Chevy’s Volt: It’s all that–and more

21 Mar 2011 | 2,685 views | No Comment
By Don Hammonds We'll cut right to the chase. Everything you've heard about the Chevy Volt is true. Satisfyingly, reassuringly true. It is beyond a doubt the most intriguing and significant car of the year, and it deserves every award it's gotten--and there have been several, incuding Motor Trend 2011 Car Of the Year, and the North American Car of the Year at this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It's extraordinarily well built, beautiful inside and out, fun to drive, and economical.    And at least as our results here at Automobile Journal showed, the Volt gets even better mileage than expected when used only in electric power only operation. Our little trip was pretty much like the average one that we think consumers would take if they wanted to "bundle" all their travels into one trip out in the car. The trip included stops to drop off kids at school, going to the grocery store, library, and gym.  When we started out, the odometer was at 2551, with nine electrical miles available. When we returned, the odometer was 2,557--we had driven six miles. So logically, you figure, if you had nine all-electric miles when you started, you'd have only three left if you drove six miles. Nope!  We had six such miles left, or so said the all-electric miles gauge. The Volt, an  electric plug-in hybrid,  is powered by a system that includes lithium ion propulsion battery, a Voltec electric drive unit, and a 1.4 liter internal combustion engine that serves as a mileage range extender.  The charge time for the Volt, if you use a 240V outlet, is about four hours, and about 10 hours if you use a 120 volt outlet. Top speed is 100 miles per hour. Volt which has a 35 mile range  if being driven completely under electric power,  has a 93 mile per gallon equivalent rating for combined city/highway driving, with an annual cost of $601 per year if you always use electric power.  So what's it like to drive the Volt? Out of this world, really. When you get in, you hear some appropriate "intergalactic space travel"-style musical notes, and the nav and info screen has some interesting futuristic graphics that flash up to entertain you as well. You hit a lovely ice blue "power" switch and the car comes to life. In front of you can be seen two icons on the dashboard--they're pretty large so you can't miss them. If the car has any electrical miles left, the battery icon will be the most prominent, and will show you how many miles you have left, while the gasoline icon fades from view. You will, if the car runs out of electric power, see the gas icon appear, and the electric icon fades from view. The gas icon will tell you how many miles you have left in the tank. By the way, all this happens quite without you even noticing a thing.        See that lovely bouncing green ball on your right?  For best economy and efficiency,  you will want to keep it pretty much in the middle of the gauge, so watch your braking and acceleration if  you want to make the most of your Volt.      When you turn off the car, you hear this cool futuristic whoosh that reaffirms the idea that you're driving a car that really is out of this world.      The Volt's interior has substantial, high quality leather and other material, and we loved the touch sensitive buttons for controls--they are on a futuristic looking white cluster under the nav screen. A light touch brings a soft computer-like click, and your request has been handled.       Room is limited in the Volt, though. There's enough for four passengers, and there wasn't a whole lot of leg room, for one thing.  And there's some odd  looking graphics for door inserts, that look like they are from a  "World of Tomorrow"  amusement park ride or something.  We would have liked something a bit more tasteful and upscale instead. Once underway, you'll find yourself amazed at how quiet and smooth the Volt is, with every single task you ask it to do completed in a smooth, seamless, no fuss way. Handling is on the sporty side, and the car seems to like enthusiastic driving. And the acceleration is plenty peppy thanks to 273 pounds-feet of torque.       The Volt defies everything you thought you knew about either electric cars or Detroit products.  It is well-built, solid, fun to drive and quick both on the highway and around town. And here's another way that this car defies everything that you ever thought about Detroit--and GM.  By way of background, the roughly 21-foot charging  cord for the Volt  was a bit too short to reach an outlet at our 100 year old home, which admittedly was a bit disappointing.  A length of 25 feet is the longest allowed by regulations set by the Society of Automotive Engineers and national building codes, GM officials say.    But  a consumer is not likely to have the cord length issue because that already will be taken into account before the car is even brought home. Here's why. When you order the Volt, GM has a company called SPX visits you and personally helps determine which would be the best charging option for you  given the specific conditions you have such as the type of home you have, the types of electrical sources you have, and where you park, among many other things. So before you even get the car, GM's already"on it," and is fully aware that, for instance, your charging cord will bve too short. So SPX will help find ways to solve that issue before you even take delivery. ""You go to your Chevy dealer, order your Volt, and SPX comes out to do an audit of the area where you are planning to park, and other things  and we make sure that we find the best charging options that can work for you," said Chevrolet Volt spokesman Rob Peterson. The options include a 240 volt charging system, or for owners of old homes for instance, a recommendation may be made to install an outlet on a flat piece of land on your property that is  much closer to where you normally park,  Mr. Peterson said.  SPX also looks into local building codes and utility company rates as part of  the information used to finally decide on a charging option. But we do think that the situation involving the charging cord, and for that matter,  everything relating to electric plug-in hybrids is fluid. Conversations and research continue. So we won't be surprised if standards  are changed and charging times drop  as time goes on and even more advanced products are introduced.  So were there any problems with the Volt?      In everyday driving we strongly suggest you be careful on entrance and exit ramps and leaving driveways because the ground clearance for the Volt in front is very low. You don't want to cause--or hear ---any unnecessary scrapes or crunches.        Base price for the Volt is $40,280. That includes as standard equipment,  airbags of various sorts, including side impact, knee bag for driver and front passenger, roof rail side-impact, anti lock brakes, Stabilitrak stability and traction control, remote keyless entry, power door locks with lockout protection, pedestrian friendly alert, OnStar, full power accessories, solar absorbing windshield, outside heated mirrors, 30GB audio hard drive, audio system with navigation, DVD ROM, automatic air, tilt and telescoping steering column, steering wheel radio controls,  cruise control satellite radio and a host of other items.     Our test model had a premium leather trim package, "Virdian Joule" tricoat paint, parking assists front and rear, a rear vision camera system ana 17 -inch polished wheels for options. That brought the base price  to $44,680. Remember, however, that buying a Volt qualifies you for up to a $7,500 tax credit.

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