2013 Chevrolet Volt Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on March 13, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

Published on March 13, 2013

While Chevy sells more Silverado pickup trucks than any other vehicle, and makes more money on a Tahoe or Suburban than it will ever on a fuel-friendly Spark, Trax, Sonic or Cruze Diesel, it would rather you conjure up images of these fuel-friendly cars when thinking about its golden bowtie than a gas guzzling truck or SUV. Don't misunderstand me. If you're in the market for a pickup truck or trailer-hauling sport ute I'm sure they'd love to see you at one of their dealerships, but like most other automakers who previously relied on big vehicles to make the grade, environmental stewardship is the image they're working hard to cultivate now.

Green is more than just fashionable these days. It's critical to any brand's success. Just consider BP. It's unfathomable to imagine let alone calculate the energy company's losses after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but I'm sure they've crunched numbers internally and now have a good idea of how detrimental the accident has been to its bottom line. How many drivers still don't fill up at BP stations because of that spill? Brand degradation isn't always the direct fault of the suffering company either. Two years ago when Apple parts supplier Riteng (Casetek via Pegatron) was caught polluting a river in Shanghai, China, killing the fish population, it indirectly tarnished the American electronics giant's glossy white image. In the auto sector, General Motors' now culled Hummer division went from revered luxury brand to the antithesis of all things environmental. It's gone, and you'll be hard pressed to even see anyone behind the wheel of a used one these days.

Fortunately GM has a number of brands that are better suited to today's environmentally correct social class. Chevrolet is the unquestioned leader, with a variety of models that fit the fuel-friendly low-emissions bill perfectly, some of which I just mentioned. And then there's the revolutionary new Volt, a car that's so advanced yet so easy to live with that it could easily supplant Toyota's Prius as the poster child for the entire green movement.

Can you tell I'm a fan? I don't usually get all mushy about a car unless it's ultra-special, and I've been a believer in the Voltec platform since ex-GM chairman Bob Lutz took the time to explain it in detail to a group of Canadian journalists including yours truly in a small conference room at the automaker's Renaissance Center headquarters in Detroit. I immediately understood it to be a sort of reverse hybrid. Rather than an electric motor and battery pack playing the support role to a gasoline engine, the Volt uses a small gasoline-powered "range extender" engine as the generator to recharge the battery that powers the electric motor, which drives the car. The Volt uses its secondary power source to assist the electric motor when needed in the same fashion that a regular hybrid uses the an electric motor to assist the gasoline engine, it's just a role reversal with the result being a much greater electric-only range and a commensurate improvement in fuel economy. Of course, there's more to it than my simple explanation provides, but let's not get hung up on details.

At the end of the day the Volt provides superb plug-in electric fuel economy with the added benefit of go anywhere range. You get most of the benefits of a full-electric car, but with zero range anxiety. The result? A claimed fuel economy rating of 6.7 L/100km city, 5.9 highway and 6.4 combined. Great huh? Wait a minute. That doesn't sound so good. You're right. That's only about average for a run of the mill compact car and nowhere near as good as Chevy's claiming for it's own Cruze Eco (6.0 L/100km combined, with the manual). What gives? That's only the estimated mileage when using the gasoline engine on a depleted battery. Factor in the Voltec Electric Drive Unit's two electric motors, three clutches and planetary gear set and that number drops to the equivalent of 2.3 L/100km city, 2.5 highway and 2.4 combined, for the first 40 to 80 kilometres that's it's in pure-electric mode. The reality is somewhere in between.

GM doesn't want to give fuel economy estimates, as real-world results will depend on the distance you're able to travel on electric-only power (which depends on numerous variables including hills, exterior temperature, auxiliary features like heat or air conditioning, etc.) combined by the length of your commute. If you're able to get to and from work within a window of say 50 kilometres, it's quite likely you won't need to stop for gas until the first 50 or so km into your vacation, that is if you leave the aforementioned trailer-toting pickup truck or SUV at home. If you take said weekend vehicle for the trip up country mind you, or better yet rent one, you might never take the Volt to the gas station.

