- Zero emissions, zero range anxiety
- Sporty acceleration, quiet ride
- Stylish, modern interior
- A real car through and through
- Long battery-pack warranty
- Styling not to everyone's taste
- High-priced despite incentives
- Premium fuel recommended
- 'Only' 37 mpg running on gasoline
- Mundane Chevy marketing
If you can afford it, the 2013 Chevrolet Volt is one of only a handful of plug-in hybrids on the market, and among the best.
The 2013 Chevrolet Volt has been a part of the GM lineup now for three years, and it's still the most technologically advanced car the company sells. It can be seen as the yin to the Chevy Corvette's yang--both are halo cars, but each has a unique, singular mission.
The Volt has been described as an extended-range electric vehicle, since it uses a set of lithium-ion batteries to provide motive power to the front wheels. However, in limited circumstances, it also acts as a plug-in hybrid, with batteries contributing some torque along with the engine, which runs when the battery is depleted. In electric-only mode, the Volt has 38 miles of driving in a full charge, according to the EPA. With the 1.4-liter four-cylinder "range extender" engine, it has more than 300 miles of use per charge and fill-up.Whatever your image of electric cars, we've driven the Chevy Volt under a variety of conditions--and there's no questioning the fact that it's a real car. It seats four in comfort, performs briskly, rides and drives quietly, and offers the features and accessories you'd expect of any car. But its selling point against pure electric cars like the Nissan Leaf is that it runs as long as you want it to--you can drive it nonstop across country, stopping only for gasoline, just like any other car.
If you ignored the information displays, in fact, it might be possible to miss the Volt's revolutionary electric powertrain. If you never plug it in, its gasoline engine will keep it running happily as long as you keep filling the tank. You might not know that the front wheels are driven by a large electric motor.
The current crop of Volt owners, however, bought the car precisely because of that electric drive. They plug their Volts into 110-Volt wall sockets or a 220-Volt charging station to recharge their battery packs, usually overnight. In the real world, that gives a Volt 25 to 45 miles of electric range. GM's marketers point out--relentlessly--that three-quarters of U.S. vehicles cover less than 40 miles per day. Owners who recharge their Volts daily and use them for a commute that's shorter than that may never burn a drop of gasoline.
Once the battery energy is depleted, the Volt's 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine switches on. Chevy's done a superb job with noise suppression; it happens so quietly you might miss it if you're not paying attention. In what's called "range-sustaining mode," a Volt will travel about 300 miles on a tank.
The first Volt concept was introduced at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show, and the distinctive but slab-sided production car is quite different from the concept's long, lean shape. The changes were all in the service of cutting aerodynamic drag. The blanked-off front "grille" prevents air turbulence, and the exhaust exits under the car--there's no exhaust-pipe outlet at the rear.
The futuristic cockpit design is centered around digital displays that offer a great deal of information on the car's running statistics, the battery state of charge, the remaining electric and gasoline range, and its history of energy usage. Much to the dismay of the most plug-in-happy owners, the highest gas mileage it will display is 250 mpg.
Halfway through the 2012 model year (on cars built after February that year), Volts sold in California were upgraded to comply with stricter emissions regulations that allowed them to be granted single-occupant use of the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes on the state's crowded freeways. Cars sold in New York added that equipment for 2013.The Volt is priced at $39,995, and qualifies for a $7,500 Federal tax credit (and a variety of state, local, and corporate incentives too, including a $2,500 California purchase rebate). That brings it closer to the price of more conventional green cars like the Toyota Prius hybrid or its new plug-in variant.
Calculations on payback depend on daily mileage covered, local electricity costs (which can range from 3 cents to 25 cents per kilowatt-hour) and how often the owner can recharge and at what cost. In general, electric operation usually runs one-third to one-fifth the cost per mile of gasoline. GM warranties the battery pack for 8 years or 100,000 miles in most states.
The car's Voltec range-extended electric drive system is the first generation of a powertrain that will be used in other vehicles and in higher volumes in the years and decades to come. Reductions in battery cost and improvements in other components will gradually bring down the cost, but that will take place gradually, and the Volt will remain a specialty vehicle for some years.
Buyers are likely to compare it to the Prius and its plug-in model, the Nissan Leaf, and Ford's pair of Energi plug-in hybrids, offered in the C-Max five-door hatchback and the Fusion mid-size sedan. And given its cost, they may view it as an alternative to pricier imported brands like Audi and BMW.
Early Volt buyers are willing to pay the money to have the most advanced car GM makes. The Volt is one of only a handful of plug-in cars that runs all electrically and can take you cross-country if needed. The icing on the cake, though, is that the car is genuinely good--fun to drive as well as cutting edge. The fact that buyers may be considering a Chevy against an Audi or BMW is a win for GM all by itself. Score one for General Motors.
