2011 Chevy Volt: Put Me in the 'Like' Column
January 24, 2011
Whether the Volt makes sense from a financial perspective is one that shall be determined over the course of the year as we crunch numbers from the horribly confusing fuel/energy log. But for now, I do know this: the Volt is a very enjoyable car to drive.
It starts with the power delivery. After a brief dalliance with a punchless TSX, I realized I'm a torque guy and an electric motor is a big turn on, providing a perfectly smooth wave of immediate torque when accelerating. The wild Mini E was basically torque porn, but the softcore Volt is still defined by this characteristic. Even when the battery has been depleted, the car still has an electric car throttle feel since it is powered by the motor rather than the engine (at least most of the time).
When I accelerated from a stop, the Volt drew power only from the batteries just as a regular parallel hybrid would (the batteries still draw power from regenerative braking), although it seemed to take longer for the engine to kick in than it does in a Prius. I also found this switchover to be less intrusive than in the Prius, with less noise and vibration at start-up. There is another key difference. The Volt's engine works in correlation yet independently of your foot. If you lift off the "gas," the engine can still be churning along. Oppositely, you can lay into it and the engine can take a few ticks to come on. It's a little weird, but weird is OK by me.
To be honest, though, the Prius is still pretty weird and its powertrain is still pretty nifty. Yet, those attributes don't change the fact that Toyota's ubiquitous hybrid is depressing to drive. The Volt is not. Sure, the steering is rather inert on center, but the car's low center of gravity and commendable suspension tuning make it hug on-ramp cloverleafs like a champ. The I-110/I-405 South interchange alone had me sold. I have ZERO desire to take it on a mountain road, but for running errands this weekend and blasting down to Orange County on Friday night, the Volt has the sort of solid, buttoned down feel in normal driving that made me fall in love with premium small cars like the MKIV Jetta, BMW 135i and VW GTI. If the Volt was my daily driver, I'd be thrilled.
Now, do I have nitpicks? Oh yeah -- I could've written 10 blogs today. But I have a year to get into all that. For now, you can put me solidly in the Volt's "like" column.
James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 1,308 miles
28.1 miles on electricity (~10 miles stop-and-go traffic, the rest open highway)
36.8 mpg (according to computer)