What hasn’t already been said about this car? The Chevrolet Volt has only been on sale in Canada for a few months now, but news surrounding the Chevrolet Volt has been nearly constant since the Volt concept was first revealed in 2007. Now, five years later, the Volt has finally made its way into reality, winning awards, creating controversy, and saving the planet along the way. We’ve seen the Volt, read all the reviews, and even spent a few minutes in it at various ride programs, but even so, we were excited to spend a few days in it as our daily driver. We weren’t able to spend a full week with it like most test vehicles, but the four days we had was enough to get a good sense of its capabilities. Our tester was a 2012 Chevrolet Volt finished in Crystal Red Tintcoat with Light Neutral Leather interior. Our situation was one that would require more time in gas mode than electric, so how does the Volt perform as a regular vehicle?
The Chevy Volt at this point will appeal to early adopters, people who are eager to try the newest product on the market, and in this case, one that could potentially save them a lot of money at the pumps. The Volt will compete strongly with hybrids that have already developed a presence in the market, and against electric vehicles that are beginning to trickle into dealerships, such as the Nissan LEAF and Mitsubishi iMiev. In its first three months on sale in Canada, Chevrolet has managed to sell 243 copies of the Volt. Since coming to market, Nissan has sold 111 LEAFs and in November, Mitsubishi sold 7 units of the iMiev. By comparison, the Prius, which is the most popular hybrid in Canada, has sold 1,815 cars in Canada this year, and sold more cars in November than Chevrolet has moved Volts in 3 months. At this point, the price of purchase for the Volt and other electric cars is high and may deter people looking for an affordable way to save money on their commute. While every manufacturer would love to sell millions of their green cars, the reality isn’t there, and so the intent is more so one of image, helping companies to bolster their green credibility.
Even though the production Chevrolet Volt looks almost nothing like the concept that inspired it, the designers have done a fine job creating a striking design for the Volt while ensuring a slippery shape helps the Volt cut through the air. At the front, the Volt wears the standard Chevrolet two-part grille with the bowtie in the middle, but with one difference. The typical grille openings are now covered up because the Volt doesn’t need to have the air cooling the engine. Instead, the coverings help lower the coefficient of drag on the car. A low plastic air dam hangs off the front bumper, directing air around the car and guaranteeing scrapage coming out of driveways and parking lots. Around the side, unpainted plastic skirts lower the body of the car, again for aerodynamic purposes. The wheel wells are filled in by 17-inch five-spoke wheels that look good except for the optional polished aluminum finish. We would prefer a slightly more subtle look to the wheels, but nonetheless, the design is attractive, if a bit plain.
The port to plug in your Volt sits on the driver’s side just ahead of the driver’s door, and on the opposite side, a gas filler door sits in its typical spot just aft of the rear door. As is the style on recent Chevrolet vehicles, the reverse light is housed in a trapezoidal area on the lower center of the bumper, just underneath the licence plate. As with many hybrids, the Volt features a high, flat rear which helps to enhance aerodynamics. The rear window slopes back gradually and your rearward vision is interrupted by a spoiler that cuts through the middle of your view.
Older people who may be technologically impaired would do well to avoid the Chevrolet Volt, as the interior looks like it was designed by teenagers who spend too much time playing videogames. The gauge cluster behind the steering wheel and the touch screen in the center of the dash are both loaded with technical displays and readouts that may lead to confusion, and could require a patient salesperson to explain all the functions and features. Trying to cover them all would require many pages; more than we currently have available. Once you become familiarized with the displays, it becomes second nature, and at a glance you see your range in full electric mode, gasoline mode, and combined total range. The screen behind the wheel also shows your speed, how efficiently you are driving, and your direction and cruise control speed if applicable.
Moving beyond the technology, the Volt interior makes a great first impression with lots of color contrast, soft white leather seats, and lots of room to fit four people comfortably. The battery pack runs through the middle of the back seat, creating a tunnel that prompted GM to place bucket seats in the back instead of a bench. Unlike most hatchbacks, the rear seats do not completely block off the rear cargo space under the hatch, providing easy access to items behind the seat, but a cargo barrier is available if desired.
While the design seems nice at first, further inspection raises some questions about interior material quality and placement. For instance, the plastic painted inserts in the front doors presents a colour found nowhere else in the vehicle, and when you compare the rear doors where you might think to find matching inserts, you find instead an entire door panel constructed of low-grade, recycled-look black plastic. Moving back to the uniquely-coloured front door inserts, which flow towards the front of the door and onto the dashboard into panels that simply lie on top of the dash and end abruptly. Not only is this a strange design choice, but the panel gaps where this panel meets at dash and door are atrocious for a production vehicle.
