No car in the last decade has been talked about more than the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. Had the recession and subsequent bailout not occurred, the Volt might have ended up as a one-off, Chevrolet's attempt to throw its hat into the electric/alternative fuel ring. Instead, the first-ever production extended-range vehicle became their saving grace, and its success lies in its unique power range and impressive quality.
To lay any confusion to rest, the Volt is both an electric car and a hybrid. The former's power comes from a lithium-ion battery pack and electric motor combination that switches over to a hybrid mode when the charge has been depleted, after about 40 miles. The car then uses a small 1.4-liter engine to power the wheels, charging the battery when braking or coasting and using battery power when available. Charging is a simple affair, and on a standard outlet it will take about 10-12 hours, while a 240-volt outlet can fully charge the battery in about four hours.
The impact of the Volt’s greater importance has greatly overshadowed the actual car, which is surprisingly comfortable, good-looking and informative too, thanks in part to all the cool power usage and efficiency displays you can flick through on the standard touchscreen interface. Details (is it an electric car? a hybrid? what’s the actual mpg?) may have been haggled over for seemingly years now, so it’s easy to forget that the Volt is, at its core, simply a good vehicle.
What's to Like
Interior styling is high quality, and the futuristic, button-free instrument panel looks new without seeming too alien. The switch between electric mode and gas power is as seamless as we've ever experienced. The extended-range concept is the right one for America; you'll be able to run around town and commute without using a drop of gas, but you can hit the road for a family road trip, no problem.
What's Not to Like
The Volt's not cheap, even with the $7500 tax credit, and much like iPhone devotees, you'll pay a premium for being an early adopter. The estimated range of 25-50 miles per charge of pure electric power isn't much, especially considering the charging time. Having just four seats instead of five limits its functionality. The rear hatch cover is cheap. The small engine makes a lot of noise when it's revved.
Most people will be surprised to find that the Volt drives similarly to many cars on the road, except that when you start it up, it's completely silent. The car chimes to let you know it's on, and then you can glide off to your destination. Steering has an electric feel to it, but it's direct. Visibility can be an issue though, with the sloped rear hatch, there's a ...