2011 Chevrolet Volt Review
What's All the Buzz About?
With its unique Voltec propulsion system that combines a powerful electric motor and an internal-combustion engine/generator, the 2011 Chevrolet Volt establishes a new class of high-efficiency/low-emission production car that overcomes the single most critical real-world shortcoming of pure electric models: Range anxiety. This stylish four-door compact hatch can travel an average of 35 miles on pure electric power from a Lithium-ion battery pack before its gasoline-fueled "range extender" transparently kicks in to directly generate electric power for another 344 miles. Loaded with technology and creature comforts, Chevy is betting the Volt will outpoint its eco-oriented challengers in the Great Green Derby -- especially the equally new Nissan LEAF EV and the reigning conventional hybrid champ, the Toyota Prius.
Beyond eliminating the dreaded range anxiety limitation that impacts all pure electric vehicles, the Volt's "Voltec" propulsion system will serve as the basis for a number of other General Motors extended-range vehicle offerings in the coming years.
May be the car for you...
If you are intrigued by the idea of an electric car but feel like their limited mileage range won't fit your needs, the extended-range 2011 Chevy Volt is a perfect compromise between the electric car you want and the gasoline-powered that more practically fits into your daily routine.
May not be the car for you...
Even sweetened with potential federal and state tax advantages, the 2011 Chevy Volt remains a relatively pricey pick and enjoying the full benefits of its green potential will require recharging it regularly. For some, alternatives like the Nissan LEAF EV, Toyota Prius Hybrid, Volkswagen Golf TDI or even a Honda Fit may make more bottom-line sense.
To optimize its total operating efficiency, the Volt's exterior design team spared no effort in creating a shape that could slice through the air with the greatest of ease. Every element, from its rounded front fascia, closed-off grille and aggressively raked windshield to the crisp trailing edges on its rear fenders and a functional hatch spoiler were meticulously matched to yield the most aerodynamic production that GM has ever created. To wring the most extra miles-per-gallon out of the vehicle's design, the Volt rolls on 17-inch Goodyear Fuel Max low-rolling resistance lightweight wheels, which weigh 17.8 pounds each.
The interior of the 2011 Chevy Volt echoes the car's futuristic vibe. The center stack is covered in touch-sensitive controls for the audio and climate control systems instead of buttons and knobs. In place of gauges, two seven-inch LCD screens - one mounted in the gauge cluster and another in the center of the dash -- display vehicle speed, battery state of charge, electric range, fuel level and driving efficiency. Black cloth seats and white interior accents come standard, but leather seats are available with green, black or light gold-colored accents. The 5.5-foot, 435-pound, T-shaped battery that's nestled underneath the center of the vehicle makes having a bench seat in the back row impossible, but the end result is two buckets that are quite comfortable - once you get situated in them. Thanks to the aerodynamic sloping roofline, rear seat ingress and egress are not exactly the Volt's strongest points.
What you get for your money
In base form, the 2011 Chevrolet Volt comes with a more comprehensive feature set than any other Chevy currently on the market. It's also the recipient of all of Chevy's latest and greatest technology and features, including touch-sensitive climate, audio and drive controls, an energy-saving Bose sound system (it's 40 percent lighter and uses 50 percent less energy than a conventional sound system) and an eight-year 100,000-mile warranty on its battery pack and associated electrics. You'll also get standard navigation, a 60 MB hard drive with 30 MB of space for music, five years of OnStar and USB connectivity.
The short (options) list
It's hard to call an options list a list when there are only two on offer: a Premium Trim Package and Rear Camera and Park Assist Package. The Premium Trim Package adds heated front seats, leather seating surfaces and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, while the Rear Camera and Park Assist Package includes - as you'd expect - a rear-view camera and front/rear parking sensors. If you're going to spring for any options on the Volt, we'd recommend the park assist package; the Volt's low-slung and very easily scraped front air dam makes parking sensors particularly helpful when you're not quite sure where the curb starts. Finally, bling fans can choose to have their Volt's aluminum wheels done in a bright-polished rather than the standard satin finish.