2013 Chevrolet Volt
The 2013 Chevrolet Volt isn't as iconic on the road as the Prius, but it gets noticed--and the interior is nicer than you'd expect
In its third model year, the 2013 Chevrolet Volt is becoming a more familiar part of the automotive landscape, thanks in part to its position as Chevy's halo green car. Memories of the long, low, sleek 2007 Volt concept have faded, and the chunky, high-waisted Volt is becoming its own recognizable shape.
To our eyes, it's still nowhere as distinctive as the Toyota Prius hybrid, or the original two-seat Honda Insight. It does get noticed on the road, though, especially in the crimson red or the silvery-green paint color known as Meridien Joule.
The five-door hatchback from the side has a high cowl and window line, with fairly narrow window openings made visually taller by a black trim panel that carries the shape of the window onto the upper door. Lighter-colored cars benefit most from that styling trick. Still, the Volt appears still chunky in a way that neither the unusual all-electric Nissan Leaf or the ur-hybrid Toyota Prius is. It's not bad-looking, it's just not that trend-setting.
The fully blanked-out replica of the twin-opening Chevrolet grille definitely keeps it in the Chevy family, and the vertical glass panel in the long, almost-horizontal tailgate--just like a Toyota Prius or Honda Insight hybrid--improves rearward visibility to some extent.
The interior gets much higher marks. The Volt is a compact car with only four seats (the battery pack prevents a center passenger in the rear seat), but the characteristic Chevy twin-cockpit design is well suited to the large center stack with a digital display screen and capacitive touch switches below it.
The colorful, intuitive graphic displays on the vehicle information screen are among the best we've seen, and certainly as good or better than anything else from Chevy. An available glossy white plastic trim color inevitably reminds the driver of Apple products--if, that is, Apple made auto interiors.
For 2013, both the roof panel and the liftgate are body-color rather than the black of 2011 and 2012 models. And a new interior color--known as Pebble Beige--is offered both on the standard cloth upholstery and the optional leather seats with suede inserts.
2013 Chevrolet Volt
The 2013 Chevrolet Volt now has 38 miles of range to go with its surge of silent power.
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.
2013 Chevrolet Volt
Comfort & Quality
The 2013 Chevrolet Volt is well-built, quiet, comfortable, and handles well--but it only holds four.
The Chevy Volt has the highest owner-satisfaction scores ever recorded for a General Motors vehicle, and if you meet one, you'll find that its owners are cheerful and relentless evangelists for the joys of range-extended electric driving--and for the 2013 Chevrolet Volt itself.
Driving several hundred miles in a Volt shows off the car's remarkably quiet cabin, its good roadholding and acceleration, and the superb graphics used in its various displays.
Inside the car, the seats are mounted low, but they're comfortable. Manually adjustable seats in a $40,000 car may be a shock, but it's all in the name of conserving battery range. The front seats are spacious enough, though the tunnel is high and wide. In the rear, that same tunnel is large enough to preclude any hope of a center seat, making the Volt strictly a four-seat compact--and a slightly tight one at that.
Cloth upholstery is standard, and leather seating is offered as an option. Some daring and unusual accent colors and graphic designs can be ordered, some of them unlike any other Chevy in the showroom. Want abstract patterns and matching seat piping in lime green (it works far better than you might expect)? The Volt is the only car that has 'em. The console can be ordered in glossy white (think Apple product), piano black (now an outdated cliche), or a quieter glossy charcoal.
Low volume and massive press attention mean that the Volt is very much in the public eye, and Chevy has worked hard to keep quality high. None of our test cars has had any rattles or squeaks, and indeed the only thing owners have reported are a handful of software glitches and frozen graphic displays. Just as other makers do, Chevrolet has offered minor software updates to fix reported problems.
The Volt is easy enough to drive that your mother might never know she was driving an electric car from the behind the wheel. Well, there's also that futuristic humming tone as the car boots up and does its system checks.
But without the sounds of engine and transmission, wind noise and tire roar become much more apparent. Chevy's done a good job at minimizing these, but the low-rolling-resistance tires can put out a low, steady roar without other noises to mask them.
Still, there are no startlingly loud sounds at speed or under full-throttle acceleration. With the battery pack used to buffer the highest power demands, the engine-generator only rarely rises to a howl as it revs to the top of its range to provide sustained high power under the heaviest loads.
2013 Chevrolet Volt
The 2013 Chevrolet Volt got high marks on NHTSA and IIHS crash tests.
The 2013 Chevrolet Volt has received the best ratings and the top scores both from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
GM safety designers subjected the Volt to all the standard crash-safety tests, with particular focus on the T-shaped battery pack that runs under the tunnel and sits under the rear seats. Beams that transfer crash loads through the pack and into the rest of the car's structure mean that the pack itself is protected in most crashes.
A media brouhaha in the last half of 2011, over a fire in a Volt sitting in a wrecking yard--three weeks after it was destroyed by the NHTSA in a crash test--brought GM everything from right-wing sneers to a Congressional hearing into the car's safety. After conducting its own study, the NHTSA concluded that the circumstances surrounding the fire were extremely rare, and that the Volt was as safe as any other vehicle. GM nonetheless offers an optional set of modifications to the battery for cars built before February 2012, to prevent just those kinds of issues.
