Chevy Volt Test Drive Review

Chevy Volt Test Drive Review

Posted 07.25.2012 in Articles by Dan

The Chevrolet Volt is not only GM's most popular EV model but is also the top selling EV in the US. For our test drive of one of the most popular EVs, we had the chance to take a 2012 model out for a spin. The plug-in hybrid is loved by it's owners and we decided to take the Volt to its limits to see everything it offered and how the extended range electric stood up against pure EVs.

The Volt sets itself apart from the Nissan Leaf and the forthcoming EV crowd: It has a gas engine that can step in to extend the Volt’s range when the battery’s energy is depleted. This is why GM calls the Volt an “extended-range electric vehicle,” and the dual-power-source arrangement makes a lot of sense at a time when there’s precious little charging infrastructure. Currently, 48 of 50 states have fewer than 10 charging stations, and even California’s relative abundance of 422 pales in comparison to its roughly 10,400 gas stations. In other words, it’s going to be some time before charging while at work or out on the town becomes the norm; for now, EVs’ batteries will be replenished largely at home. And with maximum ranges in the 100-mile neighborhood, good luck with any long- or even moderate-distance travel. And forget about having a pure electric as your only vehicle.

And although the Volt has both a gas engine and two electric motors—one primarily to power the wheels and a second to generate electricity from the gas engine—it is unlike any gas-electric hybrid on the road today: If charged sufficiently, it can operate continuously, at any speed, as an EV, without ever needing to switch on the gas engine.

This is but a glimpse into the Volt’s complexity and why, after six weeks of electric-only operation, the Volt will start to ask the driver via the instrument panel if it’s okay to switch on the gas engine for a bit to keep it fresh. And the Volt makes sure to burn through a tank of fuel each year to ensure it never gets stale.

Behind the wheel, however, it all operates seamlessly. Hit the glowing blue start button, and the seven-inch LCD-screen instrument panel, like the one used for the standard navigation, comes to life. It presents an estimated electric-only range, a gas range, and a total of the two. To the right is a graphic that provides driving feedback; the Volt is operating most efficiently when the spinning, green ball of  leaves stays in the middle. Hit the gas too hard, and the ball elevates, shrinks, and turns yellow. Go for too much brake, and the ball does the opposite, slinging downward because energy that could have otherwise been recaptured regeneratively is being wasted. It’s a very straightforward and easy-to-follow setup. The center screen above the array of touch-sensitive controls on the dash keeps track of electrically and gas-driven miles separately, displays fuel economy (more on that later), and rates the efficiency of  your driving.

Whether or not the gas engine is running, the Volt always has an EV-like demeanor. Beyond its impressive powertrain, the Volt drives surprisingly well, with a reassuringly steady suspension. The electric power steering is light but direct on-center, adding weight in proportion to angle. It’s neither totally natural nor terribly off-putting.


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