2011 Chevrolet Volt
Base price: $41,000
As tested: $41,695
MPG: 95 city/90 highway (electric only) 35 city/40 highway (Premium gas)
- Unique extended-range with all-electric and gas capability
- Stylish with satisfying driving dynamics
- Could easily be your only vehicle
- At $41,000 it's significantly overpriced
- Extra cost for the 240V charger needed to reduce recharge time
- Tight back seat
By Jim Prueter
Volt a breakthrough win for General Motors and Detroit
Rarely have expectations been as high and information as confusing for a new car as they have been for the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. On sale now in limited geographical areas including California, New York, Washington, D.C., Michigan, Connecticut and Texas, Volt will expand to other states throughout 2011.
Volt was developed from concept to showroom in an amazingly short 29 months amid GM bankruptcy and a government bailout led by President Obama, whose administration loaned the flagging company hundreds of millions of dollars. Despite the throng of media coverage, an air of confusion and misinformation still surrounds the vehicle. GM shares in the blame, doing a poor job of explaining how the car works, perpetuating controversy about its fuel economy and announcing its price of $41,000, some $18,000 more than the base price for the best-selling Toyota Prius.
Yet, in spite of all the publicity, doubts, misinformation and hype, there’s no denying that Volt is a remarkable piece of automotive machinery. Make no mistake, Volt is a big, big deal, and a huge win for both GM and Detroit where the idea started and Volt is manufactured. Automotive journalists even went so far as to vote it the 2011 North American Car of the Year.
What remains to be seen is if the public will embrace it enough to make it a sales success in the showroom.
Splitting the difference between an electric and a gas-powered car, the Volt is neither a hybrid car nor an electric car. Chevrolet calls it an extended range electric vehicle.
The Chevrolet Volt combines an electric motor, which powers the car for the first 25 to 50 miles or so of driving, with a 1.4-liter internal-combustion gasoline-powered engine to drive the generator, creating electricity thereby powering the electric motor once the batteries are depleted.
To travel solely on electric power, the Chevrolet Volt must have its batteries charged. GM says it takes 10-12 hours to recharge the car on regular 120V household current, and about four hours using 240V current (like your clothes dryer uses). A 240V charger is available for $490 plus the cost of installation.
The cost of off-peak charging converts to an operating cost of between 2 and 3 cents per mile, depending on local utility rates or about $.75 for the full recharge.
Volt comes with a plug-in charge cord for the 120V and it is easy to use. Our test drives produced a real-world range of between 35 to 40 mpg in extended-range mode or about 350 to 379 total miles before refueling. And if you find yourself with no place to recharge, there’s no problem. Just fill the gas tank and you’re on your way. You can’t do that with an all-electric vehicle.
Fully 80 percent of American drivers travel 40 miles or less per day fitting within Volt’s nominal all-electric range. And because Volt has the extended range of the gas powered recharging engine, it eliminates the so-called range anxiety associated with electric-only vehicles like Nissan’s LEAF. This is a big deal to American drivers, who are unlikely to give up the freedom of driving where they want and when they want without waiting for their all-electric vehicle to recharge. This is a tremendous psychological and technological solution for drivers who are accustomed to unlimited mobility.
Most impressive, however, is how Volt drives, which is with the premium execution of a smaller sedan. We thought it close to the experience behind the wheel of the Chevy Cruze sedan, which shares some of its underpinnings. It’s certainly eerily quiet in all-electric mode, but quicker than you would think with a zero-to-60 mph of under nine seconds and enough highway power to pass slower traffic, sans white knuckles on the steering wheel. Top speed is 100 mph.
Up front, the exterior features the now familiar and stylish Chevy split grille with two front spoilers to manage airflow around the body below the aerodynamically low hood. The roof looks long and the rear deck lid is high with a cut-off rear panel. Volt is shod with P215//55R 17-inch Goodyear Fuel Max low-rolling-resistance tires mounted on alloy wheels to help improve the fuel mileage.
Inside, Volt seats just four people on bucket seats up front, and an enconomy-looking bench seat in the back. Interior door panels are reminiscent of the thin plastic we first saw on the new Camaro, but Volt tries to jazz it up a bit with some silly graphics that are included when the premium package option is selected. In our opinion, this only succeeds in cheapening the look.
Otherwise, the interior is very contemporary with two large stacked display screens in front of the driver. Between the screens is vehicle technical information about the operation of the car, along with navigation, climate control and entertainment on the center screen.
The Volt's safety package is far more complete and complex than that of an ordinary car, because all of the safety systems, air bags, anti-lock braking system, traction control, and StabiliTrak are tied into the electrical system so that the system shuts down automatically in the event of an accident, flood, rollover or air bag deployment.
As of this writing, Volt has not been crash-tested for safety ratings by either the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
The Volt has an MSRP of $41,000, but the federal government offers a $7,500 tax credit that helps make the net cost to consumers $33,500. Chevrolet is also offering leases on the Volt for $350 per month for 36 months with $2,500 due at signing. There are two option packages: the Premium Trim Package ($1,395) that includes heated leather seats and decorative trim, and the Rear Camera and Park Assist Package ($695). Volt comes in a choice of six colors but only silver, gray and black come without an additional charge.
Overall, we found Volt to be a surprisingly nice car in terms of its operation excellence, economy and overall styling and named it a AAA Top Pick for 2011 in the Green/Hybrid/Electric vehicle category.