Chevy Volt: A Hybrid Electric Muscle Car? Why, Yes!

by

2013-Chevrolet-Volt-005Recently several hundred leading innovators and innovative thinkers gathered in Camden, Maine for the annual PopTech conference, three days of ideas that are changing our world. So, I thought it only appropriate to drive there in a car that is also taking on conventions and changing the way we think about cars: The Chevy Volt.
My second time driving the Volt, I delighted in having it to myself for the 350 mile trip to Camden: no kids commandeering the SiriusXM satellite radio (ahhh… a full day in the car without hearing Gangnam Style!). But once in Camden, I took the opportunity to have a few of my co-conferees to examine and drive the Volt. Of course, most people at the meeting had experience with gas/electric hybrids, yet the curiosity about the Volt was high: everyone wanted to know about its charging capability, its design, and how it drives. Frankly, before I drove it, I wasn’t all that curious: I expected a light, boring drive, like a golf cart but heftier.

Charge and Gas door releaseButtons to open the charge and gas doors are tucked inside the driver’s side door panelI was surprised, and really, really delighted: Volt is a muscle car for the new millennium. It combines a macho sporty feel with green engine technology and ‘Hollywood light and magic’ view of the instrument panel to create a satisfying drive experience and a higher consciousness about how we drive. The Volt has a wide, beefy stance on substantial 17 inch wheels, its profile is muscular and its ego is sure and confident: it satisfies the driver’s need for a solid driving experience. The machismo continues inside: every passenger is cradled in bucket seats (don’t skip the leather option, you’ll regret it), conveniences and amenities are ample–from the three charge ports to plenty of cup holders and even a storage console between the back seats–and the car’s instrument panel and media console are as if conceived by Hollywood. The cabin, despite the car’s low profile, is open, airy and comfortable.

But technology is the star here: the plug-in engine adds 35 electric miles to the gas engine’s 340 (at 37-40 MPG) ultra low emission miles per tank, the instrument panel has animated gages, performance indicators, sound effects, tutorials and readout options, and the media console is an iPad-like display of radio, navigation and more. All this added up to some very impressed guests.

Volt Storage spacesMaybe my favorite feature: a compartment for keys, phone or other small items is beside the shifter in the center consoleMy first drive was with Deborah von Donop, a friend and neighbor who asked for a quick ride when she saw the car (as the small world would have it, she formerly designed dealership showrooms for Toyota). Looking for a car to replace her kid-friendly Land Rover, she was interested in the Volt’s economy and comfort; in her next car she would very much like a car that is easy on the gas bill and also contributes fewer emissions to the atmosphere. Dealer incentives caught her eye, and she was pretty sure her school-aged sons would be as mesmerized by the Volt’s instrument panel as we were.

Next, my friend Bill Gloede, a Maine restaurateur who is knowledgeable about cars, was my passenger for a short drive. He was impressed with the Volt’s capable handling and power, and also the roomy interior. As soon as he got into the car he pushed the passenger seat all the way back and noted that the car was comfortable for his 6’2” frame. And, like everyone else, he was wowed at the Volt’s instrument panel.

During the conference I had the job of driving the Volt to an event at the Owls Head Transportation Museum with Sariah and Fred Abaroa as my passengers. Sariah loved the Volt’s technology, especially the Pandora and Stitcher apps that load up when a smartphone is connected. Fred found the back seat comfortable and the technology intriguing; as a SmartCar driver, he was impressed by the Volt’s smooth acceleration and handling, and its quiet engine, even though we were operating on the gas engine at the time.

Volt Ped WarningSo smart: a pedestrian warning horn–a softer, shorter tone– gets the attention of people who are nearby but can’t hear the Volt’s engineI also had two guest drivers: Julie Hayes, who lives in Boulder, Colorado, and has deep roots in Detroit, had heard about the Volt but not yet seen one; she was curious to take it for a drive. She’d had experiences with Prius and other hybrids, and the Volt was surprising to her. She appreciated the driving experience, its handling, and the magic of its instrument panel. But the notion that electric hybrids don’t look or feel like other cars has been engrained in our minds, and Julie struggled with this.
“Why would you buy this car versus a Prius?” she wondered aloud.
“Because it feels like a sports car, and because it feels like an American car,” I told her.
“Ahaaaa…” she said as she took it in. The Volt is distinctly American in both its outward command of the road and its innovative take on instrument displays. Julie also liked the flexibility of the Volt’s hatchback and fold down seats; it is perfect for hiking, climbing or other sports gear, though she questioned its ability in snow; its low ground clearance could be a challenge.

My next guest driver was Eric McNulty, a writer, thought leader and blogger from Brookline, Massachusetts. Eric drove the Volt from Camden to Boston, and found the car fun, responsive and comfortable (he is 6’3”). Eric noted that charging the Volt in his neighborhood may be a challenge since he lives in an urban setting of apartment buildings and brownstones. He wrote about his experience driving the Volt here.

Opinions about the Volt aside, there is one that trumps them all: Volt drivers may rarely visit a gas station and with daily charging, can see substantial savings: estimates of the cost to charge the volt range from .75 to $1.50 per charge, while the gasoline cost of that sa
me 40 miles is currently about $4. Monthly, assuming the Volt is charged daily, that adds up to $30 versus $120, or about a third of the monthly car payment.

What We Love:
-8 year/100,000 mile hybrid battery warranty
-5 year/100,000 mile power train warranty
-Gas AND electric engine means you’re not stuck if your battery charge runs out
-Electric engine recharges the battery during braking and shuts down the gas engine when idling
-Hollywood lights and magic instrument panel and media console–very cool way to look
at your car’s functions; see it here
-Price of the Chevy Volt: about $42,000 for the model reviewed here (base price is about $39,000) which is offset by substantial discounts and incentives,
totaling about $10,000
-Tire sealant and inflator kit that replaces the spare tire
-Great storage spaces including an umbrella compartment (!)
-Bucket seats in the back
-Hatchback design with fold flat rear seats and a roomy cabin
-Great electric range–35 miles on a charge
-Three 120V charge ports, USB port that also charges your device
-Even driving mostly on gas I averaged nearly 50 MPG
-Nine gallon tank means no price shock at the pump: It only costs about $35 to fill!

What You Need to Know:
-Requires premium gas
-Sight lines take getting use to; rear camera option is good to have
-Battery takes 12 hours to charge with regular household outlet (120V) or six hours with
oversized 240V outlet (the type a dryer uses)
-Charger for the car is included (and has a very, very long cord)
-Charging is best in an enclosed garage; charging can be challenging in an urban setting. See how it works here
-The car’s low clearance means it may be a challenge in snow and ice

 Disclosure: Chevrolet provided the 2012 Volt for our review; opinions expressed here are all our own.