2011 Chevrolet Volt Review – Test Drive

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Fuel Economy and Performance
Once on the road, I found that the Volt to be pretty well mannered.  Indeed, it handled far better than the Toyota Prius and (somewhat surprisingly) better than the Chevrolet Cruze.   The Volt has an extremely stiff body structure and a specially tuned suspension that clearly make a difference.  Not surprisingly, I found that the low-rolling resistance tires ultimately provide less cornering grip than conventional tires. The electric steering system uses a premium ZF gear and transmitted more road feel than I expected.

The Volt has three driving modes to accommodate different driving situations and preferences. Normal mode is the most efficient; this takes the electricity and focuses it on running the electric drive. Sport mode sacrifices a bit of efficiency for more improved acceleration, and Mountain mode, intended for steep inclines, ensures that the battery has a bigger energy reserve.

The Volt won’t set any speed records but that’s not what I was expecting.  Maximum speed is 160 km/h (100 mph). Acceleration was smooth and I almost forgot I was driving the Volt as I continued on my way.

The front seats lack the basic adjustments that have become standard even in the least expensive of vehicles in recent years, although I was still able to get reasonably comfortable.  The rear seat is not very roomy but children should be fine.

The only challenge I ran into was that rear visibility isn’t great. As a result, the Rear Camera and Park Assist package, which includes front and rear sensors as well as a rear camera, is a must have option.

When it comes to charging, it will take 10 to 12 hours to recharge the Volt using 120 V and approximately four hours using 240 V.  The Volt comes with a 120 V cord but as many as 4,400 Volt owners will benefit from a U.S. Department of Energy program that will provide free 240 V chargers.

A $7,500 tax credit brings the price down to $33,500. If you want to compare this with a Prius or Ford Fusion, a comparably equipped Prius is almost $4,000 less while the Ford would be $1,500 less.  Right now, GM is offering a very competitive 36-month lease at $350/month with $2,500 down.

The Volt’s standard features include keyless start/stop, heated mirrors, automatic headlights, automatic climate control, touchscreen navigation with real-time traffic and voice control, Bluetooth, OnStar (including five years of the Directions and Connections package, an iPod/USB interface, 30 GB of hard disk storage for music, cloth upholstery, and 17” alloy wheels.  The Premium Package adds leather seating and a leather steering wheel as well as heated front seats.  The batteries have an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

The Volt is important because of its ability to draw from relatively cheap and clean electrical energy from the grid and its ability to fill the role of an electric vehicle without the usual compromises in range.  Whether the Volt and its innovations will prove to be a commercial success is a question, however, that will only be answered when we see if the car buying public votes with its pocketbook or takes its dollars and euros elsewhere.

2011 Chevrolet Volt
Base price/price-as-tested $41,000/$33,500 (with tax credit)
Drivetrain Front engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine 1.4-liter I-4 with 16-kW lithium-ion battery and  111-kW (149-hp) electric drive unit
Transmission 1-speed automatic
Curb weight (lbs) NA
Wheelbase (inches) 105.7
Length x width x height (inches) 177.1 x 61.2 x 56.3
0-60 mph (seconds) 8.5
City/Highway fuel economy (mpg) NA

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