2011 Chevrolet Volt Review – Test Drive

By Jonathan Spira on 13 November 2010
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What may be most remarkable about the new Chevrolet Volt is how unremarkable it actually is compared to a normal, gasoline-powered automobile.  Gone is the futuristic exterior of the original concept car;  the Volt now looks like an early twenty-first century four-door sedan.

Unlike hybrids, which command a large premium over their non-hybrid brethren and typically fall into the diesel’s fuel economy range, the innovative technology behind the Chevrolet Volt may represent a true breakthrough in delivering high fuel economy at a reasonable cost.

The 2011 Chevrolet Volt is a “series plug-in hybrid” that uses a lithium-ion battery to power the car’s 149-horsepower electric motor.  On its own, this motor has a range of approximately 25-50 miles in city driving (as Chevrolet puts it, this depends on terrain, driving technique, and ambient temperature).  After that is exhausted, a 1.4-liter gasoline four-cylinder engine powers a generator that is used to supply the car with enough electricity for approximately 310 additional miles, giving the Volt a range of roughly 350 miles.

One detail that was kept under wraps until the car’s official launch is that, under certain conditions (for example, at highway speeds with a depleted battery), the gas engine does provide a certain amount of direct assist to the drive wheels.  This is the only time when the gasoline engine will mechanically power the wheels.

A key difference between the Volt and all-electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf is the fact that the Volt can run long after the battery runs down, while the all-electric Leaf can’t.  While there is no agreement (yet) on measuring fuel economy for the Volt, published estimates have shown fuel economy of better than 1.2 l/100 km (over 200 mpg).  Chevrolet estimates the cost of electricity for a 40-mile commute to be $1.50 per day, although this will vary based on geographic location..

Every aspect of the car was optimized for weight and efficiency, down to the car’s Bose audio system, which is 40% lighter and uses 50% less energy than conventional Bose sound systems.

Inside, thanks to the white iPod-like trim, the interior is a bit futuristic, as is the dash and center console. Immediately after getting behind the wheel, the first thing I noticed is how quiet the car is inside the cabin.  Only a few miles of my drive were on battery power (there hadn’t been enough time to fully recharge before my trip).  Once the battery ran out, the gasoline-powered generator then took over seamlessly.

Click here to continue to Page 2 – Driving the Volt

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