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The second-generation Chevrolet Volt has a wind-swept design and can travel up to 50 miles on a battery charge.
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The interior of the Chevrolet Volt features two-tone upholstery and a wing-like dash design.

Fast facts

- Model: 2017 Chevrolet Volt Premier

- Exterior color: Silver Ice Metallic

- Interior color: Jet Black/Brandy

- Engine: Lithium-ion electric drive, 1.5-liter gas engine

- Horsepower: 149

- Fuel economy: 106 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent)

- Local Dealer: Integrity Chevrolet

- Price (as tested): $39,950

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The success of the 2017 Chevy Volt relies on a simple formula: EV equals EZ.

A plug-in hybrid, the Volt is designed as a commuter car that can travel 1,000 miles between fill-ups. Fuel economy is estimated as 106 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent).

The iconic plug-in, introduced by GM in 2010 as a 2011 model, got a second-generation upgrade last year highlighted by more aggressive body styling and a class-leading 53-mile range in all-electric (EV) mode. Originally a highly-engineered low-volume piece, the new Volt is a rollicking runabout that happens to be easy on the environment.

After a week of commuting to work in the Volt, we found it both Earth friendly and fundamentally fun. We never tired of launching the zippy little compact. Car and Driver magazine clocked the Volt in under three seconds for the zero-to-30-mph dash. That's in the same ballpark as the fleet Tesla Model S.

A web check of local car stores shows that two, Integrity Chevrolet in Chattanooga and Ed Kirby Adventure Cars in Dalton, Ga., had 2017 Volts in their inventories earlier this week. While the the Volt is still a niche vehicle, GM clearly hopes it joins the mainstream with plug-ins and hybrids from Toyota, Nissan and Ford.

Clearly, the cheap-gas era is crimping the market for plug-in cars, which glide into the spotlight every time oil prices spike and then retreat to the shadows when gas prices sink. As long as sub-$3-a-gallon gasoline is available nationwide, it's hard for cars like the Volt to get market traction.

Still, the Volt can be a compelling bargain for people who commute short distances to work and only occasionally need to tap the 1.5-liter, range-extending gas engine to create more juice. Stories abound of Volt owners who commute less than 50 miles a day round-trip and go months between fill-ups.

There's something cool and refreshing — like spearmint gum — about crossing gas prices off your worry list.

The list price of our test Volt is $39,950. Purchasers qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit.

STYLING AND COMFORT

More than one automotive journalist has compared the Volt's profile to the ubiquitous Honda Civic. Its swept body lines and functional hatchback design help it blend into commuter traffic. But that's part of the mission of Volt 2.0, to not look like a design outlier.

Our bullet-shaped, Silver Ice Metallic tester has a Chevy bow-tie badge on its nose and a sculpted hood that rakes into a low roof line that looks great, but may offend backseat passengers with mohawk haircuts.

A prominent shoulder line and deep recesses in the rocker panels give the Volt's exterior a shrink-wrapped look. I'd peg the design theme as "generically modern." The black bumper in the back prompted one observer to ask: "Did something fall off there?"

Inside, the Volt has considerably more spark than the first generation. Our tester gets a two-tone interior color scheme. GM calls the colors Jet Black and Brandy. Were I naming the colors — a job I aspire to one day — I'd call the colors Maxwell House and Cappuccino. In any case, the contrast gives the cockpit a "something different" aura that's missing from the exterior design.

The Volt Premium features some standard features you'd expect from a high-tech car: Apple Carplay, an 8-inch telematics screen and heated seats, for example. Having said that, it's the only $40,000 car we've tested in recent years that has manual seat adjusters.

The Volt is built around a Voltec electric drive unit powered by a lithium-ion battery that produces 18.4 kilowatts per hour. A range-extending 1.5-liter gas motor kicks on when the battery gets nearly depleted, so you never have to worry about the Volt "bricking" on the side of the road. The battery-only range is 57 city miles or 49 highway miles. (The old Volt topped out at 38 miles.) With a full tank of gas, the range (without recharge) approaches 400 miles.

For about $1,000 you can add a suite of safety nannies, including blind-spot alert, lane-change alert and automatic low-speed braking. Chevy's Mylink radio with navigation adds $495.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The low-end torque in the Volt is a riot. While the horsepower rating is a mere 149, the Volt makes 298 pound-feet of torque. All that twist hits the road in an instant, as if you are turning on a light switch. The first 30 mph is a blur and then physics take over and the Volt coasts to a 7.8-second zero-to-60 mph time.

If you hope to squeeze the maximum efficiency out of your Volt, you'll want to plug it in each night. It takes about 13 hours to fully recharge the battery using a 120-volt outlet, but only about 4.5 hours if you use at 240-volt set up. Braking recovers some of the lost battery power. We gained back about 10 miles worth of EV propulsion on one trip down from Walden's Ridge on the W Road.

Steering is responsive, and the heavy battery gives the Volt a low center of gravity, which makes it feel planted and makes for confident cornering.

BOTTOM LINE

We are convinced that electric cars — not fuel cells and not clean diesels — are the wave of the future. The Volt is a good example of what is to come. Once battery factories scale up and EVs drop in price, their combination of economy and performance will be irresistible.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

 

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