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

Pop the cap on the front left panel of the Volt to charge your car. Pop the cap on the back right to fill its tiny 8-gallon tank with gas. A charge using a standard outlet takes 9 hours and lasted us about 37 miles on average. Even without recharging the vehicle one night and running on the gas generator for 24 hours, we still only used 4 gallons of gas driving this Volt around the countryside beyond its normal range for a full week.

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.


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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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