By on November 10, 2010

We’ve been hearing about the Chevrolet Volt for so long that it’s hard to believe that it is finally here. Or almost here. Close enough for a preview drive. And?

I never expected the Volt to look like the obviously impractical original concept. Similarly, I was not surprised that the production Volt resembles a prettified Prius, since the Toyota’s styling so successfully communicates its advanced technology to the general population. The most questionable aspect of the exterior design: the ultra-wide glossy black beltline moldings. They’re intended to disguise the small size of the side windows. Why not just make the windows larger? Because this would increase the load on the battery-powered AC.

Does the Volt’s interior seem like that of a $33,500 (post tax credit) car? Well, no. I was more impressed by the materials and workmanship of the much more conventional interior in the related, much less expensive, conventionally powered Cruze. But the Volt’s interior is distinctively styled, effectively communicates the car’s technology, and is significantly nicer than the interior in the Prius. If the Prius interior is good enough for a nearly $27,000 car (with nav)—and sales suggest that it is—then the Volt’s is good enough for a $33,500 car. Don’t care for the glossy white iPodish trim? Then get the dark trim instead. The reconfigurable LCD displays seem to provide a wealth of information, including a grade on your driving style (92 while I was trying to behave). But they provide no clear indication of when braking is hard enough to engage the conventional brakes (reducing efficiency). Also, no report of miles per kW-h while running off electricity. According to the GM exec in the back seat, few people desire such numerical statistics. Though GM will be adding features in the future—the Volt will be a work in progress. And more detailed reports are already available on the Internet, where the Volt regularly uploads data via OnStar. The controls on the center stack are the touch-sensitive type that recently debuted in the 2011 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX. Whether or not you like them—I do—they’re the future. The oddest bit among the various odd bits of the interior: you must reach into a cave at the base of the center stack to grasp the shifter when it’s in Park.

The rake of the distant windshield is reasonable, obviating the need for windowlettes ahead of the doors. In the current GM fashion, the A-pillars are thick, if not quite to the point where they reduce safety more than they enhance it. Rearward visibility is considerably worse—the optional Park Assist Package is highly recommended. The front seats don’t feel as substantial or as solidly upholstered as those in the Cruze, but they do provide decent lateral support. Unlike in the Cruze, there’s only a single manual height adjustment, so the tilt of the seat cannot be adjusted. The rear seats are the weakest aspect of the car. Low to the floor, overly firm, and cramped, unless you’re a child (or the size of one) you won’t be comfortable. Cargo volume beneath the wiperless hatch is similarly marginal, but will do for typical around town errands. The Prius offers considerably more room for both rear passengers and cargo.

The Volt’s powertrain is more complex than previously imagined. Around town with the battery pack at a viable level of charge, the primary 149-horsepower electric motor-generator powers the car through a fixed gear ratio. At highway speeds this ratio becomes too short, so a second, smaller motor-generator engages the planetary gearset to reduce the ratio. Once the battery pack is depleted (figure 30-50 miles), a 84-horsepower 1.4-liter gas engine automatically starts. Around town it spins the smaller motor-generator to send power to the primary motor-generator via the battery pack. At highway speeds with the battery pack depleted, the second motor-generator again engages the planetary gearset to vary the transmission ratio, but now with the gas engine coupled to it. In this last mode the gas engine enjoys a mechanical connection to the front wheels. While this mechanical connection has purists a little perturbed, it is more efficient when running on gasoline. Personally, I’d prefer a mechanical connection at lower speeds for the same reason, though perhaps the powertrain design, with the engine only driving the planetary gearset through the smaller motor-generator, precludes this.

So, what does it all feel like? Surprisingly normal. I feared that a gas engine decoupled from the drivetrain and running to suit the needs of the battery would sound odd. Would the engine sometimes be racing while sitting at a traffic light? As it turns out, no. If anything, the Volt’s engine sounds less disconnected from the accelerator than that in the typical CVT-equipped conventional car. Transitions among the various modes are not only smoother than those in the Prius or Ford Fusion Hybrid, but are nearly undetectable. In some situations the engine might be a little too undetectable, as it sometimes generates a low frequency rumble right at the edge of perception. A barely perceptible noise can be more annoying than one a bit louder.

