2016 Chevrolet Volt: How Efficient Is It as an EV?
by Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor on April 26, 2016
One of the big improvements for the 2016 Chevrolet Volt is greater full-electric driving range. The previous generation Volt had an EPA-estimated range of 38 miles; the new model can go 53 miles typically before switching on its gas engine/generator (and we've already exceeded that easily a few times). The upshot is that we're spending even more of our time driving our Chevy Volt like it was an electric vehicle (EV).
That's pretty neat, but it also made me wonder: When it's just using its electric battery power, how efficient is the Volt compared to other plug-in hybrids or even other EVs? Or, put in the way we would ask a friend about his or her regular new car: what kind of mpg is it getting?
My first stop for learning more was fueleconomy.gov. Each EV or plug-in hybrid has an efficiency estimate. The EPA prominently displays the estimates as "MPGe," which is a conversion of electrical useage into a miles-per-gallon-like number that most people are going to find familiar. In the Volt's case, that's 106 MPGe.
But the real number is actually below that in a smaller font: 31 kWh per 100 miles driven. That means for every 100 miles we drive our Volt in EV mode, the EPA estimates (based on its standardized driving tests) that it will utilize 31 kWh of electrical energy. A lower kWh number means less energy consumed and therefore better efficiency. (The Volt's battery pack can't actually hold 31 kWh of energy, though, which correlates to its fewer than 100-mile range.)
So we've got our 31 kWh/100 miles figure for the Volt. Here are some other samples from the EPA:
2016 Audi A3 eTron (plug-in): 40 kWh/100 miles
2016 Ford Fusion Energi (plug-in): 37 kWh/100 miles
2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In: 34 kWh/100 miles
2016 Kia Soul Electric: 32 kWh/100 miles
2016 Fiat 500e: 30 kWh/100 miles
2016 Nissan Leaf: 30 kWh/100 miles
2016 BMW i3: 27 kWh/100 miles
Again, lower is better. As you can see, the Volt, when it's running in pure electric mode, is right in the mix with the dedicated EVs like the Leaf and 500e in terms of energy efficiency. I wouldn't have necessarily expected that given the added complexity and/or weight of being a plug-in vehicle.
I've also been keeping an eye on what is effectively the Volt's in-car "fuel economy" gauge for electric drive. Available through the touchscreen, it shows the miles driven and the kWh energy used to drive that distance.
You can convert that number to be equal to per 100 miles driven to see how your driving efficiency compares to the EPA's. The pictured numbers above — 29.5 miles and 6.6 kWh used — calculate out to about 22.4 kWh/100 miles. (It's worth noting that there's some inherent inefficiency during the battery recharging process, so I'd end up "putting in" more than 6.6 kWh's worth of electricity to fully recharge the battery, but that's another topic.) When Mike Magrath made his highly impressive 74.8-mile all-electric drive, he averaged about 19.0 kWh/100 miles.
For me, it's just fun to think differently about efficiency in a way that's not miles-per-gallon. And as more people buy plug-in hybrids or dedicated EVs, it's bound to become more of a topic.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 7,324 miles