This is where the Volt becomes interesting, and the money spent here is likely the cause of those interior cutbacks and foibles we mentioned. GM calls the Volt a ‘range-extended electric vehicle’ due to the combination of electric and internal combustion powering the vehicle. This makes the Volt sound suspiciously like a hybrid, but the difference here is that the Volt is never powered by the combustion engine. The 1.4 liter four-banger under the hood simply acts as a generator, powering up to charge the batteries when the charge runs down to a predetermined point. Full output of the 1.4L and two electric motors is 149 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. As per electric vehicle rules, this torque is available at 0 rpm, creating a feel of performance off the line that is unexpected for most vehicles in this class.
The acceleration feel is very normal, except for the lack of engine noise, the Volt picks up speed smoothly and determinedly, only letting up at higher speeds. When you do run out of charge, the engine kicks in and sounds a bit industrial, but on the road the car is well damped and doesn’t let much of the sound into the car. Any sound that does creep in is easily taken care of with a little volume on the stereo.
Because of the heavy battery pack that sits low in the body of the Volt, handling is surprisingly neutral and controlled. Body roll is almost non-existent, and the Volt corners confidently unlike most other green-dominant vehicles. The suspension is also very well set up, soaking up bumps and returning a comfortable ride. The Volt features regenerative brakes, which are instantly noticeable and provide strong results with little effort.
Because of the setup of the Volt’s battery and gasoline-powered combination, it is hard to rate the fuel economy of the vehicle. If your daily drive was less than the range of the batteries and you had a charging station at home to plug in every day, your fuel consumption would be zero. In the opposite scenario where the car is never charged and runs on gasoline, fuel economy is no better than most compact cars, as the Volt is rated at 6.7/5.9 liters per 100 kilometers. Our test included pick-up with a full charge, which was quickly spent on the highway after only 46 kilometers at approximately 110 km/h. Throughout our test, we were able to half-charge the batteries on two separate occasions, which yielded another 37.4 kilometers of fuel-free motoring. At the end of 4 days, we had travelled a total of 422 km, 83.4 of which were on pure electric. Upon return, we filled the gas tank with 20.62 liters of premium fuel as required. If you calculate fuel economy based on total distance travelled including electric kms, our result was 4.9 L/100 km. However, if you were to calculate the average based on gasoline kms driven, the result shoots up to 6.1 L/100 km. These are both impressive results when compared to the average compact car, and they would certainly be more impressive if the opportunity to charge the car was more readily available.
This car represents a giant leap forward for GM for their involvement in aiding the greenification of the automotive industry, and is truly a great accomplishment for the company. With so much all-new and unproven technology buried in the development of this car, it’s no wonder they have to charge so much, as the starting price of the Volt is a staggering $41,545. Our tester was then saddled with a few options which brought the grand total before taxes to $49,725. Fortunately, the Ontario government will give you back $8,230 on your purchase at the dealer, making the deal significantly easier to swallow. It is clear to see that you’re paying for the technology and not the quality of the car, as we mentioned the interior gaffes earlier, but all in all, this is a great achievement for GM.
- Noiseless driving in pure electric mode
- Smooth, effortless power
- Well-balanced cornering
We don’t like…
- Massive panel gaps
- All-touch interior controls
Quick Spec Summary
2012 Chevrolet Volt
Crystal Red Tintcoat w/Light Neutral Perforated Leather Seats
Continuously Variable Transmission
1.4 liter I4 & 2 Electric Motors – 149 hp / 273 lb-ft
Lithium Ion 16 kWh Battery Pack
Curb Weight – 1,715 kg / 3,781 lb
35 L tank
Recommended Fuel – Premium 91 octane
Base MSRP – $41,545*
Options – $6,730
Destination – $1,450
Total MSRP – $49,725
*Before gov’t rebate of $8,230
Options on Tester
Premium Trim Package – $1,695
Exterior Colour: Crystal Red Tintcoat – $565
17” x 7” 5-spoke Forged Polished Aluminum Wheels – $695
Rear Vision Camera & Parking Assist Package – $795
Radio: AM/FM/DVD-ROM w/Navigation – $2,295
Bose Premium 6-speaker Audio System – $695
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