GM suggests that, given the high torque output of the primary motor-generator, the Volt feels about as strong at low speeds as a V6-powered sedan. Well, not really. But even with four adults aboard the Volt does feel considerably more energetic than a Prius, and almost as quick as the Ford Fusion Hybrid. Three driving modes are available, including one for mountains and “sport.” I detected little difference between normal and sport, apparently because my foot was too heavy. The modes make the most difference with the pedal less than half way to the floor. Moving the shifter from D to L aggressively engages brake-energy regeneration whenever you lift off the accelerator, nearly eliminating the need to use the brake pedal. I found this too aggressive for typical around town driving, but it would no doubt be welcome on a hilly road.

Only the first five miles of my drive were on battery power—there hadn’t been much time for a recharge since the car’s previous outing. I then babied the car for a while, and achieved about 35 MPG. The second half of my drive—when I was seeking the claimed V6-like low-speed performance—burned a gallon of gas every 28 miles. These figures are about five MPG short of the Fusion Hybrid when subjected to similar (mis)treatment, and about 10 to 15 MPG short of the Prius. GM envisioned the gas engine as backup power which most owners would not need often, so it was optimized for cost not fuel economy. They also talk about improving this aspect of the Volt in future iterations, with just about anything a potential future power source.

The biggest surprise: the Volt handles significantly better than either the Cruze or the Prius. GM has long demonstrated a talent for making cars feel larger and heavier than they actually are. With the Volt they’ve at long last accomplished the (for me at least) more desirable opposite. The steering isn’t exactly chatty, but through it even a fully occupied Volt feels light and agile, with minimal understeer, far exceeding my expectations. In contrast, even the latest Prius feels oddly heavy and pushes wide in turns. While the Volt is still certainly no sports car—even the Ford Fusion Hybrid feels a little sportier—it’ll serve well as a commuter. I sincerely hope the Volt team shares its chassis tuning tricks with the rest of GM.

Body motions are fairly well controlled, though some additional damping would be welcome. The Volt’s ride is a little firmer, busier, and noisier than that in the Cruze, but the Cruze rides better than anything else in its class. The Volt’s does ride better than the Prius and Fusion Hybrid. Among efficiency-maximizing alt-energy cars, this is about as good as it gets.

People have been critical of the Volt’s pricing, but a $7,500 tax credit brings the net MSRP down to $33,500. Nearly everything, including nav and the fancy displays, is standard. Options are limited to heated leather seats, the Park Assist Package, and polished wheels. TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool suggests that the Prius lists for about $4,000 less when both cars are equipped with leather, nav, and 17-inch alloys. A Ford Fusion Hybrid with nav lists for only $1,150 less. Adjust for feature differences (most notably a sunroof, unavailable on the Volt), and the Ford’s advantage increases to about $3,000. Adding leather to both cars adds about $1,000 to both figures—Ford kicks in additional savings when all of the boxes are checked. Three or four grand isn’t pocket change, but it seems reasonable for the Volt’s extended electric-only capability. Likely a better value: GM is offering a lease for $2,500 down and $350 a month.

So, my first drive of the Chevrolet Volt included a few surprises, nearly all of them to the upside. The largest: oddly enough, the handling. The powertrain most impressed with its normalcy. The largest disappointment: the small rear seat. GM has clearly put a great deal of thought and effort into this car, and achieved a much higher level of detailed execution and refinement than I thought possible just a few years ago. My personal commute extends all the way from the second floor of my home to the first. So no Volt for me. But if you daily spend an hour or two commuting, and the thought of expending no gas in the process excites you, then go ahead and get in line. At least initially, there’s likely to be one.

GM provided the vehicle, insurance and very little gasoline for this review

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

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76 Comments on “Review: 2011 Chevrolet Volt Take Two...”


  • avatar
    ott

    28 mpg doesn’t sound very impressive for ‘spirited driving’ (in a hybrid…)

  • avatar
    HoldenSSVSE

    Another overall positive view by TTAC – thank you Michael for the evaluation and the write up.  You’ve provided some great insight (no pun intended Honda) on Volt vs. Prius and Volt vs. Fusion.  Your endorsement, especially on the dollars and math has weight in my book.  With my commute being cut almost in half next month from 56 miles round trip to 32 miles round trip, and that 32 miles on 25 to 40 MPH rural and suburan roads, a Volt as a commuting car suddenly makes more sense in my house.  But I need to ponder the needs of four cars in the driveway for two adults and one teenager, even if one of those cars is a garage queen summer only toy.

