We had driven a good 35 miles or so in the 2016 Chevrolet Volt before realizing we weren't even trying to save battery life. In our defense, the new Volt was surprisingly quick and agile on Highway 1 north of San Francisco, gobbling up the twists and turns like the nicely tuned compact sedan it is.

Yet at the first rest stop the trip odometer glowed 33.5 miles traveled without a drop of gasoline burned by the car's range-extending engine. In fact, the Volt was shrugging off a lead foot, estimating a solid 18 miles of electric range left. With slightly more tepid driving augmented by the nifty Regen On Demand paddle on the steering wheel -- it uses the electric motors to slow the car and regenerate power -- the Volt managed to make it most of that 18 extra miles for a total of 50 miles of EV range. That's three shy of the 53 miles pure EV range estimated by Chevy for the 2016 model. 

And that's the real story about the new 2016 Chevrolet Volt. It's not just the mechanical stuff we told you about a few months ago, or that it costs less. 

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Real world implications

No, the real story is that you can drive 50 miles without babying it, all on battery power. Now, you may wonder why an extra 15 miles over the original Volt's EV-only range is such a big deal. Look at it this way. If you drive 15,000 miles a year, your average trip is about 41 miles, well within that EV-only range. Even if you don't drive at all on the weekends, you're racking up an average of about 57 miles per trip, doable on EV only if you're careful, but only burning a smidgen of gas with the range extender if you're not. I'm no good at hypermiling, but I could easily make my 45 mile commute on EV alone if I recharged regularly; our 240-volt charger at work does the job in 4.5 hours, and it'll charge on a 120-volt outlet in about 12. And, if I'm a regular dumb ol' human and forget to recharge, no worries, the gas engine will kick on and I'll be fine, and getting about 40 mpg in the process.

Now, it's not perfect. The front seats are nice, and I like the interior design overall, but the back seat is pretty cramped, and I'm not even talking about the center "seat" the new Volt boasts over its 4-passenger predecessor. It's handy, but whoever winds up in that center position will seek revenge...once they're out of physical therapy. The new Volt is also curiously lacking power seats, and some of the interior panels on our test car didn't quite line up properly. But these are niggles. For those who've wanted an ideal green car option that gives them the environmental satisfaction of not burning gasoline, but without the specter of range anxiety, the 2016 Chevrolet Volt is what they've been waiting for.

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