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GM's extraordinary new electric vehicle--or plug-in hybrid, if that's easier to understand, if not entirely correct--changes how families can think green, and how they think of Chevrolet.
The 2011 Chevrolet Volt has a powertrain unlike any other vehicle on the planet. It uses home-rechargeable battery packs to provide up to 50 miles' worth of forward motion to the front wheels, but it also has a gasoline engine that can feed power to the batteries when they run out of the charge. Yes, in some circumstances, the Volt does send engine power indirectly to the wheels, but the best way to think about the Volt is as an electric car for normal urban driving--and as an electric car with its own gas-powered generator for long trips.
GM even coined the term "range anxiety" to let you know that pure electric cars can't deliver the Volt's 300-mile-plus driving range. And while that's important to families, what's most important is that the Volt has the seating, safety and features to replace the conventional gas-only car in the garage.
The Volt is a four-seat hatchback that looks like a sedan, and the hatchback implies a little more room than you'll find inside. In front, two comfortable bucket seats have enough knee and head room around them for most adults. In back, the doubled-up powertrain and accompanying battery packs are arranged along the centerline of the car, which means the Volt gives up a back-middle seat to its mechanical needs. There's ample room for a few suitcases in the hatchback, but the batteries again take up some of what appears to be considerable space from the outside.
In terms of safety, the Volt hits a home run in its first year on the market. The usual safety features are all present, and the Volt earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick award. It lacks some advanced features like blind-spot monitors, but offers a rearview camera in its sleekly designed console.