  • avatar
    mikey

     Good review Michael….If you had a 15 mile commute in cold weather and you left out in the cold eight hours [not plugged] could you drive home on battery power?

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      It would probably depend if it was fully charged (or charging).

    • 0 avatar

      If I’m able to get one for a week this winter, I’ll let you know. The amount of electricity used by the heater could make a big difference. They also keep the battery within a fairly narrow temperature range. So battery capacity shouldn’t be significantly affected. But heating the battery requires electricity.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      If you charge on a night cold enough to trigger the therrnal management, theoretically it will take more than the usual 12 kwh (or whatever it is) to charge due to the power needed t o keep the battery at the minimum charge temps. If you do get one to test, try to get access to a power meter to measure the electricity needed to charge it. Electricity is not free and it’s important to include the charge numbers in any review.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    My read of this article says the Ford Fusion Hybrid gets better fuel economy, is a more spirited driver, has more interior room, and costs less.  Why would I buy a Volt?

    • 0 avatar

      The Volt would use no gas at all with the typical commute. It also looks and feels more special than the Fusion, and rides more smoothly.

      Reliability is an unknown variable. The Fusion Hybrid has been reliable so far. The Volt–very much remains to be seen. I hope we have enough owners involved soon enough to provide quick initial reliability stats on the car.

      To help with the Car Reliability Survey, with just about any car:

      http://www.truedelta.com/reliability.php

    • 0 avatar
      protomech

      The Ford Fusion Hybrid gets slightly better fuel economy once you exceed the window of battery-only operation. If you regularly drive much more than 30-35 miles at once or in a day, then the FFH will be more economical.
       
      The Volt’s draw is that 30-35 mile window of gas-free operation, with relatively economical operation on gas outside that window, as far as you want to go. Gas-free doesn’t mean money-free, of course; you’ll probably pay 3-5c/mile for electric power, vs 7-10c/mile for gas at today’s prices. But nevertheless, if you can displace 60% of your average driving onto the grid, that’s a huge amount of gas saved.
       
      If saving gas or the novelty of the car’s operation is unimportant, then it’s an expensive semi-practical chevy four door that will likely never pay back the up-front cost with cheaper operation. A Cruze or non-hybrid Fusion would be a better choice for a compact four door, as MK pointed out.

  • avatar
    brettc

    Nice review. It sounds like it could be useful for people that don’t have long commuting distances. Then there’s also the problem of getting a charging station for it at home. The touch screen controls look pretty neat but since it’s the first generation and everything’s unproven, I’d go for the lease option if I were to buy one (but I won’t). Instead I’ll keep my paid-for Jetta TDI.

  • avatar

    In all the Volt reviews I’ve read thus far I’ve seen a lot of comparisons to the Prius and Fusion hybrid, never the Honda Insight.  Just goes to show what a dud the Insight is…

  • avatar
    carguy

    Given that is has taken Toyota 3 model generations to get to the current Prius, the Volt actually looks like a decent first attempt. As a commuter, this makes surprising amounts of sense, particularly if you take GM up on the lease deal.

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

      Well, you could say Toyata got it pretty much right with the 2nd gen Prius, but I get your point.  Hope GM shows some stick-with-itness, it seems like a good start.  But then usually they make a good start, let it wither on the vine until it dies…

    • 0 avatar
      quiksilver180

      Good point. Though if you consider the EV-1 to be GM’s first attempt and the Volt being (a distant) number two (in a 15 year gap), it’s a few steps forward and a few steps back. But at least they are attempting to… I’m interested in the next version, though I don’t drive that often.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    The black plastic window sills are there instead of the extra windows below the beltline per the concept car design. And in usual GM manner, in the transformation between concept and reality, I guess they just thought that a couple of pieces of black plastic had to do instead.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I don’t know why they’re trying to duplicate a styling trick that would only work with immobile windows.  I don’t think anyone would have noticed their absence in the production car were the windows “normal”

    • 0 avatar
      Ingvar

      That’s my point. If the styling trick is not applicable, then change the trick to one that is. It’s a trick to achieve a look of something that isn’t doable. And it’s a fault of logic in the design process. If you think about the transformation from concept to car, there’s really nothing there besides some styling cues. It’s a whole different car with some concept design cues stamped on it. They could have made a more whole and coherent design if they had just dropped the thought of the concept altogether, and come up with something new that fitted the new design parameters. This looks badly executed and awfully cheap. In the same league as that black plastic insert in the C-pillar on the Chrysler Sebring.

