2011 Chevrolet Volt Long Term Road Test

(A Short Term) 2011 Chevy Volt: Cold Shoulder

March 14, 2011


(Bill Visnic is Senior Editor for AutoObserver and lives in West Virginia. You wanted to know what the Volt was like in colder climates. Here's his take. -mm)

I live plenty far away from Edmunds.com's Santa Monica office and I don’t spend much time in HQ's long-term vehicles, so it was a pleasant coincidence when GM had enough faith in the Volt to send one over for a dead-of-the-winter week and the car was identical to our long-termer, right down to the nice-but-not-$1,000-nice Viridian Joule paint job.

Did I mention it's the dead of the winter here in West Virginia?

So although the Volt is an indisputably impressive piece of engineering and often quite rewarding to drive, the Prime Directive -- driving on electricity as much as possible -- is singularly degraded when it's cold and the terrain is inhospitably hilly. The geography, amenable to bighorn sheep, never changes here near Pittsburgh. For five months each and every year, it also becomes immoderately chilly, sometimes downright arctic.

In the photo of the Volt's electro-gauges, you'll see what I started with each morning after a complete night of 120-volt charging when the Volt sat outside in 20- and 30-degree temps: a 27-mile battery range.

Some thoughts on the reality of 27 miles:

IMG_0526.jpg It might suit some, but I can't imagine it satisfying many suburban commuters. And it just ain't enough for moderate around-town errand running. Here’s what we sometimes forget about "range:" 27 miles means 13 miles out and 13 miles back.

A couple of times, I drove about in the morning, depleting a good portion of battery, then returned home to recharge before some evening runs. Uh-uh. Stick it on the 120-volt charger for the afternoon and you boost range maybe five or six miles. Better than nuthin,' as EV drivers are destined to say, but hours in the driveway for a charge that barely gets you out to the Interstate somehow is supremely disappointing.

Given the above, forget the notion of "destination charging." Maybe it's one thing if you have a place at work to recharge and can plug in the Volt for a solid eight hours, but to go somewhere and haul out the 120-volt charger for a couple hours of juice isn’t worth the effort.

Some of this changes, obviously, if you've got the 240-volt charging rig. But that's expense on top of an already expensive car, markedly extending the payback period (as if anybody buying a Volt is really worried about payback times). Bring on some quick-charge infrastructure, particularly for cold-weather markets.

Note the photo is the charge port after the Volt recharged in the driveway during a nighttime snow and ice storm. The satisfyingly robust charger "nozzle" was disengaged in the morning with no hassle, the high-grade plastics of the nozzle and onboard receptacle refusing to allow the ice to stick or otherwise foul up anything. But I did have to deliver several whacks to the door and swab out the receptacle area before the door would close and latch.

Until battery technology can improve a best-case battery range of 40 miles that degrades to a real-world 25 miles, I'm forced to see the as Volt something less of a wonder in the winter.

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