By David Miller, Autonet

After five years of praise from innovators and award presenters, the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hatchback started losing its standing as a marvel, and sales started to show that.  A change was needed, and for 2016, a brand new Chevrolet Volt has arrived, with a full redesign that aims to shatter perceptions.

It’s not a surprise that San Francisco is the site for the launch of the Volt.  Of the 80,000-plus Volts sold worldwide, 40-50% of them have come from California, and it’s the No. 1 selling Chevrolet passenger car in the City by the Bay.  Those are some great statistics for Chevrolet dealerships in California, but the key for the Volt’s success is its mainstream appeal, spreading to different parts of the U.S. and Canada.

The biggest complaint about the outgoing model is its EV range, and that comes straight from the Volt’s loyal customer base that averages 80% of its drives in pure electric mode.  The next-generation Volt now has an increased EV range of 85 km (up from 61 km) using its new 18.4 kWh lithium-ion battery to run the two electric motors.

Once you exhaust all of that electric power, a new 1.5-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine produces 149 horsepower and 294 lb-ft of torque with the use of direct-injection and a higher compression ratio, allowing you to keep going for an additional 590 km.

Most importantly, fuel economy numbers have been reduced to a combined 5.6 L/100 km thanks in large part to a reduction in size and weight of its generator and cell design.

Our 180 km drive around the northern coast of California proves to be a good test to see how long the Volt’s EV range can last.  However, an early morning fog would set the Volt’s electric range back in a big way, with an immediate drop from the original 85 km range to 70 km after the front and rear defrosters were set to the max.

Once we get moving, the advanced engine offers noticeably quick acceleration, aided by that ample torque.  The Volt moves quickly down the beautiful curvy roads of the Pacific Coast Highway, but in a quiet and relaxing way.  The Volt wouldn’t be my first choice for those quick curves, but it handles well, with responsive steering and quick braking when needed.

I do feel a loss of being in touch with the road at times, but that’s expected from a hatch whose focus is on comfort and fuel economy rather than performance.  Even though we start on the wrong foot – and perhaps one filled with lead – we still manage 81 km of pure electric driving before the gas engine kicks in.

To conserve your precious fuel, Chevrolet has added a regeneration paddle on the back left side of the steering wheel.  If you hold on to this button, it will slow down the car without the use of brakes and allow for the recuperation of that lost energy.  Furthermore, seat warmers have been installed for the front seats and on the top trim in the rear in order to reduce your use of the heater.

As for its design, the Volt takes on a more sculpted body and aggressive front fascia with a chrome grille that resembles that of Jaws, the monstrous yet uncoordinated henchman from the James Bond movie series.

Inside, the Volt has a surprising two-tone look that is eye-catching. A large eight-inch infotainment touchscreen stands out, but can be controlled by physical buttons that surround it.  Chevrolet calls it a three-seat rear, but in reality a third person should only sit in the middle when there’s no other option, as legroom is taken up by the battery pack and two cupholders.

With an increase in pure electric range, many of the complaints about the Volt have been rectified.  When you throw in improvements in design, comfort, and efficiency, the 2016 Volt might just catch on to people outside of California.

At a starting price at $38,390, the Volt might seem a tad pricey, but it won’t be so bad once those provincial rebates kick in.  Same with when you realize you’re only filling up on a regular gas once a month, if that.