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2011 Chevrolet Volt: What's It Like to Live With?

Read the latest updates in our long-term road test of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt as our editors live with this car for a year.

Chevrolet Volt 2011

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January 19, 2011

We all remember the bright smiling plug icon that GM CEO Fritz Henderson displayed above the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. It didn't take long for the parallels to W's "Mission Accomplished" to come rolling in and it took just barely longer for Henderson to be replaced by Ed Whitacre, Jr. (don't worry, Fritz is still doing just fine for himself). That was back in 2009 believe it or not, and here we are, finally, with a 2011 Chevrolet Volt. The Volt no longer claims to get 230 mpg — the official EPA rating is 93 MPGe/37 mpg. Easy, right?

Well, actually, no. Simply figuring out a way to accurately and effectively record/report the Volt's fuel economy has us rethinking methods we've used for years. And that's sort of the point. The Volt isn't a volume car. It's an engineering exercise in both vehicular technology and human behavior. Ripping people off the pump cold turkey can't work. The range anxiety and the withdrawal is too great. Weaning them slowly — 35 miles at a time — off the good stuff, well, that could work.

The Volt isn't a car easily explained or fully examined in a few short weeks of road testing. No, this one demands a full year, so as soon as we could, we paid cash for a 2011 Chevrolet Volt.

What We Bought
There were no restrictions on the purchase of our long-term Volt. The only thing was to find one and get it for sticker as soon as humanly possible. This unfortunately meant that when we found a 2011 Chevrolet Volt, we couldn't pass on one that was the Volt-specific, contest-winning color, Viridian Joule ("joule" of course being a homophone here for both the unit of power and the precious gem) Tricoat — a $995 option. This VJT Volt also had the Premium Trim package, which includes leather seats, premium door trim, heated front seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Other options included the rear camera and park assist ($695) and a set of 17-inch polished alloy wheels. (Those of you who read our blogs frequently already know how we feel about polished wheels.)

Compared with many of our test cars, these options seem light. That's because the 2011 Chevrolet Volt comes very well equipped — as a car costing $41,000 (including the $720 destination charge) should. Standard are four-wheel antilock disc brakes; keyless entry; automatic headlights; heated outside mirrors; air-conditioning; DVD-based navigation; five years of OnStar; Bluetooth; and a Bose audio system with steering-wheel radio controls, a 30GB hard drive, a USB port and XM radio (with traffic and weather).

All pretty common stuff for a $40K car, no? Less common, however, is the Voltec powertrain. This is where the magic happens. The Volt — as you know but we still need to cover — is a series-parallel hybrid with a 111 kW electric motor and a 1.4-liter, port-injected, iron-block, four-cylinder gasoline engine hooked up to a planetary gearbox. A lithium-ion battery pack rated at 16 kWh powers the electric motor that moves the wheels, and the gas engine charges the battery — except at high speeds, but that's for another day. The tech part aside, this drivetrain is good for 35 miles of range on electricity only and another 344 miles after the Volt fires up its gasoline engine. While other true electric cars are limited to about 100 miles, the Volt's dual-nature — almost hybrid — powertrain relieves range anxiety by allowing the driver to go anywhere he could in a normal car. But while you'll perhaps see 93 MPGe in electric mode, you'll only manage 37 mpg without electrons. Annual fuel costs are $601 on electricity only and $1,302 without plugging in at all.

At least, that's what the good people at the EPA say. And that's just not good enough for us, not with a car this important. That's why we have a charger at our office. We're going to figure out what this thing really does over the long haul and what it really costs to run.

Our new 2011 Chevy Volt carries a sticker price of $44,695 and that is what we paid. Total out-the-door tax/title price: $49,752.96. How? Well, we broke one of our cardinal rules: We told them who we were in advance. In fact, we called AutoNation — a network of more than 200 dealers — and spoke with some of their executives we knew. Told them we were looking for a Volt, didn't have a pre-order, and were hoping they could help us out. And help they did. This Viridian Joule Volt was pulled from one of the first deliveries to Power Chevrolet in Valencia, California. So, um, thanks!

Why We Bought It
Why we bought it. This is almost a joke field for the Chevrolet Volt. There is no reason we wouldn't buy one.

To understand the Volt's importance you need to have but a basic knowledge of engineering, economics, public policy, foreign relations, natural resources, pollution and business savvy. It sounds complicated and, really, it is. Here's a cheat sheet. Pollution: Bad. Reliance on a non-renewable foreign-sourced energy source: Bad. Being a car company without a green car: Bad. An American company offering the first real alternative that the majority of Americans could tolerate: Good!

We bought the 2011 Chevrolet Volt because we test cars. We test them when they do something like offer a bigger engine, or switch from an iron block to an aluminum block. And let me tell you, if they do something like add direct injection or switch to overhead cams, you know we're testing that one. If a Corvette ever ditches leaf springs or a Mustang gets an independent rear, there's a good chance we'll buy it. This is on a new level. This is like coming to show-and-tell with a light saber when everyone else is rocking geodes. It's a new technology and it's our job to see what the Volt is like to live with on a daily basis once the PR smoke clears.

