If electric cars make you think of golf carts, or your idea of a clean, green car is a Prius hybrid, the 2014 Chevrolet Volt will be a pleasant surprise for you. While it's not all that fast on paper, the power delivery is smooth and seamless, and its best performance comes from 0 to 40 mph. Electric motors produce maximum torque from a stop through much of their range, so the Volt will startle many other cars from a standing stop. Its 0-to-60-mph acceleration takes less than 9 seconds--not fast, but fast enough to keep up with traffic. Its speed is electronically limited to 100 mph.
The Volt's lithium-ion battery pack, a T-shaped box fitted into the wide tunnel between the seats and under the rear seat, holds 16.5 kilowatt-hours of energy (of which only 10.8 kWh is used to power the car--giving the Volt a huge margin for loss of capacity over time). The EPA rates the Volt's electric range at 38 miles.
All Volts are powered by a 111-kilowatt (149-hp) electric motor that drives the front wheels. Once the pack is depleted, the 1.4-liter four-cylinder range-extending engine switches on, to power a 54-kW generator that produces electricity. That electricity continues to run the electric motor that powers the car. If you're not watching the display, that engine switches on so quietly you may not notice it. You'll only hear it under maximum load, when it speeds up to its maximum revs. But it's disconnected from the road speed, so from the driver's seat, the Volt always runs as an electric vehicle--regardless of whether the electricity comes from the battery or the range extender.
Chevy has tuned the Volt so in its normal state, it drives just like a regular car with an automatic transmission. While it's a heavy car for its size, the Volt has its weight mounted low in the car. That gives it good roadholding and flat cornering. The electric power steering, suspension, and braking--both friction and regenerative--all are well integrated.
For the experienced electric-car drivers who want to drive on a "single pedal" with stronger regenerative braking, a "Low" mode on the selector increases regen to the point where lifting off the accelerator produces noticeable slowing--and the brake pedal is needed much less. To mimic a Tesla, drivers can keep the car in Low and punch the Sport mode button, which provides peppier acceleration at the cost of a bit of range. There's also a Mountain Mode, which recharges the battery more aggressively and increases regenerative braking for best performance on hilly routes. Last year, the Volt also added the ability to conserve its battery charge--in the form of a "Hold Drive" button--for later usage. This employs the range extender as the primary power source.