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry, just repeating what one of the car’s chief designers told me. These really don’t look like extra windows. Instead, they’re trying to make the DLO (window opening) appear larger than it actually is. Kind of like eyeliner.

    • 0 avatar
      Ingvar

      I remembered it wrong, it’s a long time since I saw the concept in pictures. But here’s one:

      http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2008/09/17/automobiles/533-volt-concept.jpg

      The concept have a very high beltline with windows extending down into what would seem the door proper. It’s just a neat styling trick. High beltline + good visibility. Or you could say that it’s neither/nor. If they wanted the high beltline look, why extend the windows down? Anyway, it creates an interesting dichotomy, it’s a sort of visual conflict creating interest.

      Now, how is that transformed to the actual car? With a couple of pieces of black plastic extending down from the windowsill to the door. It’s not really the same thing…

    • 0 avatar
      celebrity208

      “And in usual GM manner”
      The CTS coupe is nearly identical to the concept.  Like it or love it the SSR is nearly identical to the concept.  The Camaro is nearly identical to the concept.  My point is that your generalization is not necessarily appropriate.  There are also the opposite examples (XLR was kinda a let down, but mostly it’s more of a shell game here’s a concept coupe and then they produce the corsica).

    • 0 avatar
      Ingvar

      Nevertheless, it’s an awfully cheap excuse for a non-applicable styling trick. High beltlines have nothing to do with heat loss, it’s just a fad. And that black plastic looks really really cheap.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not a matter of heat loss, but of how much sunlight gets into the car. Which might also explain why the windshield isn’t radically raked.

    • 0 avatar
      Ingvar

      Heat loss/solar gain, same/same. If that was the issue, the car would have a tank like turret top with gun slit windows. And not a freakin’ greenhouse over the luggage compartment.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    This will be very interesting.  I would imagine that in places like much of the west coast and Hawaii where the climate is moderate and gasoline is expensive, these may do very well for GM.  As a midwesterner, though, I live in a climate that demands both heat and air conditioning (and lots of them at certain times).  This may cause range problems in these climates.  I also suspect that a lot of the Hybrid allure is the ability to impress your friends and associates about the really high mileage numbers you get.  I wonder if the need to go into a 2 minute explanation of how the mileage is infinite for the first 15-30 miles before some really lackluster numbers kick in will hurt the car’s appeal.  I guess we will all find out.

    Really, this could be a perfect car for me, about 2/3 of the time.  I live exactly 1 mile from my office, so on many days, I drive under 3 miles.  I have found it much more economical to deal with this by buying a nice, older $2000 car.  Really, I would be hard pressed to justify $375/mo for a commute that should really involve my bike, if I am honest with myself.  Plus the fact that I periodically need a car for a 3-400 mile business trip, and I have to conclude that the Volt is too expensive and too restrictive for what I need.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Part of me is impressed that GM engineers have done such a good job putting this car together.  The other part is wondering where the bean counters forced them to cut corners that will result in this car grenading in a couple years.  Hopefully the 40 grand sticker price was enough to shield the Volt from the dreaded GM Scimitar of Cost (and Quality) Cutting.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    I am kind of happy this car is sort of performance oriented.
    I don’t know how this is decided since its zero to 60 is supposedly 11 seconds.

    However, and I know this will bring up the screwed up pro-government voices, BUT 7,500 DOLLARS OF CREDIT!!!!!

    Somebody please shoot me.!

    The whole world has turned into the most illogical, unfair playground for politically correct social intellectuals.

    Come on trash…tells how you really feel….

    • 0 avatar
      FleetofWheel

      Good point about any normal standard of comparison. The govt could put a $15,000 tax incentive on the Volt car if they deem that is needed for ‘fairness’.

    • 0 avatar
      HoldenSSVSE

      Errr, the Leaf gets the exact same $7500 credit.  So does a Tesla Roadster for that matter.  So will the electric Fiat 500.  So will the electric Ford Focus.  So will the Toyota RAV4 Tesla thingy if it ever gets built.

      The $7500 ‘guberment handout is not exclusive to the Volt.  Keep in mind that Prius buyers got thousands of dollars in tax credits just a few years ago, until the program limits were reached.  If you buy a Nissan Altima hybrid, you still get a similar, but smaller tax credit.  Lots of money getting slopped around to a lot of manufacturers.

