE buttons.  More than one driver has inadvertently turned off their vehicle while driving because they intended to change modes (normal, sport, mountain and hold) but hit the POWER button accidentally.  I had a terrifying experience at night doing just that at high speed on a two-lane blacktop.  Now the power button is logically located near where an ignition key would be in an older vehicle, while the MODE button is down near the shifter where it should be.

The shifter location and layout now make a lot more sense with the parking brake located at the left, hazard lights at lower left, and MODE and TRACTION control buttons at the bottom.  I never understood  the strange placement of these controls in the GEN 1 design.

The new armrest controls slope towards the driver, making them more accessible.  And the gas filler release button is now placed in a much more visible location.

Above the mirror, the OnStar controls have been moved forward and simplified.  The large black button in the center of the GEN 1 image on the left was the traction control button.  A very odd place for it, and it makes perfect sense that they would move it down next to the shifter.
The new keyfob is slightly sexier and the same remote control features have been retained.  For instance, you can hold down the unlock key for several seconds and ALL the windows will open fully.  This is a great way to cool down the vehicle in the summer before getting into it.  If you press the lock button briefly and then press and hold the power button, you can remote start the vehicle and it will utilize the last settings of the climate control system to heat or cool the vehicle as needed.  The substantial difference in the GEN 2 model is that the heater is much more effective.  On recent days when temperatures dropped below 0°F, I was able to preheat the vehicle for 10 minutes and get into a comfortably warm car with a cabin temperature around 70°F.  The GEN 1 heating system was lame by comparison.


The rear seats now include a center seat with a fold-down armrest. rather than two separate seats.  It functions more like a bench seat with a 60/40 split fold-down.  While the center seat would not be comfortable for anyone other than a child, I'm sure it adds some value to those with children.

The rear cargo area is much the same, except for the gap between the seats which was convenient for loading 8 foot lengths of lumber for me.  Yes, you can fit 8 foot 2X4s inside the vehicle by sliding them all the way into the front passenger foot well.

With the rear seats folded down  one notices the absence of the window in the rear hatch reducing visibility even more.

Due to the reduced visibility, GM have wisely incorporated a rear camera in the base model.  Previously this option was only available as an upgrade, but without the rear window it is now essential.  And notice that it shows guidelines indicating where the vehicle will be as you backup - they interactively curve as you turn the steering wheel.  I'm sure that children, dogs, and toys will be much safer now.  The camera is located just above the rear license plate.

The GEN 1 charge cord was originally stored under the rear hatch, but I never left it there because it was too inaccessible.  The new cord storage location is more readily accessible, but there is nothing to wrap the cord around, so it is a loose 20 foot cable which becomes awkward to handle in snow and bad weather.  I think I prefer the original charge cord.

Everything under the hood has changed completely.  The large orange high voltage wires to the electric motor are tucked inside somewhere, and I hear that the new four-cylinder gas generator engine is smaller and lighter.  But it's all black box stuff.  There be magic!

Overall I am thoroughly impressed.  It seems that GM were paying attention to all of the observations, pet peeves, and complaints about the original design.  They totally got it right this time!