If you’re looking for a car that’s better for the environment, fun to drive, filled with cool tech, and eligible for tax incentives, check out the Chevy Volt.
This past week I tested a Volt courtesy of General Motors. This car has plenty of tech to enhance your driving experience and save you money at the gas pump.
About the Volt
The most important tech on the car, and the main reason you would be considering the Chevy Volt, is the hybrid design of the car. The Chevy Volt uses both an electric and gasoline motor to get you where you need to be.
Unlike other hybrid vehicles that use electric engines at low speeds and gas engines at higher speeds, the Volt runs on battery power then uses the gasoline engine as a backup when your battery is depleted or when you activate the gas engine manually. Either way, the transition is seamless. The only way to tell which you’re using is by looking at the dashboard to see a green meter for battery power and a blue meter for gas power.
The battery charges in two ways. You charge the battery by plugging it into an outlet with a special cord. The battery also charges through a generator in the motor when you’re braking and using the gas engine.
The cord attaches to the front driver’s side port on one end and the wall outlet on the other. You can use a regular 110V outlet or a special 220V outlet that will charge the Volt more quickly. You can delay charging until electric rates are lower, which you may want to do to save money on charging the car if you have variable electric rates.
The dashboard shows you at what time the battery will be fully charged using either outlet. When you plug in the cord and the car starts charging, it gives a soft confirmation toot of the horn to let you know the juice is flowing. An amber light appears on the dashboard when the battery has been depleted, then a green light appears to let you know it’s charging. A charging meter would be especially helpful to see at a glance how far along you are in the charging process.
The charge cord can be stowed in its nook in the rear of the car or you can keep it plugged into the outlet in your garage, ready for your return.
Your goal, should you choose to accept it, is to keep the spinning green globe in the center of the meter, showing shows you’re driving at maximum efficiency. Accelerate too quickly and the globe turns yellow, rising above its ideal spot. Brake too quickly and the yellow orb drops.
- goal oriented,
- concerned about the environment,
- mindful of energy efficiency,
- frugal, and/or
- a fan of video games,
then your concern will be keeping that spinning globe nestled in its orbit in the middle of the meter. Achieving that goal seems like a victory, improving your driving efficiency and helping the planet.
As further incentive to drive efficiently, the dashboard provides you with a report card of your progress. You can view your MPG for your trip and for the lifetime of the car.
You can also see the energy efficiency from your driving and from your use of climate control. Considering that I used air conditioning every minute I was driving the Volt, the car did pretty well with Climate energy efficiency.
No Range Anxiety
A common concern, and the question I was asked the most, was,
“What if you run out of battery power?”
No worries about that. The Volt has a gasoline powered engine that runs using, that’s right, gasoline. The Volt’s 9 gallon gas tank is ready and waiting to power you should you travel farther than the 40 miles a full battery transports you.
The dashboard shows your range, displaying the battery power in a green stacked bar graph with miles remaining clearly displayed. When you switch over to gas power, the transformation is seamless, you may notice only by the blue graph that replaces the green one, showing you miles till your tank is empty.
The full range of the car, combining battery and gas is: 380 miles. YMMV — Your Mileage May Vary.
Energy efficiency is best for battery power below 50 mph. You can manually switch to the gas engine should highway driving be in your plans prior to a full battery discharge.
One very cool feature is the Energy Flow display on the dash, showing you the energy flow of your car in animation as you drive. When you brake, you see the energy flow to the battery, when you accelerate, the arrows move to the wheels.
The Need for Speed
The second most common question:
“How is the acceleration?”
No worries there either. The Volt accelerates quickly, without lag or any indication that it’s powered by alternative energy. Living in a hilly area, I had plenty of opportunity to put the Volt to the test and it did not disappoint. Although I suffered the fate of seeing my spinning green globe turn yellow and rise to the top of the energy meter, I tested the acceleration, both from a dead stop and while I was already moving. In both cases the car was perky and peppy, and responsive.
One of the reasons the car accelerates so smoothly is because it uses just one gear in electric mode. 0-55 mph without a hesitation for a shift of gears. Smooth and speedy.
The dashboard is your command central, providing you with copious quantities of information. My advice to you is to familiarize yourself with the dashboard before you head out in the Volt on your initial journey.
First, the dashboard can be distracting and if you’re trying to figure out how the dashboard works while you’re driving, well, let’s just say that’s not a good idea. The dash provides information at a glance and if you’re familiar with the displays, your distraction time will be greatly reduced.
Second, you can customize the arrangement of the dashboard icons, which is very handy. Put your favorite icons on the home screen (just as you can with your smartphone) and navigating your features will be much easier. The default icon arrangement puts icons on the home screen you may never use, such as AM and FM radio, if you become a fan of the XM subscription that comes free with a trial subscription.
Third, the dash has a paucity of buttons. Most of the dash is operated by touch, including a touch screen and touch on the dash panel. Bumps protrude on the dash that would inevitably fool the unfamiliar into thinking they were functional. Instead, those bumps serve only to inform your fingers about their location, much as the bumps do on the F and J keys on a keyboard.
