Even with a price cut to $34,995, the 2014 Chevy Volt is about twice the price of a Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan. But the two cars appeal to entirely different buyers, and plug-in electric cars are aimed today at early adopters and those who buy cars for other reasons than low entry price. The Volt also qualifies for a $7,500 Federal income-tax credit and a variety of state, local, and corporate incentives. In California, where more Volts are sold than in any other state, those include a $2,500 purchase rebate and single-occupant access to the coveted carpool lane at rush hour.
The Volt comes standard with a few features that are optional on conventional cars its size, but the equipment differences are less pronounced now than they were back in 2011 when the car was launched. Today, many compacts include keyless entry with proximity sensing, automatic climate control, remote starting, and a steering wheel that both tilts and telescopes. They don't have the Volt's range-extended electric powertrain, however, which runs for 38 miles (or so) on the battery and then switches over to the gasoline range extender. And they also don't have a smartphone app that lets an owner monitor the car's charging and various performance metrics.
Unfortunately, the base Volt comes with neither a particularly good audio system--it's simply AM/FM/CD--nor navigation. Those cost extra. The energy-efficient Bose audio system--which includes satellite radio, MP3 playback, Bluetooth connectivity, and the ability to show DVDs--plus 30 GB of music storage space on a 60-GB hard drive--costs $495. Worse, the navigation/DVD system adds a whopping $1,995. Other options include quite nice polished alloy wheels and a few special paint colors.
The Volt lacks some of the latest generation of electronic safety systems, however, that have filtered quickly into cars of $35,000 and above. Chevy added forward collision warning and lane-departure warning last year, but radar-based adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring are not offered on the Volt at any price. Nor is the clever "smartphone/dumb screen" display that uses apps on an occupant's mobile phone for navigation, audio streaming, and the like. That system is now confined to the least expensive Chevys--for 2014, the Spark and the Sonic--though we expect it to be added to other models in future. A likely refresh of the Volt in 2015, perhaps as a 2016 model, is likely to add some or all of these features.
The Volt's battery is warranted for eight years or 100,000 miles; shoppers who remain concerned about battery life have the option of leasing the Volt rather than buying, which shifts the burden of battery degradation to the next owner. The 2014 Volt carries bumper-to-bumper coverage for three years/36,000 miles, along with a limited engine warranty of five years/100,000 miles. As a bonus, five years or 100,000 miles of roadside assistance comes free as well.