It has been about 18 months since Chevrolet took a major technological leap and introduced the electric Chevrolet Volt. Whether it’s labeled as an electric car with range extension or a hybrid, doesn’t matter, the Volt is a good tool for the environmentally conscious and those that want to help the U.S. stop sending dollars to the foreign oil producers. Whether it can save you money, we think still remains to be determined.
There were many reasons we liked the Chevrolet Volt the first time we drove it. It felt just like any other car – put it in gear and drive. When you ran out of electricity, the gasoline engine started and the car continued in a seamless transition, until it needs gas, and that’s probably about 375 miles.
The car looks good, it’s comfortable to drive or ride in and we didn’t have to do anything special. The only thing different was when we pulled into our garage, we had to plug it in, if we wanted to run on the battery the next time out – that took about a minute.
The Volt has gone through some controversies during that first 18 months, so to reconfirm our belief about it, we ask Chevy if we could try it again for a few days.
Once again, rather than spending our drive time running errands we decided to see how far we could go on the battery alone before the gasoline engine started. Down freeways, over the river and up a winding mountain road we went. The large colorful screen of the instrument panel kept us abreast of how far we could go on the battery, how far the gas engine charging the battery would take us and there was also a total range so we didn’t have even to count on our fingers.
Having read that the battery should go between 25 and 50 miles before the gas engine “kicks in” to charge the battery, we watched the display as it dropped 4…3….2 miles. We wanted to hear, feel and see what the Chevrolet Volt was like when the gas engine came alive. In heavy traffic, and getting ready to change freeways, we missed it. We felt nothing, we heard nothing, we saw nothing and we just kept going after about 38 miles on the battery alone.
Appearing more like a sleek, sport sedan than a high tech electric people mover, the Volt looks like it belongs in the average American driveway and not some futuristic movie. There is little on the outside that indicates this could be one of the preferred future drivetrains. However, a careful examination shows an almost solid grille designed to help airflow around the car rather than to cool the engine. There’s also an unusually placed small door on the front driver’s side fender that looks like a gas filler, but it’s actually a place to plug in the electric line to charge the battery.
Careful attention to detail along with extensive wind tunnel testing has yielded the most aerodynamic vehicle in Chevrolet history achieving a 0.28 coefficient of drag. Engineers claim the aerodynamic efficiency increases the range of the Volt by eight miles in the electric-only mode and up to 50 miles when the gasoline-powered charger is running.
To put the Volt in visual perspective, it is 177 inches long, which makes it identical in size to the Toyota Prius, but the Volt is about 600 pounds heavier.
On the inside the Chevrolet Volt takes on a little more futuristic look with two seven-inch high-resolution screens – one taking the place of the traditional instrument cluster and the other at the top of the center stack, like a typical navigation screen. The LCD screen behind the steering wheel is a reconfigurable Driver Information Center display that in addition to typical information provided by the normal gauges provides information like electric-only range, fuel economy, extended-range, tire pressures, trip information and other key vehicle messages.
The center-stack touch screen controls infotainment and cabin climate. The silver face of the center stack uses a multitude of touch switches interspersed with a few conventional switches and dials to control various vehicle functions. The Volt doesn’t use a starter switch, rather it has a power button located on the center stack.
The Volt interior is a spacious five-door hatchback configuration, which allows the split rear seat backs to be folded to extend the cargo capacity when needed. The seating is attractive and quite comfortable.
For people into the electrical terms, the Chevrolet Volt has a 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack and a 149-hp electric motor, which provides a pure electric operating range between 25 and 50 miles. Once that battery energy is used up, the gas engine that drives the generator automatically starts and charges the batteries as the vehicle operates. The gas engine is an 80-hp, 1.4-liter four-cylinder. One downside is the gas engine requires premium fuel, but a typical driver using the Volt to commute to work, or running errands around town, will seldom have to buy gasoline. All that will be required to keep the Volt running is a full electric charge that will cost about $1.50 a day in most areas. We’ve read mileage claims all over the board – 62 mpg, 93 mpg, 231 mpg and even an outrageous claim of near 1,000 mpg for someone that didn’t drive far from home. The numbers can vary greatly depending on how far you drive.
In the all-electric mode, Chevrolet Volt gets the equivalent of 93 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) on the EPA scale. Running strictly with the gas generator providing electricity it averages 37 mpg and 60 MPGe when the two are combined.
The Volt is well equipped with safety features like StabiliTrak, traction control and four-wheel disc brakes. The list of standard features is extensive too, including aluminum wheels, navigation, audio system with 40GB hard drive, cruise control, air conditioning, OnStar communications system and Bluetooth®.
The Volt has a base price of $39,995 including the destination charge. Federal tax credits could take as much as $7,500 off the price, plus many states offer other environmental incentives. With all the available options, the price can go to about $45,000.
We liked driving the Volt –it’s quiet, comfortable and a respectable performer with 0 to 60 mph taking 8.5 seconds. Because of the technology, we expected it to be somewhat complicated to operate, but there’s nothing extra to learn other than simply remembering to plug it in when you get home and more important, unplugging it when you leave.
The Chevrolet Volt battery has an eight-year/100,000 mile warranty, and the car has the standard three-year/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty along with a five-year/100,000-mile roadside assistance program and coverage for the gas engine.
We still think the Volt makes great sense, especially with the awful high gas prices.