Monday, 30 April 2012 3:04 PM
The Chevrolet Volt recently won the Car of the Year 2012; a top automotive industry prize, just ahead of the VW up!. The keen-eyed among you will have noticed that the Chevy Volt is intrinsically the same car as the Vauxhall Ampera, although each car will be offered at different prices and different specs by their respective brands. It’s the Volt we’re trying out today.
The essential technology under the Volt bodywork is what the manufacturer calls an “Extended Range Electric Vehicle”, or E-REV, and it’s driven almost all of the time with an electric motor and lithium-ion batteries via a the front wheels, unless it hits a very steep hill when the engine then lends a hand.
However, should the batteries go flat, an onboard generator in the shape of a 1.4-litre petrol engine powers-up the batteries and extends the car’s range – using petrol in a small tank - to around 300 miles. Electric–only range is around 30 miles and the Volt can be fully charged in between 4 and 6 hours, depending on the type of charger.
So, it’s an electric vehicle with petrol engine back-up and mains charging capability, and is designed to combat the fear of running out of electricity generally associated with fully all-electric vehicles. And if you have a short commute each day, you may need only charge it up via the mains; never burning any (expensive!) petrol.
The Chevrolet Volt costs £34,995 OTR – or £29,995 with the £5,000 UK Government plug-in grant applied – and is available from a handful of specialised Chevrolet dealers across the UK. The aim of this TotallyMotor test drive is to see if the Volt really is a fully frugally-minded car that you actually can use every day.
Chevrolet Volt first drive review
Well, the Chevy Volt looks suitably spacey for its high-tech pretensions. Super-clean, plenty of sculpted body lines, and distinctly Tron-like lighting, especially at the rear. However, it’s still a 5-door hatchback car-shape that we all recognise, just one that’s been a future-styled. The only issue with future-styling cars is the longevity of the design. Ultra-modern styling can date quickly, but we won’t know about that until we've had the Volt cruise our streets for a few years.
The TotallyMotor test car is presented in Viridian Joule – a very pale metallic green - and this spacey-sounding shade will add a further £995 to the price of your Volt. Colours that don’t cost extra are good ol’ black and white. Also topping up the options ticks are the polished 17-inch wheels at £490. They look good in the sun, though.
Into the interior:
And the space-race continues inside the Volt with lots of white surfaces, a gear-shifter that recesses into the centre console and more colour screens and groovy graphics than a teenage PlayStation party.
Is the colour white spacey when used in a car’s interior? Well, there is a lot of it in this Volt. The black leather seats get a fair dash of it which lifts them nicely – I found them comfortable, too – but the dashboard is liberally painted in the most clinical of shades.
The white does give the Volt a look all its own but I’d wonder how pristine it would look once the kiddies have finished prodding, and the soft-touch centre console buttons take some getting used to. At one point during the drive, as a passenger, I brushed a button – I have no idea which one – and turned the whole display off!
The driver’s display is a lot of fun – quite in-keeping with the latest eco-cars – and part of the driving game is to keep your hovering green ball to the right of the screen within its eco-parametres. It teaches you the qualities of smooth throttle control and predictive driving to use as little energy as possible, and that’s a good thing. Just remember to watch the road from time to time!
So, really, the crux of this matter is whether or not we can use the Chevy Volt as an every day commuter and shopper and kiddies-getter, without fear of getting stranded and with reasonable performance for the motorway. And the short answer is, yes.
The Volt pulls away about as quickly as your average fossil fuel-fuelled automatic car, with a decent dollop of instant torque – that’s the joy of big electric motors – so you can pull out of junctions safely and even go for the odd overtake.
It’s quiet – of course – and the acceleration is seamless as there are no gears, just a motor that spins faster and faster as you need it. And while the Volt does drive like a conventional car, you will feel the substantial weight of the batteries through the hard-working suspension, should you decide to hustle through some twistys.
I managed about 30 miles of normal driving on all-electric power and then the petrol motor (quietly) kicked in to generate power for the batteries. As the picture that I took when parking the Volt shows, I travelled 112 miles in that day – no night time lights, heater or A/C used here – and averaged 78.6mpg after running out of battery-stored electricity about 30 miles in and switching to petrol-powered electricity generation. And, the display shows another 210 miles left in total range, should I have used all the petrol in the tank.
Now, Chevy quote a combined economy of 235.4mpg, but I’m not sure what conditions and driving style you’d need to reach this hugely impressive figure. Bare in mind though that if your journey is 30 miles or less - and you have a charging opportunity – you can use the Volt as a plug-in EV and you won't even look at your mpg.
Still, over 70mpg is a great economy figure, but we’d have to drain the fuel tank to see what it would truly end up at, and I don’t know what mpg you’d get if you drove the Volt all day without charging it first; using the petrol engine to power the batteries and hence the electric motor.
In short, the all-day-car potential is there with the Volt and you won’t suffer range anxiety if you’ve got a full charge and a full tank of gas. Use it as it was designed – with as much mains charging as possible and a gentle driving style – and you could well be laughing all the way away from the pricy petrol pumps, but you will need to focus your journeys and driving style around the car. But, for most early adopters of this newest car tech, that’s what going greener is all about.
Ten second sum up:
The Chevrolet Volt dispenses with the range anxiety associated with purely electric vehicles, but it does so by burning fossil fuels; use it as a plug-in EV as much as you can. It’s got a funky full-size interior and a spacey exterior, so could suit a green-leaning family, or, with its CO2 stats, it's surely a fleet manager’s best friend. But, after one day behind the wheel, I’m not sure how to hit the 235mpg claimed economy target.
Prices and availability:
The Chevrolet Volt is range starts at £34,995 OTR, or £29,995 including the £5,000 UK Government plug-in grant. Available now.
Volt's end-of-the-day economy stats were 78.6mpg after 112 miles, with 210 miles left in the tank. Around 30 miles were completed from fully charged batteries
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