For today’s transportation needs, electric vehicles continue to fall short. Their all-electric setup does not allow the same freedom as a gasoline car, making them biased towards fuel-efficiency, while sacrificing usability.
|1. New for 2013 is an EPA-estimated all-electric range of 38 miles.
2. A New hold drive mode in addition to Normal, Sport and Mountain drive modes, allows owners to conserve battery charge for use in the most efficient manner.
3. The 2013 Volt gets an MSRP of $39,145, before a federal tax credit of $7,500.
The first solution to this issue was the plug-in hybrid (or range-extended electric car), and one of the first examples to test out the waters was the Chevy Volt, hitting the market back in late 2010.
Recently, we took a 1,260 mile roadtrip from Toronto to Boston and back in a Volt, to better understand where this vehicle succeeds, where it falls short, and where the compromises were made to combine the convenience of gas, and the cost-effective nature of electricity.
MORE ELECTRIC MILES
After a full charge was put into the batteries overnight, we set out for the highway. Running on straight electricity, the power delivery is firm and smooth, and offers enough low-end torque to allow some spirited take offs.
New for 2013 on the Volt is an EPA estimated all-electric range of 38 miles, which proved to be accurate, as the gas engine kicked in at just under 40 miles of all highway driving. The transition between electricity and gasoline is seamless, a positive point for the Volt, as the car seems to try and disguise what exactly is going on under its sheet metal. Rarely does the small 1.4-liter gas unit ever muster much of a roar while cruising, helping to give a smooth, confident, almost calming demeanor to the Volt. Even once all the stored electricity was depleted, climbing up Wachusett mountain in rural Massachusetts was handled well by the Volt’s torque, with more than enough to accelerate up-hill.
Climbing the mountain was the first time the small gas engine started to breathe hard, emitting a wheezy and whiny tone that began to degrade the soothing character of the car. Though wind noise was never a concern, sound deadening between the passenger compartment and the engine would prove to keep the interior a calm, quiet environment.
NEW ‘HOLD’ MODE ADDS MORE EV MILES
Descending offered a chance to test out the new-for-2013 “Hold” mode, which stores electricity until the driver chooses to use it. Riding lightly on the brakes the whole time to help the regenerative brake system store up some juice, the stored electricity powered the car for about five minutes, but not for a full hour later when we chose to turn off “Hold.” Using this feature properly can ensure maximum efficiency.
While meandering through the hills felt great, they also uncovered another issue. The very low plastic lip on the front of the Volt, which helps it achieve its impressive aerodynamic drag rating of 0.28 cd, scrapes the road at every serious incline.
It’s hard to deny that the look is both handsome and eye catching. Adding to the look for 2013 are a body-colored roof and rear hatch.
CALMING, SPACIOUS CABIN
Inside, the green and blue color scheme throughout the cabin is calming while the two crystal clear LCD screens continue that theme while hinting at just how hi-tech this car is. Wrapping through the dash is a sweeping plastic and chrome curve that pushes into rounded white-plastic indents in the doors, giving the Volt some character beyond a commuter car.
Trying to keep the unique looks going throughout the car, the stylized center stack is rather confusing the first time you look at it and try out the small touch sensitive icons. Seeming like design got the best of ergonomics at first, after a week, knowing where everything is comes naturally.
We grew to like the touch sensitive little icons, which never failed, and do give the whole stack a nice clean finish.
A clever layout inside allows for a decent amount of storage as well, with a glovebox, small closeable compartment on the dash and a pass-through storage area placed in front of the gear shift. The only downfall of this setup is, occasionally, if you have something stiff in the center pass-through storage area, it will interfere with the changing of gears.
The ample interior storage also carries through to the hatchback style trunk. Once we arrived, and it was time to unload, the usefulness of the hatch became apparent, as it is easy to reach the entire cargo area, even if you are of shorter stature.
SMALL GAS TANK CAN MEAN FREQUENT FILL-UPS
Depending upon your height and how far back you sit, the B-pillar can create a rather large blind spot, though it’s nothing that regular shoulder checks can’t fix. The seats are a little firmer than they could be, but offer a nice amount of upper-back support. Still, so far as a road trip car, the Volt’s smooth, calm nature coddled us as we carried on down the road, though 250 miles into the trip, another issue popped up.
The small gas tank in the car isn’t exactly what you want for the optimal road trip. Each fill up got about 250 miles, meaning that we had to stop and fill up twice on the way down. Pumping gas on the side of the highway on a cold and rainy day, grumbling that the Volt is supposed to help you avoid situations just like this, certainly soured the experience.
Easily the biggest surprise on the Volt is the steering and suspension setup. When thrown into the corners, that Volt actually hunkers down quite well, and suffers from less understeer than you might expect. Steering feel itself is a little light, but considering this is not a performance car, it does a darn good job keeping it together when you push it. Combined with the torque at take off, the Volt can actually be a decent amount of fun.
DISAPPOINTING FUEL ECONOMY
Easily the biggest disappointment was our final observed fuel mileage. Over a 1,260 mile trip that included interstate driving, big city driving, and only one charge which was depleted in the first 30 minutes, our average combined fuel economy was 33 mpg.
If you travel less than 40 miles a day, with occasional trips to grandmas, the Volt can work for you. If you put on a lot of miles in a week, and don’t have hours of time to stop and charge up, it wont.
With a unique, charismatic design, an engaging drive and exceptional fuel-economy around town the Volt excels as a commuter or every day car. For day-to-day use it’s possible to use little or even no gas, though when it comes to “going the distance” fuel economy is less than impressive. Had we tried this drive in any other electric car, however, we’d still be on the road somewhere charging up.