Pricey but inventive, the Chevy Volt is electric, but it’s anything but static


ELECTRIC SLIDE | The ‘range extending’ hybrid technology of the Volt may seem like a novelty now, but cars like this are paving the way for the future of driving.


CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer

Screen shot 2013-08-15 at 11.54.38 AMEvery time I cover the Chevy Volt, I draw attention from a whole bunch of nut jobs who think President Obama single-handedly commanded the car be developed and foisted it upon a world without the desire for it. Those thoughts skip a basic understanding of what it requires to develop an automobile in the modern age. The Volt’s technology evolved over decades.

Like the Toyota Prius before, it has taken time for drivers to “get” the Volt.

Instead of a pure electric car that can leave you stranded, the Volt is an electric car with a “range-extending” gasoline back-up engine. GM claims an all-electric range of 38 miles; I’ve seen more than 40. When the batteries deplete, you just keep driving as the gasoline engine/generator automatically starts up to electrify the drive system. Total range is 380 miles, but you can fill up and drive eternally.

Engineers pulled a few tricks to maximize MPGs. Front fascia nearly scrape the ground to greet the air with a clean face while a tall hatch, spoiler and chiseled rear bumpers minimize drag. Lightweight 17-inch alloys are shod with low-resistance tires. Driver-selectable driving modes maximize efficiency or give a little boost for spirited driving. Re-generative brakes recover energy during deceleration. As a result of this fussing, the Volt achieves 98-MPGs over its driving range.

When necessary, the Volt’s batteries can be recharged in about 12 hours with 120V household current or four hours with 240V — an easy overnight replenish. Owners can conveniently schedule charging for the best electricity rates and monitor everything through an app on their smartphone.

The Volt seems complicated, but is a delight to drive. Electric motors provide smooth power and operate in near silence. Hit the throttle and the car glides away. Maintaining pace on the freeway is no problem. Placing all of the lithium-ion batteries down low in the chassis provides handling like no other compact; the car feels substantial and the chassis is well sorted.

Inside, drivers are confronted with a large color LCD screen in the instrument cluster for primary read-outs like speed, battery charge, gas level and driving range. A giant touchpad and screen are used to control the Bose audio system, navigation, automatic climate control, heated seats, Bluetooth-connected phones and USB-ported MP3 players. Chevrolet MyLink includes Bluetooth streaming audio from smartphones, voice-recognition calling and Pandora. Should a pedestrian enter your path, gently chirp the horn with a special button on the turn signal stalk.

Four-place seating is mandatory because of the center battery pack, but rear seats fold down and can be separated by a console with cupholders and concealed storage. Owners may also choose safety packages with rear vision camera, parking sensors, forward collision alert, lane-departure warning and knee airbags. I’d definitely choose the pissy suede and leather seats, suede door trim and brown leather-wrapped steering wheel.

The biggest complaint about the Volt is its price. Our tester retails for $43,020, but you can lease one from $329/mo. and it qualifies for $7,500 in federal tax credits. Expect the next generation to cost much less. That’s when the Volt will quit being a novelty and become recognized for the very good car it is — every inch a 21st century technology showcase, but as easy to use as an iPad. Drivers are starting to “get” it.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 16, 2013.