I remember the days when the price of gasoline was around the $1 mark. The road was dominated by big cars and trucks and the compact was frowned upon. Nowadays, gasoline is near or above the $5 mark and large cars have taken a large step back to make way for compacts and cute utes. Whether you like it or not, times have changed. CAFE and government regulations are necessitating that automakers provide fuel efficient vehicles which has led to downsizing in just about every way, shape and form. Fret not, for there is one car that stands out among the sea of fuel efficient cars today in both styling and performance. Enter, the Chevrolet Volt.
I’ve seen a few on the road and I always liked the styling, the presence from the front especially. GM was kind enough to deliver it to my house from their headquarters which was over 3 hours away. As it pulled up into my driveway I had mixed feelings about the car. It was completely silent, and just kind of buzzed and hummed as it sat there in my driveway. It sounded like something you would hear in Engineering on the Enterprise. I expected it to be as dull as the other hybrids and EV cars on the market but I was in for a surprise. The battery was depleted and ran in extended range mode so I wasn’t able to get the full experience immediately. I was surprised at how smooth the acceleration was and how quiet and comfortable it was in the cabin. With a coefficient of drag at .287, its very sleek and just cuts through the air. For the sake of aerodynamics and efficiency, the Volt has a very low air dam which will scrape on just about anything. The rear end is still lacking in my opinion, as it seems to just slope down and cut off in a Prius like manner. After a few minutes, I decided to head back home as I would spend plenty of time in it driving to the New York International Auto Show in the days to come.
It did not see any action the following day unfortunately, but it got plenty of attention at work when I told my colleagues that I had a Volt sitting in my garage. I was surprised by how ill informed people were about the car. Either Chevrolet hasn’t advertised the car enough or maybe it is the preconception of the bad press GM received during the bailout. I took my time to explain to them that the car runs off electricity all the time. The car has an EV mode in which the car runs off the power stored in the 435lb Lithium-ion battery and has a range of approximately 37 miles per charge according to my test car’s battery gauge. Chevrolet claims that the car can go anywhere between 25-50 miles per complete charge based on temperature, driving habits, and terrain. After you have fully depleted the battery, the car runs on extended-range where the 1.4L gasoline engine is used as a generator creating electricity to run the electric motor. The car also has regenerative braking and in EV mode, based on how you drive, you can squeeze out a few extra miles driving mindfully. It takes roughly 10 hours to charge on a 120 V outlet or 4 hours if you have accessibility to a 240 V outlet. Chevrolet also claims that it only costs roughly $1.50 per charge. Should your commute or trip be longer than the EV range allows, rest assured you will get to your destination assuming you remembered to put gas in it. With full EV mode and extended-range, you should be able to travel approximately 379 miles. After educating the masses I returned home to get ready for the following two day trip to and from New York. I plugged in the car at 6 p.m. Tuesday evening and the car’s display showed that it would be complete by 4 a.m. which coincided with the time I would leave for the city.
I woke up the next morning eager to see how well this car would be on a long commute. As I got into the car and put my foot on the brake and turned it on, I was greeted with a “booting up” noise and then utter silence. I’m so used to hearing an internal combustion engine revving smoothly at idle that this really felt weird for me to experience. The battery gauge was full and showed that I had 37 miles until it was fully depleted. I put it in reverse and backed out of my driveway and made my way to my friend’s house who is also the photographer who took the excellent pictures you see in the review. I was in full EV mode to his house which was barely 7 miles away and going from higher elevation to lower elevation, I wasn’t on the go-pedal much at all. The car still showed that I had 37 miles to go when I got to his house. Not bad at all, although I was trying to eek out as much juice as I could. We loaded the car up with some camera equipment and left for our trip. We turned the heat on, as well as the heated seats, navigation, radio and the headlights were on so we weren’t being as efficient as we could with the car. What was originally 37miles boiled down to a little less than 30 considering how hard we were pushing the car trying to keep up with traffic as well as beat rush hour and get to our destination on time. I wasn’t disappointed at all. On the highway at cruising speed, the car felt as if it was lacking. It wasn’t accelerating as well as I hoped and it was struggling to go much past 70mph. The gauge cluster, if you can call it that, is a LCD screen that displays various pieces of information such as speed, the fuel gauge, battery gauge, as well as your multiple trip computational displays and an “eco” gauge. Its a green ball with three leaves that travel around its perimeter. The ball travels vertically based on how frugal your driving is. Drive it hard and the green ball travels up and looses its green color and leaves showing you that you are not driving it efficiently. Brake hard and the ball travels down and loses its color and leaves to show you that you are not braking effectively. On the highway from suburban Connecticut to New York City, that green ball was above the ideal efficiency location. Again, I was not kind to the accelerator.
