Chevrolet's electric car is slick, but is it the way of the future?
By Rik Vandelinde / BALLnROLL.com
I imagine that if gasoline hadn’t been a useless byproduct of oil refining, we’d all be driving electric cars by now.
That’s right folks. Gasoline was a penny-a-gallon nuisance, because no one knew what to do with it until Henry Ford applied it to the mass-produced, combustion engine automobile that we’ve come to know and love.
But even before Ford was building Fords that would give rise to gas stations across the land, the first carriage-based automobiles were electric. In New York, these early cars first showed up as taxis that could be combustion, steam or electric powered. Guess which one was the most popular? Electric.
Who knows how far we’d be able to go if battery technology had an extra 100 years of development backed by the global automobile industry. For now, we have to suffice with 80 km or less on battery alone, which is more than enough for the average daily commute.
Unfortunately, gasoline has conditioned us to expect several hundred kilometres more than that and that’s where the Chevrolet Volt comes into play. Here is a car that gives you the versatility of operating on purely electric power for up to 80 km, as well as offering the extended driving range of the 1.4 L gasoline engine to recharge the batteries. Standards for calculating mileage for electric cars are to be decided, but it’s estimated that on electric power alone, the Volt gets an impressive 75 mpg.
Once you hit the gas (if you can call it that anymore), the electric engine responds quickly and acceleration is swift and constant, with no shifting, as it is thrust forward from 0 to 60 mph in 9.2 seconds. This makes it the fastest EV or hybrid on the market, and it definitely feels like it.
The 273 lbs./ft of torque are noticeable right away as it gets the car moving quickly. Unlike combustion motors, electric motors make maximum torque at 0 rpm, which means that you get moving from a standstill very quickly. So quickly, in fact, that it’s easy to forget how fast you are going.
All this power is well controlled in the Volt with no wheelspin and nothing but smooth, linear power. The feeling of the electric motor makes the car feel considerably lighter than you would expect in such a battery laden car.
Handling is another area that the Volt does not compromise as a result of its electric powertrain. The suspension is steady and the engineers at GM have distributed the weight of the batteries and electric drivetrain very well, to give it the most evenly balanced feel of any other car in its class.
I’m not a big fan of electric power steering but the Volt’s is steady and predictable without being too light to properly feel the movement of the car in relation to the road. The regenerative brakes do take some getting used to, as they can feel a touch too heavy when you are trying to brake mildly. Once you get used to it though, it’s neat to watch the dashboard LCD as your modulated braking recharges the batteries.
The interior is functional but not outstanding, with a few minor setbacks. The batteries necessitate smaller back seats than the comparable Chevrolet Cruze and the trunk is rather small.
The high back end means that the rear view isn’t great either. Though they look the part in this futuristic automobile, LCD displays and controls take some getting used to. Handy features like the acceleration and mileage monitor on the dash motivate you to drive as efficiently as possible while the optional Bose sound system offers top notch entertainment.
Even though it’s not classified as a luxury vehicle, a driver of the Chevrolet Volt can expect the same level of notoriety. Instead of gas guzzling power, you have electronically charged thrust. Instead of premium grade gasoline you have plug in power.
And that plug-in power comes cheaper than gas. For a full charge, your cost is approximately $1.50. If you work 20 days of the month, your commute clocks in at $30 a month. Your monthly cost may only come to $60, plus any additional driving. The Volt itself starts at $41,545.
As a pioneering vehicle, the Volt is an excellent choice for those who want something better in combination with everything they have come to expect in a great car.
Posted on Nov 25, 2011