When talking about the 2013 Chevrolet Volt, let’s make one thing clear from the start. The Volt is an electric car. Yes, it does have a gasoline engine. But unlike hybrids (such as the Prius), the Volt’s gasoline engine is only a generator. When the battery power runs out, the Volt’s gas motor kicks in which creates electricity to run the electric motor. So it’s a fulltime electric car. Make sense?
Personally, I think it’s a brilliant compromise. Plug in the Volt overnight for a full charge and you’ll end up with enough battery power to get you 30-35 miles. My daily commute, for example, is 14 miles one way. That means that on an average day I can make it to and from work, plus a quick lunch trip and only use the battery power. If I need to make a side trip on the way home that pushes me beyond my battery power, the gas motor kicks in to provide the necessary juice. It’s a seamless operation.
I’ve written before how I’m not a big fan of the Nissan Leaf or the Mitsubishi MiEV. While they may be impressive technological achievements, those electric cars have one huge problem: range. Once you hit the limits of their batteries (about 110 miles for the Leaf, 85 for the MiEV), you’re done. If your wife’s car breaks down on the other side of town and you’re bumping up against the top of the range, you’re stuck. If you forget to plug it in overnight, you’ll be phoning a friend.
The Volt is a forgiving car for imperfect people. The gasoline motor increases your range an additional 275 miles. Instead of waiting for a recharge, you can whip into any gas station and continue on your unplanned journey. I did forget to plug it in one night and there was no morning crisis when it was time to drive to work.
Setting aside the electric motor, I also like the Volt as a car. It has stylish looks on the outside and is very comfortable on the inside. My test car had the optional leather trim package (for $1,395) which gave the interior a very upscale feel. The touch controls take a little getting used to, but they work very well. So does Chevy’s Mylink system. The back seat isn’t huge, but it is comfortable. The seats are sculpted, but because of that there is only room for two. This is a four seater car and that’s it.
If you’ve never driven an electric car you’ll be pleasantly surprised. There is no difference between this and any other car you’ve ever driven (minus the engine noise). You can choose different motor settings for different performance. Sport definitely gave you more instant power, but of course that comes with a battery draining penalty. But if you can convince your boss to let you plug-in at work, who cares?
There are only minor changes to the 2013 Volt. Perhaps the most significant is the new “Hold” mode. It lets you decide if you want to use the battery power right away, or save it for later. Since the batteries are more effective during city driving, you might want to keep the electric power in reserve until you’re off the highway.
One practical consideration is that you have to plug Volt in at some point. If you park in your own garage, that’s easy. If leave your car on the street overnight, or in a parking garage, you’ll have to find the closest outlet. That’s assuming that you even want to take the risk of leaving the charger out where someone can steal it. Fortunately, if someone were to simply maliciously unplug it, the Volt’s horn will start beeping. You also have the option of using the standard 120 volt charger or bumping up to the 240 volt version. Needless to say, the 240v charges faster (but costs about $500 extra, plus around $1,500 to install).
Of course eventually you need to look at the bottom line. My test car stickered at $42,780. Knock off $7,500 for the federal tax credit, and you’re paying around $35,000. You can get a lot of nice cars for $35,000 these days. Of course, all of them require weekly gasoline fill-ups. I’m a big fan of doing the math. Sit down and figure out how much gas you’ll save every month. If you’re one of those people who fill up your tank for $50 every week, and you can stay within the Volt’s battery range on a daily basis, you’ll save about $2,400 a year. Of course, you’ll also increase your daily electric bill which is a little harder to calculate. Just make sure you crunch the numbers.
If you decide that electric is the way to go, the Volt is a great option. You can feel like you’re helping the environment while still driving a nice car that gives you the option of hitting the highway whenever you want.
By the way, in Europe the Volt is sold as the Vauxhaull Ampera. Personally I like the front end of the Ampera just a little better. What do you think?