I'd written a couple of stories on it when it was little more than a conceit, basically. So naturally I was intrigued by the prospect of (finally) getting in one, the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. Although it bore little resemblance to its parent concept; the Volt, as evinced by its presence in my driveway, had been born after all — emerging in spite of potentially paralyzing hype (pressure?) and because of General Motors' steadfastness.
The Volt might be the most fuel efficient ride on the market, a four-door plug-in battery/gas hybrid that stars a 149-horsepower (111 kilowatts) electric-only motor and its complementing lithium-ion battery pack, which can propel the motor independently for up to 40 about-town miles. Another 300-plus miles are available via the 1.4-liter petrol-powered four-cylinder engine that sends electricity to the motor, which turns out 273 pound-feet of torque. You want high tech? The Volt is the Jetsons of hybrids.
It was a little daunting at first, the plug-in part and the interior gizmos. One cue that this was a different kind of vehicle was the 20-minute delivery "walk around," or operating directives. In all my years of car reviews, i can count these sessions on one hand.
What I soon learned, however, is that for all the bells and innovation, much is informational or use-optional. In other words, you can basically drive the car much as you would any other, and without a requisite instructional course. Naturally, you want to optimize your experience, so it's best to get up to speed (and know when you need a charge!) However, I drove a week while learning at my own pace, and without incident.
Fuel economy depends on your driving routine or length of commutes, although most folks will be able to regularly benefit from the groundbreaking electric range.
I still think GM could have done better in terms of consumer education. In my view, too many prospective customers eith have no idea how the Volt works, and have stayed away, or have preconceived, and sometimes erroneous, notions. Like one woman told me she thought a full charge took an average sleeping cycle. In fact, such juicing can be achieved in a little as three hours. But you do need a charging station, and that's an issue for condo or apartment dwellers. Fortunately for me, GM headquarters, near my residence, offers handy free charging.
So how does it drive? Just fine. In fact, you forget you're in a hybrid until another system kicks in. There is some slightly discernible transitional activity. But the car's quiet and seamless in all-electric mode. Acceleration is good even from a standtill, and the Volt still drives and handles well when the engine shows up. There's little body roll to speak of, and braking is adequate if a smidge sensitive.
The interior's replete with quality fabrics and touches (plus the aforementioned copious amount of guages and other instruments. However, the backseat is rather tight for two non-waifs, and front-seat power would be nice.
Airbags abound, and standards include five-years' OnStar directions, remote keyless entry, Stabilitrak-stability control, heated outside mirrors, 17-inch wheels, a 30 GB audio hard drive, audio system with navigation, auxiliary audio input jack, tilt and telescoping steering wheels, efficience display screens with programmable charge times, cruise control, 40/40 split-folding seatback, USB port, Bluetooth capability, Bose premium sound, and a 120-volt charge cord. My premium trim package, totaling $3,680, includes leaterh-appointed seating, premium door trim, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear camera and park assist, and polished alloy wheels.
You're paying an attractive penny, even with the $7,500 tax credit, and the car takes primo fuel, but you get tons of standard features and whistles, plus that all-important low gas-pump hit. All of which make my $44,680 loaner worth it for my drving habits. And remember, the Volt can keep your car propelled even when the battery's down. Not so, with the all-electric Nissan Leaf.
Particularly leading up to its unveiling, the Volt was seen as a very important car for GM. Now, given the price and so-far units sold, it could end up more boutique-y than first anticipated. But that's not been decided. For now, it's simply cutting edge, and a damned fine fuel-sipper.