Over the rough pot hole ridden route 684, I was surprised how stiffly sprung the car was. Its no sports car, for the type of car that it was, I wasn’t expecting it to be stiff, but it was comfortable and compliant. It took the imperfections with complete confidence and felt very well composed. Dare I say it was almost, sporty? Garry said that it felt very European in its approach to road manners. I had to agree with his assessment. We came across a little bit of stop and go traffic once we got onto the Hutchinson Parkway. The brakes felt odd to me. They feel very soft and don’t feel connected, until you stab them with excessive force because the New Yorker in front of you in his blacked out BMW decides that its a great time to stop in the middle of the parkway. It took a little while to get used to the regenerative brakes. Going from driving a sports car on a daily basis to something that is clearly not a sports car, takes a little getting used to. A nice feature on the car was the turn signal stalk. Press it once and it will blink 3 times so you can get into the lane you wish and not worry about turning it off. This is separate from a normal turn signal lock feature. It made things so much easier to keep the hands on the wheel, where they should be.
The trip back was strenuous. Rush hour traffic at its peak, angry New York commuters, and pedestrians who think its perfectly acceptable to walk onto the street when a car is about 3 feet away or trying to turn into a street. I am not proud of my driving in New York, but you know the saying “when in Rome”? The lack of grunt I was alluding to earlier was more prevalent during this time than any other. It was not allowing me to pass quickly enough or get into open holes in traffic. I went to click through the drive modes and found “Sport.” It takes a moment for it to realize what mode I want it to go into and it made the car much more lively. It was much easier to accelerate and drive. It didn’t feel restricted any more and gave me so much more confidence to pass slower drivers. One thing I noticed was how the little 1.4L felt upon heavy load. It was coarse and didn’t go well with the smoothness of the rest of the drivetrain of the car. When it engaged, it was absolutely seamless and you couldn’t tell it turned on when you were on the highway until you put it work. Its not loud but it felt like it was being over worked with how rough I was being with the accelerator. To be fair, I had no choice getting out of the city.
The following day was more of the same, commute wise. We focused more on the interior and the buttons, or lack there of. With the exception of a few control buttons like the ignition, drive mode selector button, parking brake, and the radio power button, everything on the dash is touch sensitive. Tap the heated seat icon and you can turn it on and cycle through the heated seat intensity. It takes a bit of time getting used to it and can be counter intuitive if you are need to change your climate control settings. I was trying to find out if I can change the climate control settings with a voice commands but there were no prompts and no options to do so. The steering wheel audio controls make it easy to control the radio and are straight forward. For their first foray into new technology such as this and trying a new way to make controls easier, stylish, and futuristic, I can’t fault Chevrolet for doing so. I thought the idea was cool, but wasn’t exactly blown away and was irritated sometimes by it. Its no iPad touch screen in ease of “button” use but I can’t wait for future iterations of this. If Cadillac’s CUE is any hint of whats to come, I am looking forward to what they come up with next.
After our two day field trip to the city, we had a few more days to drive it around town and on country roads. What I learned in those few days was unbelievable. I never expected this car to hold the road as well as it did. It wasn’t wallowy in the turns, body roll was minimal, and there was little brake dive if any. I did not expect this, and neither did Garry as he was stunned as well. The car’s tendency is to understeer, and understeer it will with the tires squealing in agony telling you to stop the shenanigans when pushed too hard. Driving along the country roads snaking along Route 8, at a brisk pace, the Volt held its own. It was fun throwing it into a corner and chuckling at how well it takes it. There is almost no feel from the helm, but in “Sport” mode the car was more eager to accelerate as it utilized the electric motor’s rush of torque accelerating from turn to turn. The main gripe I had and something that we both noticed was that the A-pillars were very wide and obstructed the view considerably. We also noticed two big blind spots that the large mirrors couldn’t catch. The sloping C-pillars didn’t help much either in traffic and required us to use more than our periphery.
We pulled over into an empty parking lot and decided to take a few pictures and sit in the back seats. It was tight for the both of us, being around the 5’10” area, the leg space was tight based on our seating positions. Head space was adequate, but upon further examination of the materials left us scratching our heads. The front cockpit had soft touch materials, and the dashboard and the upper part of the doors were padded leather with smooth high grade plastic accents. The rear was quite the contrast with the door panels being harder textured plastics. For the price, I expected the use of materials to continue to the rear.
Overall for the week, I got the car with no charge and 7/9s of the tank full. With the trips to New York and not being able to charge it as much as I wanted to I used roughly $25 during the week filling up the 9.3 gallon fuel tank with premium. Going from spending $50-$60 once in every two days filling up my car to this, was quite a welcome change. I initially got the car averaging around 50 some odd mpg, and I returned it with averaging the mid to upper 40s mainly in “Sport” mode and heavy throttle input and excessive highway driving. I’d say thats quite extraordinary considering the amount of abuse I put it through. I was left with some mixed emotions about the car but looking back, I miss it. Gas prices are bound to increase and when they do, its nice knowing that with technology progressing, cars like the Volt can give you the best of both worlds. Frugality, space, and sportiness all in one.
Photo Credit: Copyright 2012 Garry Gulledge / Car Fanatics Blog