Driving the Chevrolet Volt

by Ernie Hernandez on January 11, 2012

Chevrolet Volt

At the San Diego Auto Show

The Chevrolet Volt has been out for just over a year, so we figured it was about time that we finally drove one. We had an opportunity to do just that at the San Diego Auto Show.

Chevrolet markets the Volt as an extended-range electric vehicle. That is actually marketing spin for a vehicle otherwise known as a plug-in hybrid. An electric vehicle uses battery power to turn an electric motor, which in turn moves the vehicle down the road. We consider the Volt to be a plug-in hybrid because after it has been driven a certain distance and the battery pack has used up its juice, an on-board gasoline engine is fired up to propel the car further down the road. GM’s argument is that the gasoline engine is acting as a generator, producing electricity to continue driving down the road. In our view, you are still burning gasoline to produce power so it should rightfully be considered a hybrid. We will let you sort out the semantics for yourself.

Our longest running gripe of the Volt is not actually that it is a hybrid, but that it only seats four. We personally have a family of five so this could never work for us as our family car. Then again, neither could a Mini Cooper or any other four-passenger vehicle. We see this as being a potentially limiting factor to many households that might otherwise have considered the Volt.

If the seating configuration is adequate for your needs, you will find the Volt to be a good looking car (in our view) with good fit, finish and materials throughout. The seats are comfortable, the needed controls fall readily to hand, and it took no real thought to make the car do what you wanted to. In other words, GM has worked out the ergonomics relatively well. Where the LEAF offers the confusing mouse control for the transmission drive selection, Chevy offers a more traditionally designed shifter mechanism to which most drivers will not have to give a second thought.

Our drive was short, but we did have an opportunity to evaluate acceleration, and a bit of handling with a quick lane-change maneuver. Acceleration was brisk, as expected. Steering response was direct and again, in line with expectations. While we did not really get an opportunity to evaluate the handling of the Volt, what little that we did experience seemed to be adequate to the task.

What we were disappointed with was the knowledge (rather the lack thereof) of our right-front-seat host at the auto show. First, we were told that the Volt was all-wheel-drive (it is actually front-wheel drive). When we corrected our host, he then told us how amazed that we would be with the acceleration, because there was an electric motor for each front wheel (there is only one electric motor providing power to both wheels). At that point, we just gave up and pretty much tuned out anything else that he had to offer. We would caution you to take the offered brochure and read it, or do your research online rather than rely on the (mis)information of the ill-informed temporary workers at the auto show drive circuit.

Overall, we must say that the Volt provided a pleasing drive experience. For many that want the look of a sedan, rather than the hatchback styling of the LEAF, Mitsubishi i or upcoming Focus Electric, the Volt just might suit your needs – if you can live with a four-seater.

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