Chevy Volt a technological marvel, but electric car still expensive
LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Imagine using less than a litre of gasoline while driving nearly 140 kilometres in a roomy four-seat sedan loaded up with all the features buyers want including heated leather seats and navigation.
Behind the wheel of the technological marvel known as the Chevrolet Volt, a driver doesn't have to imagine. This electric sedan, powered by a 16-kWh lithium ion battery, has a range (depending upon speed, of course) when fully charged of about 71 kilometres.
When the electric well runs dry, the Volt has a 1.4-litre gasoline-fueled Ecotec generator with variable valve timing — not engine, but generator — to provide power to one of two electric drive motors at city speeds. At highway speeds, the gas generator also helps provide propulsion while working with the smaller electric motor to replace energy used by the Volt's battery.
Sound complicated? You're not kidding but the simple fact is a driver, by managing daily commuting, could theoretically never use a drop of gasoline until the need to hit the highway for a longer journey. And thanks to the gas generator and a fuel tank of 35 litres (9.3 gallons), the Volt has a total possible range of about 580 kilometres depending on speed and driving conditions.
With prices starting at about $41,545 for a base Volt and reaching almost $50,000 for a Volt fully loaded with rearview camera, heated leather seats, navigation system and Bose premium six-speaker sound system, this is not a car buyers will choose to just save fuel.
For half the price, a buyer could get a Chevrolet Cruze Eco with a turbocharged 1.4-litre inline four cylinder engine that delivers fuel economy of 39 mpg city and 61 mpg highway.
That doesn't compare, though, to the 387 mpg I achieved in a day of driving the Volt, using premium gasoline only briefly before plugging the car into a regular 120-volt outlet for a 10-hour recharge. An optional 240-volt charging station can cut that time down to four hours.
A Volt owner will not only be fairly affluent, but that person will also have a keen environmental awareness and an ability to make the most of the Volt's electric range.
With my own driving habits, I could theoretically save about $2,600 a year if I only drove the Volt. During an exercise to simulate my daily routine, I drove roughly 48 kilometres which includes an extra five thrown in just to be safe. That would still leave me more than 20 km a day before the gas generator kicks in.
With 273 lb. ft. of torque, the Volt does not drive like a leather-covered golf cart. This car jumps off the line with immediate — albeit silent acceleration. At highway speeds, the Volt is as smooth as the Cruze upon which it's based. At city speeds, the Volt is whisper-quiet except when a compressor cranks up the air conditioning which can be set at different modes to maximize electric range.
If not for its futuristic instrumentation, the Volt would seem at first glance a high-end compact luxury car. Unlike the Cruze, it only seats four because of the space needed under the floor for the lithium ion battery which consists of 288 separate cells that are heated and cooled for stronger performance in cold and heat.
The Volt utilizes a continuously variable transmission which is one of the best I've ever used — completely seamless and exceptionally responsive even when driving up steep inclines. Braking system is regenerative with electro-hyraulic discs. And, of course, those discs have ABS.
The Volt also features electronic all-speed traction control and StabiliTrak electronic stability control. Suspension is independent up front and semi-independent in the back.
The Volt is spacious and comfortable with a tilt and telescoping steering wheel and a driver's perch which is among the most inviting in the business.
Even taller passengers will fit comfortably on one of the two back bucket seats despite the sloping roofline. I know because a lanky graphic artist rode shotgun for awhile and he didn't complain once thanks to the Volt's 33.9 inches of rear legroom.
Most features a buyer would want in a luxury car can be found in the Volt which offers not only comfort but an indescribable level of coolness thanks to its electric power.
The Volt has a normal filler door for putting in premium gas at the rear right of the car. The electric outlet is at the front left with a power cord stored neatly under the cargo floor along with an air compressor in case flat tires need to be filled (the Volt carries no spare).
Under the Volt's hood are easily marked containers for oil, coolant and brake fluid but drivers won't recognize a normal engine.
Standard features include keyless entry, remote starter and a perimeter key. Foglights, eight airbags, automatic climate control, interior ambient lighting, steering-wheel mounted audio and Bluetooth controls and a seven-inch configurable LCD screen with driver information centre.
With the perimeter key, a driver just keeps the fob in pocket and can unlock doors by pressing a button. To start (and stop) the Volt, a driver presses a blue power button on the dashboard which sparks, so to speak, the LCD screens to illuminate.
For the right reasons and with the budget, the Volt could be a real alternative to a normal car. Chevrolet is certainly on the right track by putting the Volt into showrooms. With longer battery life and lower prices, cars such as the Volt could dominate the marketplace. Like computers and flat-screen televisions, hopefully the technology will become inexpensive enough to make cars like the Volt the norm on city streets instead of the exception.