That came pretty close to my experience. At the end of my week I drove to my local refueler and pumped in a mere $6 of regular, and the only reason I had to do that was because I get paid to fully experience each car I test, and to do that with the Volt I needed to try it with the battery depleted. I did, driving a round trip of about 175 km on a mostly flat highway. The Volt's battery draining around 60 km into the distance, the only perceptible difference to the drive experience being graphic displays now showing me the battery needed topping up and my current use of the range extender engine. After getting home I plugged it in right away so as not to unnecessarily support the oil companies – I do that enough, believe me. Altogether, the Volt has one impressive drivetrain.

The thing about Chevy's electric alternative is that its advanced powertrain is only part of what makes it good. The whole of the car gets high marks too. Power is ever ready, immediate and quick, the Volt fully capable of leaving most conventionally powered cars behind on the highway. Ride quality is good albeit on the firm side, which is fine by me because the car's handling is surprisingly sporty.

Its styling? I don't know about you, but I like it a lot. In fact, I think the Volt is one of the more attractive four-doors in the mainstream segment. It gives off the air of a premium sport sedan, enhanced by my tester's optional chromed 17-inch rims that complement additional chrome tastefully applied elsewhere.

Inside it's a most unusual affair, but pretty cool just the same. My tester was done up in black with glossy white surfaces on the dash, steering wheel, centre stack, shift lever and door panels, a high-tech fashion statement just like one of Apple's iPhones or a new Samsung Galaxy (or possibly a Blackberry Z10?), while its full-colour high resolution displays only added to the car's techie appeal, delivering both interesting graphics and important info. Of course, such high-end standard touchscreens give the Volt's cabin a decidedly premium look and feel, while some appropriately placed soft-touch plastics and sporty white and black two-tone leather seats with contrasting stitching made the car look like a big bucks customized luxury ride.

I suppose that's a good thing because my tester wasn't exactly inexpensive at $48,830, destination in. The extra coin over the base model's $43,500 price tag includes a number of worthwhile extras over and above the chrome wheels and leather seats already mentioned, such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats and rear centre armrest with storage, all part of the Premium Trim package. My Volt also included two safety packages, the first with a an auto-dimming rearview mirror, backup camera and rear parking assist, and the second featuring front parking sensors, lane departure warning, forward collision alert and a following distance indicator. The Bose audio upgrade was well worth the money too, as sound quality is very good. All options came to $4,530, and while they brought the Volt's MSRP close to $50k it now had most of the items available in premium brands, like GM's own Cadillac. Of course, interior quality isn't to the crested wreath's very high level, but it's nevertheless quite good.

Fortunately for would-be buyers in Canada's largest three cities (and the rest of Ontario, Quebec and BC), our tax dollars are hard at work promoting green technology like the Volt, so put down your money on this future think Chevy and you'll get $8,500 back from the Ontario government, $8,000 back from Quebec's regulating body or a $5,000 rebate in BC. Not bad.

Still, if you're only buying into the Volt concept to save money on gas, you'd be better served by a something like Buick's very capable Verano, also in the near-premium compact segment but a lot cheaper overall. Still, I like to look at cars like the Volt in a different way. A Cadillac ATS, for instance, delivers a premium experience along with fabulous performance for about the same price as the Volt when trimmed out similarly. The Volt's performance is simply different. Rather than delivering the same level of superb handling the ATS does, the Volt offers cornering stability that's more than good enough along with a high-tech experience that's just as fun albeit in a nerdier way. And if it's prestige you're after, I'll guarantee you'll get noticed even more in the Volt than you will in any other luxury ride, plus all the gawkers will be giving you a solid thumbs up instead of envious sneers. It's just a different kind of premium experience, although for those who simply must wear that pretty crested wreath logo front and back along with Cadillac's gorgeous Art and Science styling, the Voltec-based ELR coupe will give you all the benefits of a Volt in a fancier albeit pricier package.

For now, the Volt is not only one of the most fuel-friendly cars on the planet it's also a very good car. For the record, I've become a big time believer.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Hybrid, HEV, EV, Chevrolet, 2013, Volt, $40,000 - $49,999, Electric,

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