2013 Chevrolet Volt 4-dr Hatchback (1.6L 4-cyl. Plug-In Hybrid Direct Drive)
Driven On 8/7/2013
The Volt offers about double the range of other plug-in hybrids, which is fortunate because it's less efficient when the gas engine comes to life. Plus it needs premium fuel. It drives well, but the controls are fussy and rear seat space is limited by the T-shaped battery that runs down the middle of the car.
PerformanceIt's not terribly fast, but driving quickly isn't how you maximize range anyway. It handles and brakes well but it would be nice if the steering felt connected to something. It feels artificial.
The Volt offers enough speed for safe freeway merges. It's quicker to 60 mph with the engine helping after the battery runs down, but its 9.5-second all-electric time is respectable.
Unlike most hybrids, the brakes feel normal, even though slowing is a blend of mechanical and magnetic regenerative braking. Its panic stop of 117 feet is shorter than many of its peers.
Steering effort is just about right. But it changes little as cornering forces ebb and flow, which makes the steering feel numb and detached. The Volt goes where it's pointed, though.
There isn't a lot of body roll and the chassis is well balanced through corners. This allowed it to cut a respectable time through our slalom despite modest tire grip.
Seamless electric-drive feeling extends after the engine kicks in to generate juice to extend the range and lend a helping hand in high-demand situations.
ComfortThe Volt rides like many other nicely-tuned sedans intended for daily duty, and in electric mode it's extremely quiet, too. Seats are good if you fit them, but the manual adjustments are fairly basic.
Good sculpting and support. Our resident tall guy felt right at home during an extended 4-hour test. But the minimal adjustments are manual, not power. Try before you buy.
Rides smoothly over ripply pavement and patched asphalt, but it's not floaty. Strikes a good balance between too soft and too hard; Goldilocks would approve.
The powertrain is utterly silent in electric mode and the engine is mostly quiet when it comes on. Unless you're climbing a hill, when it revs high. Wind and tire noise are unobtrusive.
InteriorThe Volt only has four seats, and the rear ones definitely won't pass power lunch standards. More than anything, though, the interior is compromised by an awful touch-sensitive button array that is more trouble than its worth.
This is where it all falls apart. That touch-sensitive center stack is maddening. The buttons give no feedback, they're randomly arranged and some climate functions require the touchscreen.
Not bad up front, where the roof is reasonbly high. But the roofline slopes down toward the back and becomes a real noggin knocker for anyone whose height begins with a six.
No problem up front where headroom and legroom are ample. But the sloping roofline cuts into rear headroom, and rear legroom isn't generous. Plus there are only two seats back there.
Mostly good, except the rear three-quarter blind spot is a bit large. The view out the back is reasonable, if somewhat narrow.
The hatchback layout means the cargo area isn't affected by the battery like other plug-ins. Still, the Volt's styling limits cargo space, and that rubber-band cargo cover is embarassing.
ValueThe Volt is pricey because you're paying for two powertrains. Plug-in range is generous, but you need to maximize electric running to avoid fuel cost creep. Especiallly since the Volt's gasoline mpg trails the competiton, and it needs premium.
Build Quality (vs. $)
The build quality is good for something priced at the $25,000 Chevy Malibu level, but the interior materials and presentation start to feel underwhelming for $40 grand.
Heated seats and leather don't come standard at the $39,995 base price. Neither does a back-up camera or navigation system. Seats are manually adjustable, even at an as-tested $43,950.
The powertrain represents the bulk of the cost, which crosses into $40,000 territory easily. The Volt does qualify for a $7,500 tax credit, but that doesn't come off the price when you buy.
The revised 2013 Volt can go 38 miles on electricity, three more than last year. After that it runs on gasoline to the tune of 37 mpg Combined (35 city/40 hwy). The Prius is better on gas.
The basic warranty is a middling 3 years/36,000 miles, but the powertrain is covered for 5 years/100,000 miles and the hybrid components are set for 8 years/100,000 miles.
The Volt's large battery needs 14-plus hours to recharge on a standard 120V outlet. If you drain it daily you'll need to install a 240V Level 2 charger at home. Needs premium gas, too.
Fun To DriveThe Volt has more electric range than other plug-in hybrids, enough to make it behave as a true EV for some folks. Those with long commutes or road trip aspirations can use it, too, which makes it unique. It's more self-satisfying than fun, though.
You get enough range to stay in EV mode for most, if not all, of your commute. Plus, there's absolutely zero range anxiety because the gas engine has your back.
The Volt's Jekyll-and-Jekyll split personality performs equally well in all-electric and gasoline hybrid modes.