Denver Auto Show

After much begging and pleading, I finally got to do an extended test drive of a Chevrolet Volt.  The car came courtesy of a controversial article I did on TorqueNews.com comparing it to the Volkswagen Passat TDI.  Needless to say, I didn’t hold back on the Volt in that article and it piqued General Motors’ interest enough to get me a phone call and eventually a loaner.

Of course, this means I entered the Volt with a lot of preconceived notions.  This wasn’t my first time with one of these gasoline electrics, of course.  I’ve sat in and ridden in and driven one around the block before.  I even know people who own them.

Three Hangups

Right off the bat, here are the three hangups I have with this car:

  1. Bailouts.  This is a stigma that GM will have a very hard time living down and the Volt is at the forefront of that derision.  It will likely forever be known as the “Bailout Mobile.”  This is hard to look past.
  2. It costs $ 40,000 for this car.  It’s not a luxury car.  Not even close.  The one I received for testing had a sticker price over $ 45,000 (all the fittings).  The Volt is nice, but not $ 40,000 nice.
  3. It only seats 4 and then just barely.  The battery pack goes right up the center of the vehicle, forcing the rear seats to be buckets instead of a bench.  Between that and the limited cargo space behind, there really isn’t much room in there.

Those three things are, to me, a group of big problems for the car to overcome.  Frankly, I don’t think GM will be able to do it with the Volt.  Perhaps in a generation or two, but not with the current version.

Who the Volt Is For

Here’s the kicker, though: if you live in an urban or suburban environment, routinely commute to work alone, and are economically in the middle or upper income bracket, this car is made for you.  As a second car for a commuter or an only car for a single person or new couple, it’s awesome.

That’s because this car is built specifically for someone who drives less than 20 miles each way per day, but may occasionally want to go further to get to grandma’s house or hit the beach for the weekend.

That means that if, like me, you live in rural Wyoming.. the car is definitely not for you.  Especially if you have two children still in car seats.  Four of us in this car was not a great fit.

Style

One thing about the Volt, though, is that is has a great look.  It’s a beautiful car, in its way, and is very stylistic.   It’s based on the popular low-end Cruze compact sedan, but has a lot of little touches that set it apart.  The headlights are cooler looking, the profile is the same sleek swoop, but the tail end is a little more sporty on the Volt.  Tiny touches like chrome and the black “solar” rooftop make it unique.

Inside, it’s very well fitted and this test model had all the bells and whistles.  The Volt comes standard with 3 years of OnStar, which is nice, but otherwise is pretty basic.  It’s more up-fit inside than the Cruze, of course.  One complaint about the interior is the seats, which even with the top line leather and cushion, were not comfortable for my 6-foot 3-inch frame.  My wife and a couple of my friends who took rides with me liked the interior, though, so mostly my complaint is just a big people thing.

The Drive

The Volt is smooth to drive, especially in all-electric mode.  One thing you have to get used to, though, is its exceedingly low clearance.  The car does not clear much.  Also, if you’re a “window down, enjoy the breeze” type like me, when you hit around 30 miles per hour or so, a horrible helicopter chopping happens inside the car.  It drowns out everything else and can only be stopped by closing the window.

Cornering and handling are good, but not great.  Even with its low-slung battery pack, the Volt has a pull on hard corners that is noticeable.  It’s acceleration is OK, but this is no race car (anyone who expects it to be is in the wrong car anyway).

The Volt did well on the freeway and open highway, though there is some road noise due to its being so low to the ground.  It accelerates and moves well at highway speeds, though, and with our speed limits of 75mph, it had no troubles.

Overall Assessment

If you can afford to buy one and live in an area where this car shines, then it’s a good choice.  Honestly, though, for the price and the potential savings (e.g. gasoline), you might break even on a 5-year lease.  Where I live, the Volt is a cost loser in that regard because you won’t save enough fuel at 37mpg highway (despite the first 35 or so miles being all-electric) to justify the expense of the car.

When you add in that country driving will inevitably involve dirt/gravel roads, bumpy streets (and deep gutters for runoff) as well as the impracticality of this small vehicle, it’s not a good choice for rural and sub-suburban folks.  Families with children should not expect this to be a primary car either.

Specifications, As Tested:

  • Final Assembly in Detroit, Hamtramck (46% USA, 18% Korea, misc.)
  • Base price $ 39,145 without tax credits (federal or state), plus destination
  • As tested: $ 45,170 without tax credits (federal or state), destination included
  • 8 year / 100,000 mile warranty on battery and Voltec components
  • 5 year / 100,000 mile warranty on powertrain (not including Voltec)
  • 37mpg highway gasoline only (premium 91 octane or higher fuel only)
  • EPA rated 94mpge in all-electric
  • Engine: 1.4-liter gasoline
  • Electric motor output: 149hp / 273 lb-ft torque

Gasoline-Electric Cars

This entry was posted in Car Show