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First Drive: 2011 Chevrolet Volt Page 2

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2011 Chevrolet Volt pre-production prototype, January 2010

2011 Chevrolet Volt pre-production prototype, January 2010

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2011 Chevrolet Volt pre-production prototype, January 2010

2011 Chevrolet Volt pre-production prototype, January 2010

Enlarge Photo

2011 Chevrolet Volt pre-production prototype, January 2010

2011 Chevrolet Volt pre-production prototype, January 2010

Enlarge Photo

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Enlarge Photo

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Enlarge Photo

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Enlarge Photo

Ride and Handling

Some rough road surfaces at the GM Tech Center demonstrated that it absorbs bumps fairly well, aided by the 450 extra pounds of batteries it carries compared to the same-size Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan.

Because we couldn't run our test Volt at sustained high speeds, we can't comment on its ride on freeways with regular expansion joints or rough pavement. Given its extra weight, we'd expect it to be slightly better than other cars of similar size.

Fuel economy

Ah, the biggest question (along with price): What kind of fuel economy will 2011 Chevrolet Volt drivers get? The answer is that it depends entirely on how they use the car.

While Chevrolet touted the Volt's predicted city mileage as 230 miles per gallon, that's a meaningless figure, since it makes assumptions about usage.

If you drive less than 40 miles a day and recharge every night, your gasoline engine might never switch on. On the other hand, if you run 140 miles every day, you'll spend more time on gasoline power than electric--and Chevrolet hasn't yet quoted fuel economy figures for engine use.

Stay tuned on this one, but take every figure you see with a grain of salt. Plug-in vehicles with both battery packs and gasoline engines use energy, whether it's stored as gasoline or battery charge. Miles per gallon depends entirely on the mix of the two, and that varies for each driver.

Interior

The front seats of the four-seat Volt are comfortable, though even the driver's seat has manual adjustments, to conserve electric power. The rear seats are comfortable for riders 5'10" or less, but those north of 6 feet tall are likely to find them cramped.

The 2011 Volt's instrument cluster is a single display with virtual instruments in vivid, easily read blue and green.

The center stack is shiny white plastic with (smallish) touch-sensitive buttons for common functions, plus a touchscreen display at the top. A darker shade of plastic trim will also be offered.

The overriding impression, though, is one of normality. Unlike the Toyota Prius, the "shift lever" is on the center tunnel. It's a chunky one-piece slab that feels like pulling back the control lever on some massive piece of electric machinery.

Even the switch to release the round charge door in the left-front fender is on the driver's door, where you might expect a gas-door release to be. (The gas-door release is nearby, but it was almost invisible in our test car. That's being adjusted so it's easier to find in production models.)

Safety

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has released crash-test ratings for the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. But Farah expects it to earn the highest rating, five stars, for both front and side impact.

The 2011 Volt is fitted with eight airbags: two front bags, two front side curtains, two front knee-bags, and two rear side curtains. Stability control and anti-lock brakes are standard.

Features and equipment

The 2010 Chevrolet Volt will offer a few options, though not many. No sunroof is available, and the only exterior option is a choice of silver paint or polished chrome on the five-spoke 17-inch wheels.

Inside, an optional navigation system can be integrated into the center-stack display, and buyers can order two-tone leather upholstery and trim rather than the standard cloth. Heated seats are also available.

Chevrolet has kept entirely mum on pricing, though rumors more than a year ago set the likely price around $40,000. The first 200,000 60,000 Volts sold will qualify for a $7,500 Federal tax credit. By comparison, the 2010 Toyota Prius starts at $22,400 and tops out around $32,000.

Conclusion

The 2011 Chevrolet Volt is likely to be a game-changer. Not because it'll save noticeable amounts of oil in the short run, but because it's a new type of vehicle that no major automaker has put into production.

We think it will change car buyers' minds about the viability of electric cars, and reassure the mass market that they're not golf carts or only for short-range shopping runs.

