I regarded the Chevrolet Volt review car in my driveway as a personal challenge. My goal: Use the Volt for a week without burning a drop of gasoline. Not one drop. I succeeded.
The car was delivered from Boston with the lithium-ion battery pack completely discharged. The Volt uses its battery to power its electric drive unit. Fully charged, the battery should take you between 25 to 50 miles. The best I managed was 42 miles on one trip, with some battery life left when I arrived home.
Once the battery power is gone, the 1.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine starts. But this engine does not drive the Volt directly, as is the case in most hybrids. Instead, it spins a generator that delivers electricity to the electric drive unit.
I plugged the Volt into standard 120-volt AC outlet. Ten hours and 13.52 kilowatt hours later, the battery was fully charged.
Off I went, quickly discovering that careful driving did wonders for the car’s range. I drove slowly for the first six miles allowing the car to coast as much as possible. At the end of the trip the readout of how many miles are left in the battery pack had gone down only one mile.
The 60- to 70-degree weather eliminated the need for heat and air conditioning, which would have shortened the car’s range.
Performance is quite lively. Sixty miles per hour arrived in just 8.6 seconds and throttle response was very good. Brisk acceleration produced only a gentle whir from the electric motor. Note to pedestrians: As electric cars become more popular you are taking your life in your hands if you cross the street by ear, without looking.
I have driven the Volt on gasoline power before and can tell you that the car operates flawlessly in this mode. The transition from battery to gasoline-powered electrical generation is nearly completely transparent.
We had an engineer drive it on Saturday and he was impressed, says Michael Matthews, a sales representative at Carter Chevrolet in Manchester. He said, ‘It drives like a real car.
The Volt is a four-passenger car. The large central tunnel, which holds the 5.5-foot long battery pack, precludes three-across seating.
The main controls for acceleration, braking, shifting, lights and wipers are standard issue, right down to the pushbutton start. Rather than instruments, the Volt has two video screens that display what a driver needs to know, complete with sound effects.
By recharging between trips I managed a cost of only 4.7 cents a mile for electricity. A comparable Chevrolet Cruze, on which the Volt is based, would have cost me 12 cents a mile for gasoline.
I did have to rearrange my trips to allow for recharging. However, if you primarily use your car for running errands, pure electric use seems highly practical. But be assured that if you go farther than the batteries can take you the gasoline engine keeps you going.
The car is still hard to come by, Matthews says. The Volt costs $41,000 minus the $7,500 federal tax credit if you qualify. For people who will have to drive many miles on gasoline, a Chevrolet Cruze could be more cost effective.
Starts at $40,280
Engine: 84 hp; Electric drive system: 149 hp with 273 lb-ft of torque.
EPA 95 mpg city; 90 highway; 35 city and 40 highway on gasoline.
Next week: Mercedes-Benz CL550