    • 0 avatar
      FleetofWheel

      I thought it went without saying, but there are plenty of gas-only cars that will compete against these in the real world of consumers making a choice between gas, EVs and hybrids.

      Fat tax, sin tax, hybrid incentive, carrots and sticks to nudge the consumer.
       
       
       

    • 0 avatar

      The zero to 60 is about nine seconds, not 11.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      Michael…

      you are correct. 9.0 with both powerplants working together.
      9.2 electric alone.

      for some reason,i thought electric cars had a faster pick-up, better torque.
      must be that they are just so small.

    • 0 avatar
      darrelld

      I feel the same way about my tax dollars subsidizing the artificially low price of petroleum without factoring in the costs of war and oil company tax breaks.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    GM has long demonstrated a talent for making cars feel larger and heavier than they actually are.
     
    +1 it’s amazing how BIG an old A-body FWD can feel when your driving it, although back in 82 they did advertise the Chevrolet Celebrity as the “Small car that drives like a big car!”
     
    Please tell me there will be a “Take 3″ review of this sucker with Baruth behind the wheel!  Send him from Ohio to Las Vegas or Atlantic City.  That would be entertaining!

    • 0 avatar
      Ingvar

      I would love to see RF make a take 3 on this car. Couldn’t TTAC invite him for this special occasion? Considering all he has written on the subject beforehand….

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Yeah, Farago would be all we’d need.  Then we’d finally get that nasty bad review of the car that I have a feeling a lot of people here are disappointed that it hasn’t happened.  Asking Farago to review the Volt would be like having Rush Limbaugh do a review on Nancy Pelosi, or Keith Oberman do one on the Tea Party.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Thanks for the thoughtful review . . . and the comparison with other hybrids.  I think anyone considering this car should include in the cost calculation, the cost of installing the 220V charging station at home.  IIRC, this car won’t be fully charged in a 12 hour overnight, using 110v.  Correct?
    Interestingly, given my driving habits, this is exactly the car that would make sense for me.  I would probably engage the gasoline engine about two times a month.  The rest of the time, I would “be electric.”
    Which is not to say that I want one.

  • avatar
    Daanii2

    “GM provided the vehicle, insurance and very little gasoline for this review”

    People always forget the electricity. GM provided you 5 miles worth of that. That’s got to be worth at least $0.15.

  • avatar
    martin schwoerer

    A very interesting, informative, readable review. Thanks, Michael.

  • avatar
    Bridge2farr

    I drove both the Volt and Prius yesterday on a closed course. My first impression was that the Volt accellerated and handled much better than the Prius. Also, the styling difference was stunning. The Volt interior was much more attractive with superior materials and dashboard electronics. The exterior was also infinitely better. I was also impressed with the various telematics and owner interaction gadgets.

  • avatar
    Bridge2farr

    “IIRC, this car won’t be fully charged in a 12 hour overnight, using 110v.  Correct?”

    The Volt will fully charge in 10 hrs using 110 and 4 hours using 240v.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    How easy is it to plug in? Is the plug well shielded from dirt and debris getting in? I wonder what happens during a downpour or in winter with all that salt encrusting? Zap your ass across the parking lot? Not a particularily GM problem but certainly an EV problem.

    • 0 avatar
      TR4

      Shock risk should be very little or none.  Most areas nowadays have codes requiring ground fault interrupters (GFIs) on outlets outdoors (or in bathrooms) which are subject to moisture.  These devices sense a fault current (the one that’s shocking you) and immediately trip the circuit breaker and shut it down.

  • avatar
    Bridge2farr

    “How easy is it to plug in? Is the plug well shielded from dirt and debris getting in? I wonder what happens during a downpour or in winter with all that salt encrusting? ”
    The receptacle is on the upper left fender. The connection is closed and secure. And yes it is very easy to plug in. A small light visible from the plug-in area on top of dash indicates your connection and charging status (delayed or currently charging). Just need to remember to remote unlock doors before disconnecting or alarm will sound.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    I don’t understand this line.
     
    Similarly, I was not surprised that the production Volt resembles a prettified Prius, since the Toyota’s styling so successfully communicates its advanced technology to the general population.

