A couple of weeks ago, I got to drive the Volt for the first time. Nick’s already gone into great detail about how it drives, so I will only gloss over that. However, I believe that it is a massive step forward for not only General Motors, but the entire industry as well. This is one of the first huge changes in how cars drive and how they move around, and I’m glad to say that GM has done a seriously good job–perhaps it even wipes their record clean from the EV1 fiasco.
The Volt drives like nothing else I’ve ever had the keys to. I’ve been accustomed to hybrids since 2007, when I first drove the one I still have–a Camry. It is indeed a mix between the normal experience and that electric-car characteristic of instant torque and zero lag off the line. The Volt, though, is in a different league. Slide the selector into D, and simply press the gas pedal, and the car leaps forward from a traffic light, and then just keeps going–but strangely, power delivery is so smooth and linear you would think it’s running on cream. It’s quiet, refined, efficient, and extremely comfortable for what GM says is an environmentally-friendly car (I’m used to that phrase being given to something that feels like dirt). It doesn’t feel like it’s that futuristic from behind the wheel–but open the hood, and you’ll see why it is so.
The Volt is a hybrid, but it takes the traditional hybrid system popularized by the Prius and turns it upside-down. While there is still the electric motor, storage battery, and gasoline engine, they perform different functions. On the Prius, the electric motor partially powers the wheels. On the Volt, the electric motor is the sole power source to the wheels. On the Volt the gas engine, which propels the Prius in conjunction with the electric motor, is used–wait for it–as a generator. The battery performs much the same function, but there are differences in that as well, which I’ll get to later. Because the gas engine is a generator in the Volt, it runs constantly after 40 miles of battery power (under normal use), but when the gas engine kicks in, the driving experience doesn’t change, save for the sound. This is one of the many crucial differences that sets the Volt apart from any other alternative-type car. Another is one big difference that sets it aside from the Nissan Leaf. There have been numerous news reports of the Leaf stranding its drivers in the middle of traffic due to the battery going flat after as little as 70 miles of driving. The Volt, however, will do over 300 miles on the combined charge and the tank of gas that runs the engine/generator. Range anxiety? Nope. The Volt is range relief.
Recently, I was grilled on the Volt by a close family member who may be interested in getting one, and one particular question that always comes up is, “How do I charge it?” The answer is most likely sitting under your desk–three prong plug on one side, car adaptor on the other. In 8 hours, the Volt can go, under this system, from zero battery power to full battery. The time can be quickened by a quick charger, which cuts the charge time in half. It’s an extra $500 or so, but requires a 220V outlet to be installed in your home, and approval from the local utilities to have the work done. With the extra work required, it may be close to $2,000. Note, though that charging a dead Leaf up to top capacity will take 13 hours of your day, 5 hours longer than the cheapest way to charge up a Volt.
Unlike electric cars of the past, this one is designed to be essentially charged at home, without any major changes to your abode. It’s another feather in GM’s cap–and quite a big one. The Volt is revolutionary, and although it might take time for it to really catch on (once the price starts to drop a bit sales will definitely pick up), it’s a huge step in the right direction. It’s a green car, but it drives like a regular sedan. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it, because it offers so much for the money–comfort, efficiency, decent performance, and green tech.