2011 Chevrolet Volt Long Term Road Test


2011 Chevrolet Volt: One Lap of Orange County

December 13, 2011

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Just over a week ago I drove the 2012 Fisker Karma around our semi-official One Lap of Orange County city fuel economy course. Aside from our 2011 Chevrolet Volt, the Fisker is the only other plug-in hybrid on the market. But our Chevrolet Volt has never taken a trip around the OLOC circuit.

Until now.

One Lap of OC (OLOC) is a 100% city loop that's 105.5 miles in length. There are dozens of siganls (I'll count someday), and most of the roads are of the main arterial variety. Speed limits range from 25 to 45 mph, though a 3-mile section of Pacific Coast Highway between the signals at Seal Beach and Huntington Beach is posted at 60 mph. There are exactly zero freeway miles.

We adhere to all speed limits except the one on that 3-mile stretch of PCH, where we go 55 mph instead of the posted 60 mph. Throughout we accelerate modestly at a pace that falls somewhere between old lady and late-for-work commuter, and we look ahead and anticipate instead of tailgate.

In other words, we're not hypermiling, but we are driving in a way that would please our parents or any for-hire passengers with weak stomachs we might be carrying. Hybrids tend to do quite well on this loop, though by nature it is too long for the likes of the all-electric Nissan Leaf (although in the interest of science we should try).

2011 Chevrolet Volt

EPA
Rating

Edmunds
LT Test

Difference

Electric Range (miles)

35

37.6

7% better

Electric Use (kWh/100)

36

34.1

5% better

Gasoline Use (mpg)

37

34.2

8% worse

The above chart shows how our 2011 Chevrolet Volt has fared so far in relation to its EPA ratings after 12,000 miles of randomized driving.

At first glance, the EPA's electricity ratings come across as too harsh. We understand the cautious approach for full EVs like the Nissan Leaf -- you don't want to over-promise if a roadside stranding (or a bad purchase decision) is a possible outcome.

But this is a plug-in hybrid, so running it out of juice has no ill consequences. In fact, it's expected, a regular occurence. The EPA can afford to loosen up and be more realistic when it comes to the EV mode ratings of plug-in hybrids, I think.

Meanwhile, the Volt's gasoline rating seems too optimistic, even here when the same driving style continues through the transition from battery power to engine-generated electricity. Perhaps we're seeing the effects of decades of learning how to best calibrate a gasoline engine and transmission to do well on a standardized set of dyno-based gasoline test patterns. Perhaps some that EV-mode pessimism needs to be applied to gasoline hybrid operation modes.

Now let's look at how the OLOC city route compares to EPA ratings.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

EPA
Rating

OLOC
Observed

Difference

Electric Range (miles)

35

44.1

26% better

Electric Use (kWh/100)

36

28.2

22% better

Gasoline Use (mpg)

37

37.6

1% better

Since the regenerative braking function recovers most (but not all) of what is lost at the signals and stop signs, and the start-stop function kills the engine at rest (when it's being used, that is), overall performance can reap the benefit of the loop's low average speed. The 105.5 mile loop takes about 4 hours to complete, which means we're averaging just over 25 mph including all the zero mph rest time at signals.

As such, all three performance metrics improve, especially electricity consumption and e-range.

Our modestly driven Chevrolet Volt did significantly better than the EPA's EV-mode predictions when driven in the medium-density suburban city environmnet of Orange County. It fared better than it usually does in the denser traffic of the West Side, better than it does on wide open freeways. A driving pattern like our OLOC course is quite kind to the 2011 Chevrolet Volt.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

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Edmunds Insurance Estimator

The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2011 Chevrolet Volt in VA is:

$121 per month*
* Explanation
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