What it costs
The 2011 Chevrolet Volt's Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starts around $41,000 and loading one with leather and the rear camera and park-assist package will bump that figure to just over $43,000. Even when you factor in the potential $7,500 federal tax credit, it remains a vehicle with laudable -- but for many budget-constrained consumers -- limited appeal. As an alternative, the Volt is available on a three-year lease deal for $2,500 down and $350/month payment. Although Chevrolet projects a full recharge will only run about $1.50 per day, the cost of dedicated 240V home charger to replace the standard 110V cable will run $490 plus installation. However, early Volt customers may be able to offset both costs using grants from the Department of Energy or various other local energy providers. As with the Nissan LEAF EV, it's difficult to definitively assess how well the Volt will retain its value over time.
Delayed Start and Departure Time Mode
Using information supplied by your local electricity provider, the Volt can be programmed to commence recharging its battery pack when rates are at their lowest to help save money. Tell it when you plan to leave in the morning or evening, and it will automatically schedule the charging process to ensure that the battery is full in time for your commute.
Volt Smartphone App
Have a smartphone? By utilizing the OnStar MyLink app, you can check your Volt's battery level, tire pressure, available electric range, lock/unlock the doors and even start the A/C system so the interior is at a comfortable level when you're ready to leave. You can even control the Volt's charging rate from your phone and get a text or an e-mail when the battery is topped off.
On the road
Built on a bespoke version of GM's global small car architecture that also underpins the Chevy Cruze, the Volt offers a decidedly conventional basic driving experience overlaid with a few unique Voltec-specific wrinkles. The biggest difference can be felt in the immediate torque provided by its electric motor as well as the complete (or relative) absence of engine noise in its well-isolated passenger compartment. The Volt's well-tuned suspension is ably complemented by quick and decently-weighted energy-saving electric power steering while super-efficient regenerative circuitry on its four-wheel disc brakes is noticeable but far from intrusive. Transitioning from pure-electric to range-extended mode is virtually transparent save for a faint engine sound accompanied by a dash icon that changes from a battery to a fuel pump. Although the EPA estimates that you'll see about 35 miles of electric range, how you drive, interior climate settings and road conditions do make a difference. In fact, trying to keep the car in EV mode is part of the fun of driving the Volt - almost like trying to top your best score at Pac-Man.
Voltec propulsion system
The 2011 Chevrolet Volt's propulsion system consists of an electric drive unit that makes 149 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, a 16kWh liquid-cooled Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack and a 1.4-liter/84-horsepower in-line four internal-combustion "range-extender." The latter takes over when battery charge decreases to a certain level -- normally after 25-50 miles of driving -- and generates on-the-fly electricity for another 344 miles. Replenishing the battery pack takes 10-12 hours using a standard 110V outlet or three-four on a 240V dedicated unit. The Volt has four operating modes. "Normal" is the most efficient, "Sport" provides more direct accelerator response and "Mountain," which requires 10-15 minutes of advance engagement but optimizes the battery to cope with increased energy demands caused by extended steep grades and Low, that enacts a more aggressive regenerative braking program when you lift off of the accelerator. The Volt has earned a 93 MPGe (miles-per-gallon equivalent) combined city/highway EPA rating in pure EV mode and returns 37 mpg when the range-extender kicks in.
AC synchronous electric motor/generator
16kWh lithium-ion battery pack
1.4-liter in-line four
111kW/149-horsepower @ 4800 rpm
273 lb.-ft. of torque @ 0-4800 rpm
Projected per-charge range: 35 miles (all-electric), 344 miles (gasoline range-extender only)
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 93 MPGe (when in all-electric mode, miles per gallon equivalent), 37 MPG (when the range-extender motor/generator is running)