In regard to vehicle fires, however, it's worth noting that roughly 250,000 vehicle fires occur in the U.S. every year--most of those during an accident, not three weeks afterward.
The Volt has a full complement of eight airbags: front, dashboard and side airbags are joined by knee bolsters, and side air curtains stretch the full length of the passenger compartment. It also includes the now-standard suite of electronic safety systems--including anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, and other systems. All Volts come standard with the OnStar telecommunications system from General Motors, which comes with three years of free service for Volt owners.
For now, Volts are not fitted with automatic noise generators that alert pedestrians if the car is approaching quietly on electric power only. Instead, it includes "chirping" noise that the driver can trigger by pulling the indicator lever.
2013 Chevrolet Volt
The 2013 Chevrolet Volt's main feature is its electric powertrain, but paying extra for a good stereo in a $40,000 car seems wrong.
Yes, the 2013 Chevrolet Volt--a four-seat, five-door hatchback--has a base price of $39,995. And, yes, that's more than twice the base price of the similarly sized Cruze compact four-door sedan, which can hold five. But the first few years of electric cars are rarely going to be bought for their list prices (and a $7,500 Federal tax credit plus other state, local, and corporate incentives can bring down the effective price by $10,000 or more).
The Volt's range-extended electric powertrain, for a start, is all but unique. The only other such car on the market today is the limited-production Fisker Karma luxury sedan--which starts at $106,000, making the Volt's technology almost seem like a bargain. And the Volt comes with many standard features that are optional on many gasoline compact cars, including a tilting-and-telescoping steering wheel, automatic climate control, keyless entry with proximity sensing, remote start, and a smartphone app that lets the driver monitor the car's performance and charging.
An energy-efficient Bose audio system costs extra ($495), though, as does the navigation/DVD system (at a whopping $1,995). The standard radio has only AM, FM, and CD capabilities, while the Bose adds 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.
Buyers can also tick boxes for a handful of other extra-cost options, including various special paint colors--including White Diamond Tintcoat and a very handsome Crystal Red Metallic Tintcoat--and polished alloy wheels.
A frequently asked question is about battery life. GM warrants the Volt's battery for eight years or 100,000 miles, though buyers concerned about the battery life of a car that's only been on the market for three years may be reassured by the option of leasing their first Volt rather than buying it outright. The entire car is covered bumper-to-bumper for three years/36,000 miles, plus a limited warranty on the engine of five years/100,000 miles. Chevrolet throws in roadside assistance for five years or 100,000 miles as well.
2013 Chevrolet Volt
The 2013 Chevrolet Volt is slightly more efficient than last year's model, and gets 37 mpg when using its range-extended gasoline engine.
As GM will tell you, over and over, almost four out of five U.S. vehicles travel less than 40 miles a day. Which means that, with a 38-mile electric range, the 2013 Chevrolet Volt could let drivers commute solely on electricity for weeks at a time.
More than that, the Volt is one of the most energy efficient cars sold in the U.S. Only a handful of battery electric vehicles--the tiny Mitsubishi i, the all-but-unavailable Honda Fit EV, and the Nissan Leaf--best its 98-MPGe rating. (That's up from the previous year's 94 MPGe, by the way.) Every one of those vehicles, however, requires several hours to recharge once the battery pack is depleted. The Volt can keep going indefinitely on its range-extending gasoline engine.
While we would rank battery electric cars higher than any car with a gasoline engine (including the Volt), it still gets our top rating of 10 because under certain circumstances, it can be driven almost indefinitely with no tailpipe emissions at all. It depends on how often you're likely to travel beyond its electric range. For certain high-mileage individuals, a 50-mpg Prius may burn less gasoline overall than a Volt running on a mix of grid power and then at 37 mpg from its range-extending engine.
Running on electricity is virtually always cheaper as an energy source than gasoline, though prices for electricity can vary by a factor of 10 across the country. In part, their efficiency is due to the fact that gasoline engines are notably inefficient at converting the energy content of their fuel into forward motion. Many studies have looked at the environmental impact of running on electricity produced from dirty coal, with most concluding that if you compare to a 50-mpg Prius, there are a few states in which that Prius is marginally cleaner on a wells-to-wheels basis. But if you compare to the average 25-mpg car, then electric running in a Volt--or any other plug-in car--is always cleaner.
It takes 7 to 10 hours to recharge a full-discharged Volt battery pack using 120-Volt household current and the standard charging cord stowed in the Volt's load bay. At a 240-Volt Level 2 charging station, whether a public unit or one installed in your private garage, that's more than cut in half. Still, if you can charge a Volt overnight reliably, that Level 2 station isn't an absolute requirement for the Volt--unlike for battery electric cars.