2016 Chevrolet Volt: An All-Electric Week in a Plug-in Hybrid
by Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing on March 8, 2016
My commute is dreadful. It's 46.6 miles from Santa Ana to Santa Monica, and my route includes some of the worst L.A. freeway miles imaginable. To survive, I time-shift and work an East Coast schedule, setting my alarm at 4:15 am in order to get on the road at 5:00 am (OK, usually 5:15 am), at which point I have a decent chance of getting to work by 6:00 am. My early arrival allows for an early escape that usually gets me out ahead of the worst of the afternoon commuting wave — theoretically, at least.
But a recent week was full of scheduled meetings that would stretch into late afternoon. I would have to work a normal schedule. My solution? Drive our 2016 Chevrolet Volt and take full advantage of its single-occupant HOV lane access stickers.
At first, freeway survival was my sole objective.
I first drove it home on a Thursday, my daughter's 20th birthday. We'd planned to celebrate at one of the swankier places inside Disneyland, so we drove the Volt to the Magic Kingdom and managed to obtain the last open spot among their 20 Chargepoint 240-volt Level 2 charge stations.
Including the stop at home to gather everyone, I'd driven the Volt 53 miles on electricity since setting off from work. Some 13 miles remained on the range meter when I plugged it in, at which point it dawned on me that I might be able to get through my coming week of meetings — which ended the following Thursday — driving the Volt on electricity alone.
But first I would have to get through the weekend.
That turned out to be easier than I thought. I drove 44.1 city miles on Friday before I plugged in to a 120V Level 1 outlet at home with nine miles remaining. Saturday consisted of 28.8 miles and 25 miles remaining before I plugged it in again. And I drove 27.4 miles on Sunday before recharging it with 29 miles remaining. All of those miles-driven and miles-remaining combinations added up to 53 miles or more, by the way.
A 120V Level 1 charge takes a long time; no more than three or four miles of driving range are accumulated each hour. But the Volt was full Monday morning because I hadn't started with a completely drained battery. That would prove to be important in the coming week.
On Monday, I drove the 46.6 miles to work and arrived with six miles to spare when I plugged into our own 240V Level 2 charger. The subsequent trip home was 50.3 miles long because of a side trip, but I rolled into my driveway with nine miles in reserve anyway. And so it went on Tuesday and Wednesday. Each day I arrived at work with 11 miles remaining, recharged and arrived home with 20 miles in reserve.
Arriving home with 20 miles made it easy to feel confident that the battery would be full enough on the slow-motion 120-volt charge to make it in the following morning.
Sure enough, I arrived at the office Thursday morning with nine miles remaining. I had driven the Volt seven consecutive days and 485.4 miles on electricity alone. There's never any range anxiety with a plug-in hybrid, but I never once felt that my symbolic EV-only week was in much jeopardy, either.
It helped that I had access to a 240-volt charger at work to go along with the 120-volt top-up charging I could do at home. But if I was going to own one of these I'd want to install a 240-volt Level 2 charge station at home. The slow trickle of 120 volts made it necessary to put the Volt to bed by 6:00 p.m. to get the charge started and use a different car if we wanted to see a movie or go to dinner. A 240-volt home charger would allow me to straggle in after midnight, plug in, and still have enough charge time to fill the battery by morning.
Most commute statistics say that the majority of people drive no more than 20 miles each way to work. For them the new Volt could be an EV 100 percent of the time even if they only charged at one end of their trip. Fifty-three miles of rated range really changes the game, and it doesn't take a lot of effort to coax it to go even farther.
The 2016 Volt is a far more compelling choice than it was one year ago.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 5,323 miles