2016 Chevrolet Volt: Paddle Versus Pedal
by Jonathan Elfalan, Road Test Editor on December 16, 2015
There are many things to like about our new long-term 2016 Chevrolet Volt. For one, the general consensus is that it's an attractive car. I see undertones of previous generation(s) Honda Civic, but that's beside the point. I'm also impressed by its electric-only range. I could exist quite comfortably under its 53-ish-mile ceiling for the majority of the week, which means far fewer pesky stops at the pump. Single-occupancy carpool lane access also a huge plus.
One thing I haven't quite wrapped my head around though is how Chevy decided to integrate a control for maximum regenerative braking. It's the steering wheel paddle on the left, and its reason for existence is questionable at best.
Chevy has a recent habit of assigning unconventional functions to steering wheel paddles. The 7-speed, manual transmission-equipped 2014 Corvette Stingray was first to use them to toggle on/off the automatic rev-matching function. And on the other back side of the Volt's steering wheel are two large buttons, sizeable enough to at least be pseudo-paddles. Those nifty things are volume control buttons. The functions these buttons perform, however, happen to work well so there's no argument there.
The issue with the regenerative braking paddle is that it's an on/off switch, with no ability to vary the level of regen you dial in. It's all or nothing, which makes it a guessing game approaching every red light. Also, the slowing effect of the paddle is significant enough that it activates the brake lights every time you press it, but it won't actually bring you to a complete stop.
So as you gradually become better at timing your paddle-braking pulls, expect to be putting on a few light shows for the lucky cars behind you.
This begs the question of why the full generative braking function wasn't incorporated into the throttle pedal like it is the BMW i3. Lift off the throttle completely means max regen. Lift off the throttle partially, partial regen. It's a function that takes some adjustment initially, but makes complete sense in practice.
My supposition for Chevy not going the BMW route has to do with our Volt being a plug-in hybrid instead of a dedicated EV. Perhaps there are some challenges with this layout when operating in a hybrid mode. If this is the case, the regen paddle needs to be variable, even if it's just one more level at 50 percent without activating the taillights.
Until then, I'll stick to the brake pedal.
Jonathan Elfalan, Road Test Editor