What's New for 2013
The 2013 Chevrolet Volt gets a number of worthwhile upgrades. A new "Hold" mode makes it possible to save all-electric operation for times when it's most efficient to do so. A new Low Emissions package grants the Volt access to HOV lanes in California and New York. New options include a center rear armrest and forward collision and lane departure warning systems.
The 2013 Chevrolet Volt is not an electric car. In some ways, it's actually better than an electric car. The Volt belongs to a new class of environmentally-friendly models known as plug-in hybrids. In simple terms, a plug-in hybrid runs on pure electric power for a given distance, then switches over to a gasoline-electric powertrain similar to that of regular hybrids. In the Volt's case, this four-seat hatchback can travel 25-50 miles on battery power alone, whereupon the 1.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine pitches in to generate electricity that can extend the car's range to about 300 miles.
Practically speaking, this means the car's actual fuel economy depends greatly on how it's driven. Buyers with an average 30-mile commute who plug the car in to recharge the battery pack every night (a process that can take up to 10 hours using a normal household outlet) are likely to find themselves going a very long time between visits to the gas station.
Drivers with a 60-mile commute -- not to mention those who want to use the Volt for roadtrips -- will find themselves exceeding the car's all-electric range and utilizing the gasoline-electric hybrid system that returned 35 mpg in a year of Edmunds testing. That's pretty good, but still a good bit lower than the 40-50 mpg commonly achieved by most traditional hybrids.
For 2013, Chevrolet engineers have introduced a new wrinkle into this equation in the form of a "Hold" mode. Say you're about to take a drive that involves lots of highway driving followed by stop-and-go city driving. In the Volt's "Normal" mode, most of its all-electric power would be wasted on the highway before it even reached the city environment in which electric power is best utilized. Selecting "Hold" allows the driver to engage all-electric power when most appropriate.
As is the case with all hybrids, bottom-line-oriented buyers will want to spend some time crunching the numbers. Though the cost of the electricity to recharge the Volt's battery pack is a bargain compared to the price of a gallon of gasoline, the Volt's relatively high sticker price can be hard to justify even with the available $7,500 federal tax credit and/or additional state credits.
For this reason, we think buyers looking at the Volt should also consider some cheaper alternatives. Although much more limited in terms of range, the all-electric Ford Focus Electric or Nissan Leaf are less expensive and may better satisfy one's green-leaning desires. Alternately, the Toyota Prius Plug-In and new Ford C-Max Energi can't go as far on electricity alone as the Volt, but they are otherwise similar in powertrain concept while also being more practical.
Yet at the moment, only the 2013 Chevy Volt provides approximately 40 miles of all-electric driving range plus a gasoline-powered range extender. It's also the nicest car to drive among these super-eco machines. That should at least make up for some of its additional cost.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Chevrolet Volt is a midsize four-door hatchback with seating for four passengers.
Standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, LED running lamps, heated mirrors, keyless ignition/entry, remote ignition, automatic climate control, cruise control, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth, OnStar emergency communications, MyLink (which includes Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, voice-controlled audio functions and enhanced smartphone integration) and a six-speaker sound system with a touchscreen interface, a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB interface.
The Comfort package adds heated front seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The Premium Trim package includes the Comfort items plus leather upholstery and a removable rear seat center armrest. A new Enhanced Safety package 1 bundles a rearview camera, rear parking sensors and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. To that, the Enhanced Safety Package 2 can be added, which includes front parking sensors and forward collision and lane departure warning systems.
Other options include a seven-speaker Bose sound system. A navigation system can be added to this that also includes real-time traffic info, voice controls and 30GB of digital music storage.
Powertrains and Performance
The front-wheel-drive 2013 Chevrolet Volt is primarily powered by an electric motor that puts out 149 horsepower (111 kilowatts) and 273 pound-feet of torque. That electric motor is fed by a 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack until the battery charge is 70 percent depleted, at which point the Volt's 1.4-liter four-cylinder internal-combustion engine springs to life to power the electric motor. In some situations, the gasoline engine can also come online to boost the car's performance. There are Normal, Hold, Sport and Mountain modes designed to maximize the powertrain's performance and efficiency in different situations.
Recharging the battery pack completely requires plugging the car in to a 120- or 240-volt outlet, though regenerative braking and the engine generator can help recharge it to a certain extent. In long-term Edmunds testing, we found the Volt had an average all-electric range of 37 miles, with certain charges ranging from 25-50 miles. Once the battery was depleted, the Volt averaged 35 mpg in our year-long test.
In Edmunds performance testing, the Volt took 9.2 seconds to accelerate from zero to 60 mph in electric mode and 9 seconds flat with the engine generator. Both are reasonably quick times for the traditional hybrid segment.
The list of standard safety features on the 2013 Chevrolet Volt includes antilock brakes, stability control, front-seat side-impact airbags, front knee airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Also standard is OnStar, which includes automatic crash notification, on-demand roadside assistance, remote door unlocking, stolen vehicle assistance and turn-by-turn navigation.
In Edmunds brake testing, the Volt came to a stop in a respectable 124 feet.
In government crash tests, the Volt scored an overall rating of five stars (the highest possible), with five stars for both frontal and side-impact protection categories. Similarly, in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the Volt earned the highest rating of "Good" in frontal offset, side-impact and roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside the 2013 Chevy Volt, the four-passenger interior has a modern feel thanks in large part to touch-sensitive controls inspired by the latest in personal electronics. While this design creates a suitably cutting-edge mood, in practice these small and similar-looking buttons can be difficult to identify at a glance. They also don't work very well if you're wearing gloves.
The gauge cluster is another futuristic touch, as it's really a display screen that digitally shows speed, battery and/or gasoline level, various trip functions and a little graphic that encourages efficient driving. It can be a bit much at first, and the screen itself can wash out in direct sunlight, but most find it to be usable and even helpful.
From an aesthetic point of view, the passenger cabin looks attractive and has a refined feel thanks to good quality materials. The lack of a power-adjustable driver seat and a cramped second row lacking in both headroom and legroom are somewhat disappointing, however, especially for a car in this price range. Out back, the Volt's hatchback design makes for easy loading and unloading. Cargo capacity is a mere 10.6 cubic feet with the rear seats up, a number that puts it at a significant disadvantage compared to hybrid hatchback competitors like the Toyota Prius.
The 2013 Chevrolet Volt is surprisingly rewarding to drive. It accelerates quickly from a standstill on an effortless wave of torque typical of electric power, and behaves like a more potent hybrid when the all-electric mode runs out. The Volt's appeal extends farther than just its powertrain. From the compliance of its ride quality to the weight and response of the steering, the Volt drives more naturally and feels more substantial than hybrids like the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius.
There are some oddities and annoyances, however. The change-over from battery charge to generator power can be difficult to notice, though once you inevitably do, it may take a while to get used to the engine revving regardless of engine speed. The brake pedal can also be quite touchy and difficult to modulate, though stopping distances are good. Another constant annoyance is the Volt's low-hanging front airdam, which scrapes on just about every driveway and speed bump.