2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback: Plug in and go.
Price: $40,225 as tested. ($37,520 for the base model. Options were limited to two versions of the Driver Confidence Package and the MyLink radio, each $495.)
Marketer's pitch: "The electric car redefined."
Conventional wisdom: Gas is cheap; bring back the Hummer!
Reality: Worth driving, even as gas prices are (only slightly) on the rise.
What's new: The second-generation Volt, new for this model year, gets a new look that makes it look a little more earthbound than its predecessor. Underneath, it features a pair of electric motors driving the wheels coupled with an EcoTec 1.5-liter gasoline-powered range extender.
Increased battery capacity also adds to the range, taking the electric-only range as high as 53 miles and total range to 420 miles, according to Chevrolet.
Up to speed: Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Volt is no laggard in getting on highways. Of course, drivers pay for any speed-racer moves in reduced range, but the power is definitely there when you need it.
On the road: The Volt's road manners seemed most like a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. The steering is extremely vague at low speeds, and getting the steering wheel to keep from flopping around was my first major challenge.
But I adjusted quickly and soon found the little car easy to live with. Maneuvering is easy at low speeds, and country roads are not exactly fun, but they're not too dreary, either. No one will mistake this for a Miata.
Sturgis Kid 3.0 found the Volt to be a smooth ride - no shifting at all - but I found the motor working out of sync with the drive wheels to be a little disconcerting. And I noticed a distinct ebb and flow of power on the highways, more noticeable for some reason at night.
Recapturing the energy: The Volt now features a special button to harness even more of the energy from applying the brakes into the power supply. I watched the gauge closely and really couldn't tell for sure that it was adding to my reserve more than just regular braking.
It's also very hard to modulate and requires more thought than the average driver might care to put into driving nowadays.
Driver's Seat: Here again I was most reminded of the Honda Civic. The Volt sits low to the ground, in almost a racing position. Thankfully, the Volt offered none of the spinal issues most Civics have presented me.
The Volt seat is comfortable enough, but it's a little on the squishy side. Lacking seat coolers, it can get a little humid back there in a hurry.
The windshield slopes drastically, so much so that a BMW 3 Series I tested afterward felt like an air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle.
The gauge is electronic, but the Volt doesn't feel like a spaceship. Power-level readouts surround the digital speedometer.
Friends and stuff: Rear-seat accommodations prove challenging for full-size individuals. Sturgis Kid 3.0's 6-foot-tall significant other found his head clear up against the ceiling, although he noted the seat back encourages good posture with its vertical stance.
A center-seating position won't offer generous space - it seems designed for car seats - but the previous generation didn't offer that position at all, a grave oversight.
Cubbies in the front mean plenty of spots for phones and whatnot.
Cargo room is a pitfall - the battery compartment shrinks hatchback volume to only 10.6 cubic feet with the rear seat up. Compare this with almost 16 cubic feet in an Accord trunk.
Play some tunes: The optional MyLink stereo system featured an attractive touchscreen interface worthy of more expensive cars, plus dial for volume and buttons for station changing.
The sound quality rates about an A-: not the full range one hopes for, but still very good.
Keeping warm or cool: The Volt HVAC features a "Max" button. In other cars "Max" means "Maximum"; in the Volt it means "Not Just the Blower." I don't like to drive with a coat on, so I found I had to keep the heat set much higher than in other vehicles.
Fuel economy: I wasn't able to get the Volt fully charged between trips on my 110-volt garage wall outlet, but I still averaged 60 mpg in my usual array of commuting on highways, country roads, and suburban thoroughfares. (A 220-volt charger outlet would speed complete charge times from about 13 hours to about 4.5 hours.) And now the Volt can run on regular fuel, not premium as in previous model years.
Where it's built: Hamtramck, Mich.
How it's built:
Consumer Reports predicts the Volt will give average reliability, after giving good reliability since 2013.
In the end: The redesigned Volt is definitely a step in the right direction for General Motors, and a worthy choice even for supercommuters like myself.