The Chevy Volt accelerates better, offers more space, and costs more than you might expect.
Those were my initial impressions of the car in a one-hour test drive last week.
Our chance to test drive the vehicle was courtesy of Brian Fuller, editorial director of the EE Life Community for EE Times. Fuller is taking the $57,000 vehicle around the country and blogging about it on Drive for Innovation, a partnership between Design News parent company UBM Electronics and Avnet Express.
I found the Volt surprising in its luxury and drivability. The cockpit had the feel of a fighter jet, complete with two large touch-screens, and constant performance feedback. The vehicle was eerily quiet (after pressing the ignition button, I still wasn't sure it was running), and it accelerated the way an electric-powered vehicle should, given that powertrain's reputation for high initial torque. Still, the Volt's off-the-line performance feels like a surprise for those of us who've grown up with vehicles employing internal combustion engines.
The Volt's spiced red interior gives the feel of a fighter jet cockpit.
That's the big difference. Unlike the hybrids we've all come to know, the Volt's wheels are driven by electric power almost 100 percent of the time. The vehicle is, in essence, a series hybrid -- it burns gasoline mainly for the purpose of spinning the generator that recharges the battery.
Our data is still pretty meager, but in the short time UBM has owned the vehicle, it's been offering about 25 to 30 miles per charge. That's slightly lower than the 40-mile figure GM typically quotes, but midsummer driving calls for climate control comforts, which suck the energy from the Volt's 16kWh battery. As a result, our Volt's motor-generator was operating during much of the test drive. (We will provide more data when we get our hands on a Volt for a one-week test.)
The Volt's interior is a good news/bad news story. It's roomier than you might expect, given the fact that the Volt is built on the platform of the sub-compact Chevy Cruze. A tall man can easily sit in back. But the Volt seats only four because its bulky lithium-ion battery takes up the rear-seat center space.
I connected with Fuller amidst his cross-country drive, so our time was short, but it was nevertheless telling. Fuller explained that he's been unable to recharge the Volt's battery because his hotel had no easy way of doing that. He considered running an extension cord out a hotel window but ultimately decided against it.
To be sure, Fuller's dilemma won't be an isolated one. Until more charging infrastructure is available, early adopters are likely to find themselves running on gasoline more than they'd like.
In his limited time with the vehicle, Fuller said he hadn't yet studied the cockpit screens and, as a result, wasn't always sure how to use them. He conceded that he'd had little time with the dashboard but added, "If I had to critique the user interface, I'd say it wasn't particularly intuitive."
While such observations may not be important for everyday drivers and owners of the Volt, they're very relevant for new drivers, and for those who borrow the vehicle.
At this point, the unexpected bonus of the Volt is the minor sense of celebrity it brings to the driver. Fuller noted that when he stopped at a gas station, he noticed another driver using an iPhone to take photos of him. Inside the gas station, someone else stopped him, wanting to talk about the Volt's technology.
"One of the guys approached me and said, 'I haven't seen one of these in the wild yet,' " Fuller explained. "I think it took me 45 minutes to put nine gallons of gas in the car."
(Design News will have a more detailed look at the Volt and its energy usage in a few weeks.)