2011 Chevrolet Volt Plug-In Hybrid Hatchback: Quick Drive

July 10, 2011

It's received accolades as the North American Car of the Year, Motor Trend Car of the Year, and it still doesn't fit the definition of what a "car" should be.

The 2011 Chevrolet Volt front-wheel-drive hatchback is both an electric, or plug-in, car and a gas-powered car.

Sounds like a personality problem, doesn't it? It's not. Either way, the 2011 Chevy Volt is a heck of a lot of fun to drive, particularly around town using its 39-plus mile range for its electric motor, before swinging into gasoline mode for the balance of a trip.

We only spent four days together but they were four very interesting, fun days. The Chevy Volt, attired in crystal red metallic tintcoat with a light neutral interior that sports some darker accents was waiting at LAX to drive back to Long Beach on a recent Tuesday.

It had a stated electric range of 23 miles on pickup and had five miles left on arrival at home, an under-20-mile trip.

The garage where we park has a plug-in area, so it was no problem to insert the 120-Volt portable charging cord into an accessible outlet and then into the left-front fender, leaving the car to charge overnight. The cord stores appropriately under the hatch floor when not in use.

The week entailed longer trips down the freeways so on every outing, we had to rely on the range extender 1.4-liter inline internal combustion engine. It produces 80 horsepower and requires premium fuel.

The Voltec electric drive unit with its lithium ion battery pack has 150 horsepower with 273 lb-ft of torque and the entire enterprise uses a single-speed direct transmission that is kind of isolated. While it doesn't sound like much fun, driving the 2011 Chevy Volt is definitely easier than I'd expected.

It uses MacPherson strut front and compound crank rear suspensions. Its all-wheel ABS-equipped disc brakes can be a bit grabby, as the car transitions between regenerative braking--in which the wheels turn a generator to recharge the battery, thereby slowing the car--and friction braking.

Also standard are electronic stability and traction controls. Turning circle is a doable 36 feet and the steering is light but fairly direct.

The Volt's footprint is that of a midsize car at 177.1 inches in length, 70.4 inches in width. It stands 56.6 inches tall and rides on a 105.7-inch wheelbase. It weighs 3781 pounds.

My first notes: "Well, this is different. I like the screen with its digital speedometer, miles to charge, fuel gauge with miles to empty, total range, cruise and brake/acceleration 'earth ball'."

The objective for the latter is, as you might imagine, to keep the ball centered so you're not using too much electricity or fuel--or, on the other end of the scale, braking too hard and wasting momentum that could have been used to recharge the battery pack.

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