    The shape is all about function.  Happens to be the most efficient design including space you can do for a car.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kammback

    • 0 avatar
      Ingvar

      Not only, but also. The point of the Prius shape is that it is efficient at the same time that it gives a message about futurism and greenwashing. The shape is not only a question of function, but also of message. Otherwise, all cars would look like Priuses, and the Chrysler 300 would never ever have happened. The Prius design message works, because it gives the right notions of high-tech gizmo geekiness, at the same time that it’s practical, green and somewhat affordable. The design stands out, thus it tells the same message to the Joneses next door as well. The Chrysler  300 tells the message of “Gadgets? We don’t need no stinkin’ gadgets….”

  • avatar
    RogerB34

    “At highway speeds with the battery pack depleted, the second motor-generator again engages the planetary gearset to vary the transmission ratio, but now with the gas engine coupled to it. In this last mode the gas engine enjoys a mechanical connection to the front wheels.”
    Is the Volt a parallel drive or a serial drive hybrid?
    If serial, the connection is through the motor generator and not direct to the planetary gearset.

    • 0 avatar
      Greg Locock

      Just like in the Prius the Volt can be a pure EV or a series hybrid or a parallel hybrid, depending on what is needed at the time. Apparently this rather boring fact annoys some people, especially fanbois. The EPA describes it as a series/parallel PHEV, the fanbois have been unable to come up with any convincing explanation why that is not accurate.

    • 0 avatar

      The Volt isn’t simply a hybrid because it’s electric-only range is enough for most commutes. It’s an electric vehicle for the first 30-50 miles, then becomes a series hybrid around town and a parallel hybrid on the highway.

    • 0 avatar
      RogerB34

      Hybridcarblog:”…Yes, GM did lie. Unlike earlier claims, the Volt’s gasoline engine doesn’t only generate electricity. Instead, it can also help power the wheels. Certainly, that does undoubtedly raise some very serious questions. Did GM really lie to protect technology secrets, or did GM simply realize over time that their original powertrain concept needed to be tweaked if efficiency was the focus?”
      Volt is a parallel hybrid.

  • avatar

    “Similarly, I was not surprised that the production Volt resembles a prettified Prius, since the Toyota’s styling so successfully communicates its advanced technology to the general population.”
    Ummm, no. Insight, Prius and Volt all having the same profile is NOT due to copy catting or a lack of creativity. It’s called convergent evolution. Form follows function; in this case function is the lowest drag coefficient possible. Come on. this is basic, basic stuff. Get it right.

    • 0 avatar

      Quite the rush to judgement. Some facts for you…

      The Volt’s drag coefficient is 0.29. If aerodynamics had truly been a top priority, it’d be much lower. The Prius checks in at 0.25.

      But a car doesn’t have to look like the Prius to be more aerodynamic than the Volt. Some examples:

      Hyundai Sonata: 0.28
      Lexus CT: 0.28
      Lexus IS: 0.28
      Audi A4: 027
      Lexus LS: 0.26
      Audi A8: 0.26
      Hyundai Sonata Hybrid: 0.25
      MB E320 Coupe: 0.24
      GM EV1: 0.195

      Clearly the Volt could have looked much less like the Prius without harming its drag coefficient.

    • 0 avatar

      Good points. sort of.
      You can’t compare the Volt to some of the other vehicles on your list because of the design constraints on the Volt. Namely it’s unique drivetrain and power supply.
      The form factor of the Volt could have taken some other form factor, but my point still stands that the end result of it looking like the Prius (or some other car, perhaps even one on your list) is not shocking. In fact, it would be somewhat surprising if the Volt ended up with a completely unique form… sort of like it would be surprising if someone came up with an airliner that looked completely unique…

  • avatar

    “In some situations the engine might be a little too undetectable, as it sometimes generates a low frequency rumble right at the edge of perception. A barely perceptible noise can be more annoying than one a bit louder.”
    OK, starting now, no one will take you seriously. (previously I think there were two people who did). Your critique is that the noise level is not zero, but is so low that it actually bothers you more than a louder noise.
    I think that a slightly moist underwear is more annoying than a totally soaked one, but I don’t freakin write about it in an article! TTAC needs a real editor.

