It isn't often that a first-to-market vehicle manages to define a segment right out of the gate, but the first-generation Chevrolet Volt did exactly that. It was the first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) we ever saw. And we'd argue that the second-generation car that surfaced in 2016 is still the best example of what a PHEV can be. Three years later, the 2019 Chevrolet Volt receives a variety of updates to help it keep its edge.
The Volt is a standout because it has enough electric range — 53 miles, the most of any PHEV — that a majority of commuters can keep it in electric mode an entire day. It's also the only PHEV that's persistent in its use of electricity, which means it will stay in pure EV mode until the battery runs out. When the Volt's battery has power, the engine does not "help out" when you floor the accelerator pedal, drive it at highway speeds or climb a hill. This is unlike competing plug-in hybrids, which will use their gas engines in these situations even when their batteries still have power.
What all this means is that the Volt can masquerade as an electric vehicle for weeks at a time if your commute isn't overly long and you plug in every night. It's possible to maintain the EV illusion until you decide to take a trip out of town, at which point the gasoline hybrid powertrain has you covered to the tune of 42 miles per gallon.
The Charger Is On the Inside
But the Volt has always had a serious flaw: It took much longer than necessary — 4.5 hours — to recharge its battery. This lengthy process didn't matter much when recharging overnight at home, but it was irksome when you wanted to take advantage of a public charger while out and about. The 2019 Volt slices that 240-volt charge time in half, making it possible to fully refill the battery while you're at the movies or shopping at the mall. And since many public stations charge by the hour, recharging in half the time can also mean half the cost.
Contrary to what you might think, a plug-in vehicle's charger resides under its own hood. The cord you plug into the side is merely a power supply that feeds into (and is regulated by) the onboard charger. Previous Volts came with a 3.6-kW charger, and this was the weak link that limited recharge time at 240-volt Level 2 public and residential charge stations to 4.5 hours. The size of the 2019 Volt's onboard charger has been increased to 7.2 kW, and that doubling of capacity is what halves the Level 2 charging time to just 2.3 hours.
You absolutely want to get this new 7.2-kW charger. The easy way to do this is to buy the Volt Premier trim level, where it comes standard. You can also get it on the LT trim level as a $750 option. LT-grade Volts without the option retain last year's 3.6-kW charger and the 4.5-hour recharge time that goes with it.
Same Range, MPG, Power but Better Braking
Aside from charging time, none of the 2019 Volt's performance specs have budged. It's still good for 53 miles on a charge and 42 mpg on gasoline. Maximum electric thrust is still 149 horsepower and a rollicking 294 pound-feet of torque, and Chevy's claimed 0-60 mph acceleration time remains pegged at 8.4 seconds. Our 2016 Chevy Volt long-termer beat that mark with a 7.5-second performance at our test track, and this 2019 example feels like it will do the same.
One particularly welcome improvement fails to appear on any spec sheet: The regenerative braking system has more power. You can drive a Volt all the time in its L drive mode — and should, if you can adapt to the feel of it — because the motor's magnetism will slow the car directly by generating electricity whenever you lift off the accelerator pedal. L does not represent a lower gear as it would in a conventional car, but it does create that effect on downgrades. It's also handy when rolling up to stop signs, and it's exceedingly entertaining when hurtling into corners.
Last year's Volt behaved similarly, but its regenerative braking never felt robust enough to rely on as a primary means of slowing down the car. The 2019 Volt's extra deceleration and responsiveness make one-pedal driving easier and more satisfying. For those who like the related "regen on demand" paddle on the steering wheel, it's still here.
New Infotainment and Interior Features
Various incremental changes have made their way into the 2019 Chevrolet Volt's interior, but none of them counts as a real blockbuster. The main changes: You can now get a power driver's seat; the pattern on the optional leather seating is more interesting; and there's a handsome new jet black/porcelain blue (gray, more or less) two-tone interior. The interior's dimensions are unchanged, which means the back seat is still tight for adults.
Electronic upgrades include a higher-definition backup camera and a tire pressure monitoring system with a tire fill alert that honks the horn and flashes the lights when you've added enough air. The optional wireless smartphone charging pad has been relocated to a handier spot ahead of the shifter, with new twin charge coils that make charging success less dependent on precise phone placement. The available adaptive cruise control can now be easily switched between adaptive and conventional modes of operation, too.
Despite all of that, your eyes will probably be drawn to the 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, which has been switched from Chevrolet MyLink to the new Chevrolet Infotainment 3 system. This new system not only improves the look of the various screens, but it also results in quicker response to commands. Native navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported as before. For its part, the graphics and color palette of the instrument cluster have been altered to match the central touchscreen.
Not That Much More Expensive
The assembly line has already been cranked up to produce the 2019 Chevrolet Volt, and shipments should make their way to most dealer lots by early October. Prices haven't changed much considering the added content: The LT starts at $34,395 (up $300) and the Premier costs $39,995 (up $550) including destination charges. Beyond that, an improved LT options sheet makes it easier to add features and achieve an intermediate price point without making the jump to the Premier.
On the face of it, the Volt does appear to cost more than other PHEVs. But it does offer those 53 miles of EV range, and its large battery also qualifies the Volt buyer for the full $7,500 federal tax credit. PHEV competitors that cost less also offer less range, and their shorter EV range is the result of a smaller battery that in turn results in a lower tax credit. Look at the price and the credit together, and the Volt isn't really any more expensive.
But the reason to buy a Volt has less to do with pricing and more to do with how it maximizes the plug-in hybrid concept like no other. It alone has the range and electric-mode persistence to make it a viable EV much of the time. And the new 7.2-kW charger makes it possible for those who charge away from home to keep it running on electricity more readily. With an efficient gasoline hybrid powertrain as a backstop, the 2019 Chevrolet Volt remains the most compelling choice for those wishing to go electric without a leash.