We gather that Chevrolet will sell only 10,000 Volts for 2011, and another 60,000 or so for 2012. But its Voltec powertrain is the first iteration of a new core technology that could ultimately prove as influential as the overhead-valve V-8 engine did 60 years ago.

Buyers and media critics will compare this car to the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, and to the 2012 Nissan Leaf. Each is a slightly different approach to the plug-in electric drive vehicle.

GM may actually beat Toyota and Nissan to retail sales, albeit by a matter of months. It promises to be a fascinating battle among giants. Bring it on.


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Comments (13)
  1. Good review except that CVT's are not constant velocity transmissions but rather continuously variable transmissions
     
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  2. @Brian: Thanks for the good words, and sorry for the brain fade. Fixed now. Appreciate the close attention to detail!
     
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  3. Have been looking forward to your team getting a test drive with the Volt. I can't tell you how much the emotional part of me wants to see this car (and GM) really do well! From your review, I am glad to see it does sound revolutionary in some respects. Don't think evolutionary would do. Understand there will be some "boring" elements. But, again, hoping this one really does well.
     
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  4. How can the Volt seriously be compared to a Prius? I understand that the target group will be people that drive less than
    40 miles per day, but that group is a lucky few. Total range of the Volt with the 12 gallon fuel tank is "more than 300
    miles", placing the Volt at the 25 mpg mark on a full charge and full tank of fuel and drops to 22 mpg when ran on fuel only.
    The mpg will more likely than not suffer even more at continued highway speeds. Given the EPA estimate of 48 mpg highway on
    the Prius, its range on the same 12 gallons of fuel is 570 miles.
    Now let's look at the actual fuel cost of driving each vehicle 250 miles assuming highway speeds. Let's say that it costs
    you $1.00 in electricity to charge the Volt and fuel is $3.00 per gallon. You would drive for 40 miles on pure electrical
    power and 210 miles on the gasoline generator bringing the total cost for a 250 mile trip to $26.20 given that you would burn
    8.4 gallons of fuel at 25mpg. The Prius will cost you $15.60 since it will only burn 5.2 gallons of fuel at 48 mpg traveling
    the same 250 miles.
    Do we need to even discuss the differences in environmental impact? I think not. Not only is the Prius cheaper to operate,
    it is also considerably cheaper in price. If the cost of the Volt remains at $40,000 before the Federal Tax Credit when it
    hits showroom floors, the $22,400 Prius will definitely look more attractive to any frugal buyer even when factoring in the
    credit.
    If you're thinking: "Well, it does have a 40 mile range on electric power.", then all I can say is this: Think back to the
    EV1. The EV1 had a range of 55-75 miles with its first lead-acid battery configuration and had a range of 75-150 miles on the
    NiMH battery configuration. Since the EV1 was officially scrapped in the year 2003, are we to believe that battery technology
    has declined to the point where EV range has suffered a 15-110 mile range loss in the past 7 years? Last I read, battery
    technology was improving, but I guess that's only outside of GM's suppliers.
    Still not convinced? How about the Henney Kilowatt? In 1959, the Kilowatt electric vehicle had a 40 mile range at 40 miles
    per hour. Is this the best we can do from 1959 to 2011? Henney didn't think so. The 1960 Henney Kilowatt had a 60 mile range
    at 60 miles per hour.
    If you're under the impression that I think poorly of the Chevrolet Volt, you would assume correctly. It's a hybrid in
    disguise. I don't care if you refer to the powerplant as a generator or internal combustion engine. Gasoline power plus
    electric power equals hybrid.
    Due to the cost and poor range of the Volt, it is impractical at best and definitely laughable in every other aspect. The
    Tesla S costs $49,900.00 after the Federal Tax Credit, is far superior in every way, doesn't look like the result of a Prius
    mating with a Malibu, and is a FULL Electric Vehicle with a 300 mile range. 300 miles, not 40. If a company like Tesla Motors
    can do it, we have to question General Motors. They can do better.
     