  • avatar

    If there is a lot of trash, I will leave a lot of comments.
    ” I sincerely hope the Volt team shares its chassis tuning tricks with the rest of GM.”
    Mr. Karesh… this is a throwaway line and YOU, a person who understands cars, understand this. I know you do and you know you do, so why do you throw in this useless line?
    The unique handling characteristics of the Volt are mostly related to 1) unique chassis for EV batteries and drivetrain, 2) weight and positioning of the battery pack. These characteristics largely can’t be shared with other ICE cars.

    • 0 avatar

      You’d be taken more seriously if you didn’t clearly feel the need to leave insulting comments. While your tone might be acceptable elsewhere on the Internet, you’ll find that it’s not acceptable here.

      That said, I have a bad habit of taking people seriously even when I clearly should not.

      My initial assumption was that the Volt’s handling benefitted from superior weight distribution. But it carries 61 percent of its nearly 3,800 pounds on the nose. There’s less mass over the front tires in the Cruze.

      The low-mounted batteries contribute to a center of gravity two inches lower than that of the Cruze. Unless the Cruze is something special then neither is this figure. The lower center of gravity certainly helps, but doesn’t by itself explain why the Volt handles as well as it does.

      The Corvette certainly has a lower center of gravity than the Volt, and has far less weight over the front wheels, yet feels far less agile than the specs suggest it ought to. The specs are never the whole story.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m really sorry about the harsh comments. Really, I am.
      But Mr. Karesh, if you must lambast me for my insulting tone, and if you think that an insulting tone is not appropriate at “The Truth About Cars”, then I invite you the read some of the blog entries by your colleagues at TTAC.
      Pardon my incredulousness, but a writer at TTAC calling me out for my insulting tone is a bit like an editor at The Onion calling me out for fabricating a story.

  • avatar
    marjanmm

    Do you know how far do you need to drive the volt until the battery is depleted enough for the entire car to come down to the 84hp of the 1.4? If I take a long drive holiday trip how much of that trip will be driving an 84hp rather heavy car?
    I don’t understand how does it feel for the volt to progressively lose power? Is it progressive? I mean you have to plan overtaking differently if you are doing it with 149hp or with 84hp.
    BTW, the car looks a lot like the current Euro market Honda Civic five door hatchback whose shape helped it to the class leading rear seating and boot space. It also does not have a wiper on the hatch – a very distinctive feature. I guess Volt used up the gained space to fit the extensive drivetrain and the batteries.

    • 0 avatar

      30-50 miles. Nearly my entire time in the car was spent using power provided by the gas engine. You never feel like you’re getting by on 84 horsepower, at least not around town. 

      The 149-horsepower electric motor is the source of the power to the wheels even when the gas engine is running–all of the power from the gas engine goes to the battery. The only partial exception is at highway speeds with the battery depleted, but even then both the gas engine and the electric motor provide power directly to the wheels, with some of the power from the gas engine going through the battery to the electric motor.

      I do not know what would happen in situations where power is consumed faster than the gas engine can provide it for an extended period of time. Can the gas engine keep up during an extended, very aggressive drive on a mountain road? No doubt they designed the powertrain for such a scenario–there’s even a mountain mode. But in extreme cases perhaps you end up driving with reduced power.

      No doubt such a situataion could be produced on a track. So I wouldn’t recommend the Volt for track use : )

    • 0 avatar
      marjanmm

      Interesting, so for example if you need say 50hp to maintain the motorway speed, say 80mph, if they set the software to run the engine to deliver 60hp the rest would go to the battery generator and so you would always have some power for the electric motor for acceleration and overtaking.
      Only if as you say, consistently more power is needed than what the petrol engine can provide you might eventually lose all electric power and get down to the ICE engine power only.
      The trick is for the range extender ICE to be able to deliver more power than what you need in all your normal driving situations for an extended period of time. Of course they balance the recharging with the need to run the ICE as little as possible.
      I only now understood that. Thanks.
      Autocar just tested an Audi A1 range extender EV prototype which works like the Volt but its ICE is a miniature 250cc 20hp wankel engine. Autocar says the car feels better than the Volt but understanding this now I think they are wrong, the Audi would be much more jeopardized to run out of all electric power in the normal driving situations as it is not possible to drive at motorway speeds with just 20hp.
       
       

    • 0 avatar

      C&D used to post a stat for power needed to maintain 50 MPH, or maybe it was 60 MPH. The figure was generally about 10 horsepower, so hardly anything. 70 MPH would take more, though, perhaps 20-25.

