The 2013 Chevrolet Volt will be a happy surprise to drivers whose idea of "green-car performance" is restricted to conventional hybrids, like the Toyota Prius. The Volt accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in less than 9 seconds--only about 1 second faster than the Prius--but the power delivery is smooth and stepless, with fast acceleration from a stop to about 40 mph.
That's because electric motors produce their peak torque right from 0 rpm, when the car is at a standstill. Several times in our driving tests, we were able to spin the inside front wheel when accelerating out of a turn--something a Prius is unlikely ever to do. The Volt's top speed is capped at 100 mph.
The Volt's accelerator pedal behavior has been tuned to imitate that of a standard car fitted with automatic transmission, even though the Volt has no gears in the conventional sense. That is, you drive the car with accelerator and brake pedals. If you want to drive the Volt on a "single pedal"--as you do the electric Tesla Roadster--it's necessary to shift into "Low" mode, which increases regenerative braking to the point where the friction brakes are needed far less.
Here, we should recap: The Chevy Volt runs 25 to 45 miles on the energy stored in its lithium-ion battery (the T-Shaped pack is located in the tunnel and under the rear seats). That battery powers a 111-kilowatt (149-hp) electric motor that turns the front wheels. Then, the range-extending 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine switches on, that engine turns a 54-kW generator that produces electricity to run the electric motor. Under very limited circumstances, at high speeds, occasionally a portion of the engine output torque is used to supplement the electric motor's output. But from the driver's seat, that distinction is invisible; the Volt always runs as an electric vehicle.
The powertrain is quiet for the 30 to 50 miles the Volt will run on battery power, and even when the range-extending engine switches on, it is well isolated with very little vibration. There's occasionally some noise from the engine when it operates at maximum output, but you're likely to miss the exact moment it switches itself on--it's that well muffled.
For 2013, Chevy slightly increased the energy capacity of the lithium-ion battery pack, from the original 16 kilowatt-hours to 16.5 kWh, and the usable portion of that energy from 10.3 to 10.8 kWh. That has increased the Volt's EPA-rated electric range from 35 to 38 miles, and it boosts the 2013 Volt's efficiency rating from 94 to 98 MPGe, or "miles per gallon equivalent'--the distance the car can travel electrically on the amount of energy contained in a single gallon of gasoline.
Another update for 2013 is the addition of a "Hold Drive" button that directs the car to conserve battery charge and use the range extender for primary power, letting the driver reserve all-electric range for later usage (in a zero-emission vehicle zone, for instance, should there be one). The existing Mountain Mode is retained as well, which lets the driver tell the car to retain somewhat more energy in the battery and increase the regenerative braking--giving the Volt its best performance on routes with lots of hills.
The Volt, while heavy, has its mass mounted fairly low down in the car. It holds the road well and corners flat. Electric power steering, suspension, and braking all are well integrated.