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  5. It's comical to see the Volt bashers appear in the comments for almost every Volt article. The same commenters also attempt to convince you to buy a Prius. I mean, you really have to wonder who's behind it. If you're *really* behind the purpose of electric vehicles vs gas vehicles you'd have to wonder why the bashers are so intent to see the Volt fail. Hmmmmmm.
     
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  6. "I understand that the target group will be people that drive less than 40 miles per day, but that group is a lucky few."
    Ah yes, the lucky few that represent 90% of drivers. Seriously, if you just want to bash American cars, grow a pair. Don't pretend to be rational or factual. Coward.
     
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  7. This car is gonna be amazing! Check it out, it's being released this November! http://www.kaycircle.com/index.php?q=What-is-the-Chevy-Volt-release-date
     
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  8. The 60,000 vehicle limit on the tax credit is not correct. It's 200,000. The 60,000 figure is for regular gas-electric hybrids, not plug-ins.
    From the DOE website: "The full amount of the credit will be reduced with respect to a manufacturer's vehicles after the manufacturer has sold at least 200,000 vehicles. The credit will then phase out over a year."
    And, obviously, post #4 has his figures way off. The final mpg figures for driving in charge sustaining mode haven't been made public, but it will be in the 40-50 mpg range. not 25mpg.
     
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  9. I don't entirely disagree with "Electric?".
    The Volt still is a hybrid.
    It cost is nearly double that of a Prius.
    The 300 mile range (- 40 mile for Electric mode) = 260 / 12 galloons = 21.6 MPG (AND thats ADVERTSIED!).
    So can you imagine a Taxi driver driving a volt vs driving a Prius, ignoring the cost issue, where do they recharge during the day... which is directly neccessary to attain those amazing MPG figures.
    A $22k Prius with a $10k plug in conversion kit is still cheaper and overs all the benefits of the Volt but still gets around 48 MPG driving on gas (as opposed to 21.6).
    Those are the numbers as advertised my GM there not much to dispute there. ~$40k USD, ($50k Cdn!?) Gas/Electric Hybrid, 21.6 MPG for 260 miles over 12 gallons.
    Very neat idea that I have followed since its conception but this will not have large market appeal, more like "prestige" techy appeal.
    It is nice to see it actually being driven though.
     
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  10. BV1 says that "The 300 mile range (- 40 mile for Electric mode) = 260 / 12 galloons = 21.6 MPG (AND thats ADVERTSIED!)" I am a regular on GM-Volt.com, and have yet to see published data from GM about the gas tank size of the Volt. Without knowing the gas tank capacity, you won't know its mileage.
     
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  11. Wonderful writeup on the Volt. I have yet to find a road tester that isn't impressed with the technology. I LOVE reading about the ability to drive a normal car without using any gas. Something else, if you started the test drive in ICE mode, how startling would it be to switch to electric? Your comparison note of the Volt ICE vs the CVT says a lot.

    Now I read the letters and the idiots come marching.
    The Volt is electric, the Prius is gas. Why continue the stupid comparisons since you can NEVER drive today's Prius without using gas?
    Get normal!
    The Prius plug in version, if it gets built, should go what, 12 miles? Kudos to Honda for being the most Insightful company to go hybrid. Kudos to Toyota for their, um, good luck. No kudos to GM since they do not sell a small car hybrid to compare to Honda. Perhaps the Cadillac XTS will shine with that excellent GM two mode system installed. (I have no doubt that the Caddy will easily outperform the Lexus sedan in the same class.)
    As far as the Prius hugging clones go, if you skew the Volt gas tank size in the opposite direction that Electric! has, then we would have a fun pissing match. But still, the comparison is flawed at the origin.
    Go Volt, Go GM, Go Domestic!
     
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  12. @Jeff: I've changed the info on the tax credit. This drive report was written somewhat quickly, and you nailed it, I was thinking of the hybrid credit. Appreciate the correction!
     
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  13. Great article John.
     
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