Chevrolet is not a brand known for subtlety. It defines its market segment as "America" and its best-selling truck commercials are rife with wind-blown American flags. It once invited us to test drive its new Equinox crossover during the vernal equinox. It named its first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle the Volt, followed with its first battery electric vehicle, the near homophone, Bolt. We had the opportunity recently in the hills of northern Vermont, outside of Burlington, to drive both – mildly refreshed for the 2019 model year – and ponder their unsubtle charms (and unrealized potential). Chevy produces to the brief. If this means hitting its targets on the nose with a mallet, so be it. Sometimes that's necessary, but doing it well is a bonus. These two vehicles precisely answer all of the questions and concerns customers might have about an electric vehicle, but without necessarily coalescing into something eminently desirable, an emotion that drives most car purchases. The improvements for 2019 are more the former and less the latter. To wit, the Volt can traverse, on battery power alone, the distance that the great majority of Americans commute each day. It is specifically designed to do just that, depleting its 18.4 kWh lithium-ion cells fully, with a maximum range of 53 miles, before ever engaging the motor. That's even if it means draining it rapidly during a long, uphill freeway-speed slog as we experienced in the Green Mountain State. (We managed under 35 miles on our charge.) So committed is Chevrolet to maintaining EV-only power that, for 2019, it has updated the Volt's heating system so that, even in cold weather, the internally combusting lump up front will not turn on to rapidly warm the cabin like it used to, unless the temperature dips below 13 degrees Fahrenheit. %Slideshow-948801% A Chevy engineer told us that this change — along with others that increase energy regeneration on throttle lift and provide the capability for 7.2 kW charging, which can halve charging time — was implemented based on consumer feedback. As were changes that update the infotainment screen, particularly the "impacts" screen that demonstrates how one's use of various features in the car like heating, air conditioning, and charging ports deduct from one's range, now calculated in list miles. These minor changes echo similar tweaks made to the Bolt. Based on consumer input, that vehicle is now available with tweaked climate controls, a charging limiter that can be selected to provide from 40 percent to 90 percent of a full charge when plugged in, and a feature that will prevent your car from rolling away when you unbuckle your seatbelt to reach for your wallet while traversing a restaurant drive-thru. While these changes are in response to actual issues related to the product development team by actual consumers, there is something about their eerie specificity. It seems that Chevy is paying too much attention to the needs of current owners, rather than furthering the broader mission of these vehicles: to …
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