Test Drive: Chevrolet Volt

When the Chevrolet Volt was delivered to our house for our week of road testing, it was plugged into the 120-volt outlet in our garage where it waited until we had time to go for a drive.? We have no idea how long it took to ?fill it up?, but when we went for a drive a couple days later the battery and fuel tank were on full. ?

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 add.?

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 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.

Perhaps we are a bit fussy, but it doesn?t matter how cool the technology is in a car, it still needs to look good for us to get excited, and the Volt certainly qualifies as a ?good looker?.

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.

?The Volt is a revolutionary car, and we wanted the design to make as sleek and dynamic a statement as possible,? said Bob Boniface, director of design. ?When you look at this car, it?s very technical and refined in its execution, with lots of interrelating surfaces that bring clean, crisp edges and creases.?

This 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 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 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, but a power switch is mounted on the center stack as is an electronic parking brake switch.

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.

The definition of Volt?s unique power system has been controversial.? It?s driven by electric motors and has a small gasoline engine to charge the batteries when the battery power is used up.? Chevrolet says it?s an electric car, while many critics say it?s really a hybrid.? Who cares what it is — it gets exceptionally good fuel economy and has a range of up 379 miles, and that?s something a pure electric car can?t do.

For people into the electrical numbers, the 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 is used up, the gas 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, 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 $41,000 including the destination charge. ?Federal tax credits could take as much as $7,500 off the price, plus many states offer other environmental incentives. ?Options include heated leather seats, rearview camera, ultra sonic parking assist and a few other cosmetic upgrades, which together add about $1,600 to the bottom line price.

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 unplug it when you leave.

The 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.

With gas prices flirting with $5 per gallon in some parts of the country, a car like the Volt seems to be a good way to save money.

By Bill & Barbara Schaffer

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