The screen is big, bold and bright, making it easy to read. The maps in Navigation display clearly and you can customize your settings. The Back button is stationed in the top left corner, making your journey through the screens more simple and intuitive.
One of my favorite features of the Volt is the keyless ignition. If your key is in the car, you can start the engine — just put your foot on the brake and press a button. The car is so quiet that you may not believe the car is on, but put the car in gear, lift your foot from the brake pedal and the Volt starts to roll.
No fumbling for your keys in your pocket or purse. Very handy!
Syncing to Bluetooth is easy. To play audio from your smartphone, press the Bluetooth icon on the Home screen. Your music/audiobook/podcast pick begins playing over the speakers.
The Volt puts its bright screen to good use in Bluetooth mode, displaying information about what’s playing, how much time has elapsed and how much time is left. To pause the audio, press the play/pause symbol on the dash (I was looking for it on the screen. Again, familiarize yourself with the dash before you are on the road.)
- Start the car
- Lock and Unlock the car
- Sound the horn and flash the lights
- Monitor and schedule your charging
so you’ll be able to warm or cool the car even before you get in it and find it in a crowded parking lot.
The app is free but requires an OnStar subscription which comes free for the first three years of owning the Volt.
Buyers of 2014 models will reportedly get you 5 years of the Remote Link fob for free.
In the unlikely event that you care about factors other than tech when you purchase a vehicle, you may want to learn about other considerations, such as how the car drives. The good news is that the car is a pleasure to drive.
The suspension was a combination of luxurious and sporty, giving a comfortable ride with significant road feel. My passengers commented on how smoothly the Volt handled bumps in the road. Steering was precise as the car nimbly handled twists and turn. Every so often the brakes felt as if they were grinding at low speeds in electric mode.
Plenty of friends and family wanted to go for a spin in the Volt. All praised the creature comforts of the car. My brother, who is an even 6′ tall, sat in the back with no problem and was pleased with the ride. My father, who is also 6′ tall, sat in the front seat and could have been sporting a Don Draper fedora with all the extra headroom he had.
The seats are well-cushioned yet supportive and the rear two seats are separated by a console with cup holders in the center. While the car only holds four people, it does so in comfort.
The cabin is quiet, isolated from many sounds of the outside. The battery powered engine makes little sound but the gas engine sounds like a normal gas engine. Inside the car, with the windows up, my passengers and I could not hear the difference between the two engines.
The design is sporty, to the delight of my daughters whom I began to sense might not exude pride at being seen in my every day “mom car”. The front end of the Volt is sloped, reducing the drag on the car and giving it a sporty appearance, but making the front of the car invisible from the driver’s seat. Use your best judgment when parallel parking or pulling into a parking space front first.
The front air dam of the car is a scant six inches above the ground, making front end parking even more of a challenge should you encounter a concrete parking block. The good news is the car isn’t too long so you shouldn’t have to pull in very far. Front end scrapes of the air dam are to be expected.
The build is solid, the doors close with a satisfying sound and feel.
The Volt I drove came with Navigation, which worked well to direct me around the Philadelphia area. The mapping system knew the quickest routes and didn’t lead me on wayward paths in my testing.
Oddly, the radio has to be turned on for the navigation maps to display. I’m thinking that’s so voice prompts for the GPS service can be heard, but even if you just want to display the maps, you are prompted to turn the radio on. You can turn down the sound if you just want the maps and don’t want to listen to the radio.
My car came without the optional rear view camera, which I personally believe should be standard on all cars. Once you’ve driven with one, you feel partially blind backing up without one. Fortunately a rear view camera is an option on the Volt.
Volt drivers are proud of their stats, bypassing gas stations and bragging about how many months they can go without filling up their tank. Check out Volt Stats for statistics from Volt owners proudly sharing their fuel efficiency numbers with the public. Also head to the Volt Forum to read people’s experiences with the Volt. The Volt Facebook page is filled with pictures, stories and anecdotes about the Volt.
The Volt topped Consumer Reports’ Annual Consumer Satisfaction Survey at the end of 2012 with 92% of Volt owners saying they would buy another volt, getting more votes than any other car. The Sierra Club lists the Volt among the top hybrid vehicles in its Electric Vehicle Guide.
Pricing and Availability
The MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price) of the Volt starts at $39,145. Federal, state and municipal tax incentives may bring the cost of buying a Volt down significantly. For example, the federal tax credit is $0-$7500 and the Pennsylvania tax credit is $3500, bringing the price down of the car without options down to $28,145. Be sure to check the Chevy website for tax credits available in your area.
You can request a quote from a dealer in your area for special incentives and financing offers.
The Volt is available in the US and Canada. Check out Chevrolet Worldwide to see availability in countries outside the US and Canada.
What do you think of the Chevy Volt? Have you ever driven one? Do you think hybrid cars are the future of driving? Do you buy cars based on tech? Let us know in the Comment section below!
Also see, Things You Didn’t Know About Your Volt in the Chevy Volt forum.