      Bottom line is that unless you’re constantly accelerating or running at top speed the gas engine doesn’t have to be anywhere near its peak to recharge the battery. The Volt can maintain 101 MPH, so that’s probably what you can do with 84 horsepower. Wind resistance rises as the cube of speed, so 101 requires a lot more power than 70.

  • avatar
    Impala07

    Styling?  I see 90% of the side view of a 2003 Neon I once owned (and sorely regretted) in years past.  28 MPG for ‘V6 like low speed performance’?  My Impala gets 28 MPG regularly during my 50 mile mixed city/highway commute each day and it has an actual 3.5L V6.  Electric cars are a solution searching for a problem and are not for people who live in the real world with actual lives/family/mortgage/etc.  $33.5K (post tax break) for an econobox?  Beam me up Scotty – there’s no intelligent life on this planet.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Michael…

    The ONE last question I have is…
    WHY buy this over the Fusion, or better, the MKX?
    The luxury in the Lincoln sounds wonderful. Not so much the Prius Volt.
    Priced at 34K.
    45 city/35 hwy on top
    Seems awfully easy to decide, to me.

    • 0 avatar

      I think I answered the same question earlier. It’s a matter of being able to drive the first 30 to 50 miles entirely on electricity. The MKZ also isn’t nearly as special an experience. Some people want to feel immersed in the latest technology. The Volt manages to out-Prius the Prius in this regard.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Thanks, Michael for providing another glimpse into the workings of the Volt. I’m fascinated by the car, and envious of your access to it.
     
    I don’t know what kind of arrangements you have with GM on test driving, I’d be highly interested to see your remarks after some typical Michigan winter weather.

  • avatar
    1996MEdition

    This might be a dumb question…..in the reviews of the Volt I have read so far, the reviewer always lauds the ability of the regen braking to slow the car and even stop it, thus saving on brake wear.  The dumb question is, do the brake lights come on during regen braking?  If not, then I can see some rear-end collisions and maybe some lawsuits coming down the pike.  I was recently behind someone that had inoperative brake lamps…..had absolutely no idea they were stopping and luckily was able to swerve into the nest lane with no incident.  I pulled up next to the guy at the next light and told him, but he really didn’t seem to care.

    • 0 avatar

      Very good question. The regen brakes are activated in D only if you touch the brake pedal. In this case, the brake lights definitely come on. But they are also activated if you merely lift off the gas in L. My best guess is that they don’t come on in this case, but I also didn’t test whether this would bring the car to a complete stop without touching the brake pedal. It’s really similar to engine braking, where the brakes do not come on in a conventional car.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Good point.  I use the “B” mode on my Altina Hybrid when traffic necessitates slowing down, if I am going on a modest (or greater) decline.  The braking mode is pretty significant, and buries the KWH meter solidly into full recharge.  The brake lights do NOT come on, which has caught more than one driver behind me by surprise.  I lightly touch the brakes in these cases if I have traffic behind me.

  • avatar
    Jeff G

    What happens if someone has a short commute and never uses the gas motor? Are there any software tricks to prevent the fuel from getting stale in the gas tank?

  • avatar
    wmba

    Well, I found the whole explanation of how the Volt really works far more comprehensive in the latest edition of Car and Driver. It also makes sense when properly explained, and many of the questions about when the engine is actually coupled to the wheels (not very much), how the battery is managed (neat), and how the car runs the engine every now and then to avoid having to use old stale gas are completely addressed in Nov C/D. The Volt will rarely revert to gas engine driving a generator only except in extreme cases, even when the battery is “run-down” and the vehicle is in extended range mode. Why? Because it maintains a 1 kWh float on the battery at all times, except for mountain mode, when it’s 4 kWh. So the full power of the electric drive motor is available, even when the 74 hp gas engine weakling is running. Far better than we had all guessed on this site over the years.
     
    Based on that C/D review, I’m stunned by the extremely thoughtful design of this powertrain. It’s very clever indeed, and damn near everything has been thought through to logical conclusions. With this basis for future design, GM is indeed in a great position to make good EV/hybrids (whatever the designation) for the future.
     
    Never bought a GM car in my life, none has ever appealed to me. Don’t have a need for a Volt. But I’m sure not going to snicker at those who find it suits their requirements. It is one elegant engineering design — how they did all this in four or five years is impressive.
     
    Chalk one up for North America’s regular car industry. Finally. The Volt makes the Tesla look like the backyard lashup it really is.


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