Gallery: TEST DRIVE: Inhabitat Lives with the Chevy Volt for a Week

There are too many buttons on the panel underneath the nav screen, but once you know where they are they are easy to use. We can't figure out why pushing the Eco leaf button to monitor power flow through the car's battery and generator systems automatically turns on the radio, however, as there is no audio component to this sytem.

What we noticed first when driving the Chevy Volt is that the range of the battery pack varies from charge to charge. We averaged 37 miles estimated total range (the estimate sinks by up to 3 miles if you suddenly hit the gas), and were a little annoyed at first when we discovered that the Volt couldn’t make it round-trip from our country test site to town and back without engaging the generator – until we realized we were traveling 30-40 miles at a time without using any gas. The thing about the Volt is that it will never leave you stranded, as its gas generator can give you an extra 300 miles of range, so even if you live too far from Trader Joe’s to make the trip without engaging the engine, you’re still doing it with 90% less gas than in your traditional engined car. We got used to the range quirks and found that after a week of driving, we had only used 4 gallons of gas–including during our 24-hour experiment of not charging the car at all.

The Volt is well-built, a nice carryover from other new Chevy models, and it feels well worth the asking price of nearly $40,000 (though $7,500 federal tax credits may still be available in your area to bring that number down). The Volt is quiet, has plenty of power to get you up to speed on the highway, and generally behaves like a hybrid, except for the fact that it has smooth electric power all the time powering the wheels. You occasionally hear the engine turn on and wonder if you’re driving a traditional car, but there is no laggy hybrid switch from EV mode to engine mode since the electric motor is always driving the wheels.

We only noticed 3 drawbacks to the Volt. First, the power is throttled by a computer to give you maximum efficiency, so while you have plenty of power to get on the highway, if you really floor it, there is simply no additional power there (but as mentioned before, your estimated EV range will drop by several miles since you angered your vehicle). Second, the Volt is designed with special, lightweight, low-rolling resistance wheels and tires that help boost the efficiency of the car, but these same tires have a hard time gripping dirt roads. We noticed a number of occasions when moderately hard braking on gravel surfaces, or even gentle braking while heading into a pothole, resulted in a loss of traction and a slight skid. This plus the super-low ground clearance–the same as a ZR1 Corvette!–and that low air splitter with rubber flap at the front equal a car for paved roads, plain and simple. Finally, the Volt comes with a 20-foot charger cord, which is slightly short if you haven’t designed your home around EV charging. That also becomes an issue if you want to use the remote start function. If you want to precondition the cabin of your Volt in cold weather, it is recommended that you do so while still charging so you can pull the energy you need off the grid. However, the engine can turn on at any point during this process, which means you need to power it up in a ventilated space. Since battery range is affected by extreme hot or cold temperatures, this quirk makes it difficult for you to baby your Volt and yourself if you have an enclosed garage. In fact, it makes preconditioning the cabin a pretty pointless idea, since opening the garage door in cold weather or charging your Volt outdoors in order to heat up your car’s interior is pretty silly.

Owning a Chevy Volt may take a little planning, but we still loved our week with the revolutionary little EV. We will be calculating the relative cost of charging our Volt with electricity vs. the cost of gas when we get the electric bill next month, and will let you know how much less it costs to charge an EV at home than to fuel up at the pump. We have read estimates of one-tenth the cost but want to check this information for ourselves as it varies by location, source of power, and even the time you charge your EV. Click through our gallery for more details on the unique features of the car, and stay tuned for more news as GM rolls out the first mass production of the cars this fall. We’re very impressed with how well GM has done with this first generation of Volts (the 2011 and 2012 cars are virtually the same) and can’t wait to see where they take it from here.

+ Chevy Volt


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  1. rubley October 4, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    I own a Volt. I had less than 40 miles on a charge just once, and that was when I bought it and I was giving full throttle joy rides. Normally I get 41-43 miles commuting, sometimes 45-47. If you charge in a garage pre-conditioning isn’t really necessary in the winter, the heated seats become very warm very quickly on the high setting. And you’re knocking the car for its behavior on dirt roads? You realize its 2011, right? I’m pretty sure ALL cars are designed to run on pavement. The front rubber air dam is designed to scrape on the ground, its a $40 throwaway item, I’ll replace it when it wears out (think brake pads).

  2. jamesonbrent August 22, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    Interesting, at least the A/C and heater are good enough that you don’t really need pre-conditioning

  3. Laura K. Cowan August 19, 2011 at 9:03 am

    Thanks for pointing out the issue, James! We double-checked with GM and realized we had a misunderstanding about the conditions under which the engine will turn on. Issue fixed in the article. The engine MAY come on to assist the car in preconditioning the cabin when turned on for remote start during charging, so it is somewhat silly to even consider using remote start for this purpose. Opening the garage door on the winter weather or charging the vehicle outdoors in the snow in order to heat up your cabin, hmm. :)

  4. jamesonbrent August 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    Having driven a Volt on multiple occasions I’m not sure I agree with some of your drawbacks. There is a Sport mode that gives plenty of power, flooring it will definitely kick you back in the seat. The car is worlds different than a Prius when it comes to acceleration. As far as I know the engine will not turn on when charging, the owners manual mentions nothing about this and have never experienced it myself (although it will come on if the car is on and the hood is opened). Also, you can charge the vehicle wherever you want, the car will baby the battery by either heating the pack or cooling it with the A/C system. During a hot day I went out in my garage and heard the A/C going to cool the pack so I know it works. Now if only I could afford one for myself :)

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