Behind the Wheel Volt: high-tech drive
The 2013 Chevrolet Volt has a lot going for it.
It can travel up to 50 miles on all-electric power and has a backup gasoline engine for longer trips, is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine and adds new features, including a new Hold mode that lets drivers set the Volt for gasoline-engine operation only, thereby saving the electric range for later in the trip, if needed.
For the first time since the Volt’s introduction as a 2011 model, the black-colored roof and liftgate are gone. Buyers now can get those parts painted the same color as the rest of the Volt body. And Chevrolet added global positioning satellite-based navigation for 2013. It’s part of an $895 option that also adds $495 in optional stereo sound equipment.
Meanwhile, the 2013 Volt earned top, five-out-of-five stars in overall crash protection for occupants during federal crash tests.
But the Volt’s electric plug-in system for charging remains less adaptable to some regular, 120-volt outlets than do the plug-in systems for the all-electric-only Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi MiEV and plug-in hybrid competitors like the 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid and 2013 Ford C-Max Energi.
Simply, the test 2013 Volt -- like the 2011 Volt tester two years earlier -- would not charge via the regular 120-volt outlet in my circa 1970s residential garage. It would only charge at the 240-volt charging stations located at a city-owned, downtown parking structure.
The local public utility said I’d need to install a dedicated charging station for the Volt in my garage, at a cost of more than $1,500. This charging station would ensure the Volt fully recharges in just four hours.
But the Leaf, MiEV, Prius Plug-In and C-Max Energi charged just fine -- albeit slowly -- at my garage at home, using the regular outlet.
Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $39,995 for a 2013 Volt is at the high end of non-luxury, plug-in vehicles. As an example, the 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-In has a starting retail price of $32,795. Ford C-Max Energi -- a five-passenger, plug-in, gasoline-electric hybrid hatchback -- has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $34,140. The 2013 Nissan Leaf starts at $29,650.
The federal government and some states provide income tax credits of varying amounts for purchases of certain electric and hybrid vehicles. The federal income tax credit for a Volt is a hefty $7,500.
With a federal government fuel economy rating of 98 miles-per-gallon equivalent in all-electric mode, the Volt is the top Chevrolet in mileage. But when the Volt travels via its 1.4-liter, double overhead cam, four-cylinder gasoline engine, the mileage rating falls to 37 mpg.
The test Volt traveled 30 miles, on average, in all-electric mode before automatically and seamlessly switching to the gas engine.
With this engine power, the tester averaged 35 mpg, which allowed an overall 355-mile range.
Note the Volt’s engine requires premium gasoline. Of course, the whole idea of the Volt is to not use much or any gasoline, and careful planning of trips and use of the faster-charging, 240-volt stations makes this very doable for short-trip drivers.
For example, one way to the downtown parking garage was just 13 miles without detours. So the test Volt went back and forth for days without sipping a drop of gas or tapping a single kilowatt of electricity at home. It just used the electricity supplied by the city downtown.
The Volt also endeared itself by clearly showing on the dashboard each time car was connected to the charger exactly when it would be fully charged.
The Volt tester rode on 17-inch, low-rolling-resistance tires and had a firm, not plush, ride. Riders felt road bumps, but most were not harsh.
They heard some road noise from the tires, but it was obtrusive only on particularly rough concrete.
The engine became buzzy, the way many four cylinders do, only when it was pushed hard to accelerate.
At more than 3,700 pounds, the Volt felt substantial, not lightweight. In fact, this weight is akin to that of some regular, full-size sedans. The Volt, however, is less than 15 feet long from bumper to bumper, or about 1.5 inches longer than a Toyota Prius mid-size car.
Passengers inside the car, especially those in the front seat, sit behind a high-tech array of touch controls on the dashboard and plentiful displays and information in the instrument cluster.
Much is unchanged. The front seats still come only with manual adjustment. The back rear window pillars also remain quite thick, so driver views can be poor while backing up the car.
Unfortunately, a rearview camera or rear park assist is not standard.
The Volt’s back seat -- for four -- can feel cramped for taller passengers. While front-seat riders get 42 inches of legroom, there’s just 34.1 inches in the back seat.
Trunk space, though, is a commendable 10.6 cubic feet.
Standard safety features on the front-wheel drive Volt include eight air bags, antilock brakes, electronic stability control and traction control.
In government ratings, the Volt was especially notable in side crash protection and a low tendency to roll over.
Consumer Reports says Volt reliability has been above average.
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