Strengths and weaknesses:
- smooth and quiet ride
- fuel economy
- high level of standard equipment
- cargo space
- small fuel tank
- awkward storage of charging unit
Volt electrifies electric vehicle market
Despite all the publicity, the 2012 Chevrolet Volt is still confusing to a lot of people, if the questions I keep getting are any indication.
To answer the most common: yes, Volt can be plugged in to your household electrical service; no, Volt won’t leave you stranded when the battery pack is drained; no, Volt’s gasoline is not connected to the drivetrain.
Volt was designed for the real world and is the first electric vehicle (EV) that isn’t a glorified golf cart with limited range. That’s because Volt has a 1.4-litre gasoline engine to power the generator when the lithium-ion battery pack is depleted.
That generator supplies power to the front wheels through what Chev calls the Voltec drive system - twin electric motors and a continuously variable transmission. And the switch from pure electric to gasoline-generated power is seamless.
Chevrolet claims Volt will run on battery power for up to 80 km, but that depends on a lot of things, such as vehicle speed and how many of the car’s electrical accessories are operating.
The best I’ve been able to do was 55 km before the gasoline engine kicked in, but 42-44 km per charge is more common. While that doesn’t make Volt the most sensible vehicle for someone like me who lives out in the country, it’s ideal for someone with a round trip commute of 40 km or whose place of employment gives access to an electrical outlet. Indeed, right now that’s the biggest problem with all EVs - an almost complete lack of infrastucture for recharging. At least with Volt you’ve got the ability to run up to 500 km.
Charging the batteries is simple. Just plug it into a 120 volt outlet and in 10 hours they’re fully juiced, for the price, GM says, of a cup of coffee. (And that’s from Tim’s not Starbucks.) Indeed, the hardest part of the charging process is wrapping the cord tightly enough on its holder to allow the unit to fit back into its dedicated space under the cargo floor.
Volt is the most aerodynamic Chev ever, with a drag co-efficient of just 0.28, and is incredibly quiet on its 17-inch tires with low rolling resistance - both in town and on the highway, whether in pure electric or gasoline mode.
The electro-hydraulic powertrain generates up to 150 hp and a ton of instantly available torque - 273 lb.-ft. Because it’s so quiet you may find yourself going much quicker than your senses tell you. In tests by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, Volt accelerated from 0-100 km/h in 10.0 seconds and from 80-120 in 7.8.
The interior is handsome and well crafted - but only seats four and luggage space behind the rear seat is limited because of the battery pack. The only Volt options are heated leather seats, rear camera with parking assist, lightweight polished aluminum wheels, a premium audio system and a navigation system.
Despite all the high-tech content, Volt is user friendly. Anyone with any computer experience will find the controls intuitive and easy to operate. And there’s lots of cool stuff to play with on both the LCD instrument panel and the centre touch screen.
The instrument cluster monitors the state of the drive system - a green coil shows how much charge is left in the batteries. When depleted, the icon switches to a blue gas pump. The centre screen displays not only info for the audio and HVAC systems, but various selectable aspects of the drive system, including how much of a longer trip is being made using electric or gasoline power, and how power is flowing between the various drive components.
But all that technology isn’t cheap. Base MSRP is $41,545 but some provincial governments will kick in a handsome rebate. In Ontario, for example, you get back more than $8,000, which makes Volt much more affordable and more in line with the average price of a family sedan.