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2012 Chevrolet Volt review

I previously had the chance to drive and wrote a review on the Nissan Leaf and when I had the chance to drive this one I jumped at it! Very exciting. This car has been in production since 2010. Let’s put some cards on the table. I own a V8 powered Camaro. I am by no means green. I love horsepower and believe in the North American adage, no replacement for displacement. There we have that out of the way. So my curiosity for both of these vehicles comes from the engineering and technology involved in them. Let’s also be clear, neither of these vehicles makes ANY sense from a $$s point of view. The consumer will NEVER get their money back, and the manufacturers likely loose money on each and every car and will never even recoup their engineering costs IMHO. Now let’s be clear, that is my opinion.

Let’s compare electric specs (from Nissan’s web site and from Chevy’s website):

Leaf Vs Volt
Battery: 24kWh Vs 16.5-kWh lithium-ion
electric motor: 80kW Vs 2x55kW or 111 kW
Weight: 3,354 lb (from Wikipedia) Vs 3781 lbs
Electric Range: 160km Vs 61km

The big difference between the volt and the leaf from a powertrain point of view is the addition of a range extending gas powered generator. What this means is you NEVER have to worry about running out of juice. You can always resort to gas. GM gives the range with gas up to 611km. And you can always stop and fill up. This makes a huge difference and makes this car far more practical. You can actually use it on a long trip if you want to. I totally get and personally experiences what GM refers to as range anxiety. Great phrase by the way!

The Leaf is based on an econobox. And driving it you always could feel that. Build quality is excellent, materials used were good, but it always had that econobox feel. The Volt on the other hand feels solid. Well built. I like the look of it. And unlike the Leaf that looks so much like it’s econobox cousin the Volt is a unique design that anyone in the know will instantly recognize. For some odd reason they have copied the Prius like hatch with the clear section below the hatch. Is this suppose to be some kind of design feature? I don’t get it. The hatch by the way is quite heavy.

GM have used a T shaped battery assembly. What this does is limit the seating to 4 while the leaf is 5 although realistically speaking the leaf is 4 too.

Interior design is good, nice placement, excellent visibility but I have to say it I hate the center console. The car I drove was white and the center console was painted to match. It had that painted appliance look/feel to it. I’m not sure if this is suppose to be retro or what but it looks bad IMHO. I would choose my car color (if I was ever to be given one) to insure the color was black or grey. Yuk a doodle dandy.
console

Also on this console are these buttons that are so not clear they are buttons. You can actually use them with gloves although it isn’t easy. They are nicely backlit but not the easiest to see in the sun.

The volt has three drive modes normal (read sluggish), sport and mountain. In sport mode the car is fairly responsive although I would have to say the leaf “felt” quicker.

The instrument cluster includes a somewhat interesting design. And thus comes my next rub. The number one thing that effects how efficient a vehicle is … the driver! So help the driver to see the impact of having a lead foot. Show them that they are driving inefficiently. Then they can choose. The volt does this VERY badly. On the right side of the display you see a green ball. This green ball floats up as you accelerate harder (or really the car is accelerating quicker, ie hills) or floats down as you brake harder and harder. No color change, no quantifiable or easily understandable assistance as to how hard you are working things. Dumb.
cluster

The left side shows the state of the battery which changes into a gas gauge when the battery is spent.

The stereo includes everything except they left out streaming bluetooth support. Really? In 2012? WTF. Ipod, USB stick, AM/FM/XM/CD and fortunately and aux jack to make up for the lack of bluetooth.

The car can be charged with 110 or 220. As usual 110 takes longer but is more readily available. The charge time given the smaller battery is much more reasonable. You can even program the car with the time you want to leave and it will delay the time it starts to charge (saving money by being off peak of your hydro system). Clever design. The charge cord like the volt has a big blob on the cable that wants to pull the cord out of the socket. At least on the volt there is a hook on it that you maybe can hang on something to keep it from weighing on the cord. Dumb design. Like the Leaf there is a light on the dash that indicates it is plugged in. But it doesn’t change color to indicate it’s fully charged. The light by the way looks like a bulbous eye protruding from the dash. Odd. There is a trigger (I discovered) on the bottom of the charge receptacle that turns on a light making it easier to find the outlet on the Volt. Nice design but how about the minute the charge port is opened turn a light on inside the door. Seems simple enough.

The power train has a number of modes. It starts out in all electric mode. Quiet, smooth etc. The brakes and steering are of course electric but GM has done a better job of making these feel more “normal”. As long as you don’t REALLY push it the car stays in all electric mode until the battery is exhausted. Like a hybrid any time you are coasting or braking the car is recapturing energy and putting it back in the battery. Any time there is power there in the battery the car slips back into electric mode. It’s well done. The regenerative system does not feel like a brake the minute you lift off the accelerator (funny to not call it the gas pedal). The display does a nice job of showing you the mode it’s in, how much battery is left and animates the flow of electricity out of or into the battery. It also shows you when the engine is on. Not that you would miss it. With the stereo off (and even with it on) the difference in the sound of the vehicle when the gas engine comes on is fairly obvious. Not that it’s loud, there is noticeable noise vibration and harshness normal with a 1.4 cyl engine, it’s just that it’s so quiet in all electric mode. I would say the gas engine can be a bit “buzzy” at times when pushed hard. Personally I got 36km of all electric range in the winter, in Canada (as compared to GMs guess of 61km and 45km it said when I pulled out of the driveway).

charge

And the last mode is when the battery is exhausted. The gas engine turns on to power a generator that in turn drives the electric power train. There apparently is a mode whereby the gas engine directly drives the wheels but normally it powers a generator. In this mode the car according to the US Gov gets 35 MPG city 40 highway.

So now lets do some math. So the first (lets use GMs numbers) 61KM are gas free, lets not even include the cost of the electricity. So we save roughly 1 gallon of gas. So a savings of let’s say $5. If you can charge up on both ends that;s $10 a day. Let’s say 5 days a week, for an annual savings of $2580. With a list price of $46K (now there are gov incentives that bring this down) plus taxes. A comparable car would cost let’s conservatively say $30K. So in 6 years assuming there are no maintenance costs uniquely to do with this power train your finally even 🙂 And remember this does not even take into account the cost of the electricity. And let’s face it. Govs ain’t dumb. At some point they are going to figure out (and not be able to swallow) that for every electric car out there it is costing them incentive $$s and loosing them gas tax revenue.

So in summary, I liked this car. Much more pleasant and usable on a daily basis. If I had to choose between this and the Leaf the Volt wins hands down. I applaud the engineering efforts and innovative design work it has taken to bring this car to the market. I can’t wait to see the next generation of this power train. I hope they continue to improve the range extender!

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January 17, 2013 - Posted by | Other reviews

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