The amount of time and money that GM has spent building the Chevrolet Volt is nothing compared to what the automaker has done to convince people that this extended-range EV thing is a viable — if expensive so far — alternative that will save the polar bears and the forests for the children. We've got 12 months to put 20,000 miles on our 2011 Chevrolet Volt. We'll be plugging it in as often as possible, driving it as far as possible, and, most importantly, figure out if this thing works — and for whom.

It's going to be an interesting year with one of the most hotly anticipated vehicles of the last decade. The game is changing. This is just step one, but we're here every step of the way starting today. And you get to read about it.

Current Odometer: 860 miles
Best gasoline fuel economy: 39.0 mpg
Worst gasoline fuel economy: 33.6 mpg
Average gasoline fuel economy: 35.8 mpg
EPA combined gasoline: 37 mpg

Best electricity consumption: 29.8 kwh/100 miles
Worst electricity consumption: 46.6 kwh/100 miles
Average electricity consumption: 36.3 kwh/100 miles
EPA combined electricity: 36 kwh/100 miles

Best electric range: 41.6 miles
Worst electric range: 26.7 miles
Average electric range: 31.0 miles
EPA combined range: 35 miles

Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purpose of evaluation.

Breaking in the Engine

January 19, 2011

So how do you break in the engine on your new 2011 Chevrolet Volt? According to the owner's manual, "The vehicle does not require a break-in period. Vehicle break-in is performed during manufacturing." But we are creatures of habit.

For the past week we've been running the Volt on the gasoline engine only. We depleted the battery fully and hit the road. It still isn't only running the engine, though. In some situations, such as accelerating from a stop, the batteries kick in to get you going before the gas engine takes the reins again. At this point, you're finally putting miles on the engine.

Speaking of the engine, you'll know when it's running because the 1.4-liter 4-cylinder is loud. But after a couple of tanks averaging about 39 mpg, it also seems to be efficient. More to come on tracking our fuel economy later.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 712 miles

A Pain to Park

January 20, 2011

Don't get all huffy just yet. I actually liked my first few miles in the Volt. Put it in Sport mode and it was surprisingly quick. Seats felt pretty decent too.

But it is a pain to parallel park. Like most hybrids, it's too touchy at slow speeds. In other words, it doesn't like to creep. Don't push enough and it doesn't move. Push a little harder and suddenly it lurches forward. Not exactly what you want when you're trying to be surgical.

On the plus side, it has a rear-view camera so you can see what you're about to run into.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Inside Line

Keep It Charged Up!

January 21, 2011

I took my first spin in our long-term 2011 Chevrolet Volt last night. It was more than a spin really, it was a full 100-mile commute home and back. How did it do?

First, I was impressed with the 37.8 miles I traveled on pure electricity. In a world where manufacturer claims about electric range often have little to do with reality, getting 37.8 miles on a car that's supposed to go 40 miles on a charge was a pleasant surprise. Most of my driving was in stop-and-go traffic for the first 10 miles, followed by more medium speed travel (around 45 mph with occasional stop lights) for the next 15 miles, and then highway speeds for the last 12 miles of electric travel. I feel like that's a pretty realistic mix of conditions, so that 37.8 figure is an honest one in my opinion.

However, I drove the last 12 miles home, and the next 52 miles back to work, on pure gasoline (didn't plug the car in at my house for a variety of reasons). Under those circumstances the Volt averaged 32.3 mpg. Not a terrible figure, but checking our last Fuel Economy Update for the long-term fleets shows the Fusion Hybrid and Mazda 2 at about the same level, and our old 2004 Prius well above it. All for markedly less than the Volt's starting price of $41,000 (and those cars don't require premium, either).

So, to point out the obvious, if you're looking to justify the Volt's hefty MSRP: Keep it charged!

Karl Brauer, Editor at Large @ 1,121 miles

What. The. Beep.

January 22, 2011

Just in case you happen upon a blind guy and a deaf girl trying to cross the street in front of your brand new 2011 Chevy Volt (in the unlikely chance that the EV power is on and the really loud gas motor is not) Chevy has had the foresight to link flashing the high beam with a really, really annoying horn chirp.

The first time this happened I was certain that there were some wires crossed and that the car would surely electrocute me. I pulled over and called Dan Edmunds while my passenger checked the owner's manual.

Turns out that's just what it does. It's a safety feature. Awesome. Wait, not awesome. Annoying. That's the one.

Mike Magrath, Associate Editor, Inside Line

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)

Spoiler Alert!

January 24, 2011

Racers know them by many names: chin spoilers, air dams, air deflectors. Whatever you call 'em, they're intended to encourage air to flow around or over the car — anywhere but underneath. Track-day enthusiasts and racers want them because they can increase top speed and reduce aerodynamic lift, but there's also a benefit, theoretically speaking, for those seeking additional fuel efficiency.

But the typical track-day aero mod will drag on every parking curb and driveway in sight, so the deepest, most effective ones never make their way onto production cars, no matter how tempting the tiny fuel economy benefit may be to automakers and their CAFE averages.

Except, it turns out, for the 2011 Chevrolet Volt.

This one's really low, folks: 3 inches, or 1.13 iPhones (in a case) from edge to pavement. That's not enough space for my balled fist, knuckles up. That gap narrows with a driver aboard and shrinks further when the car dives forward under any kind of braking.

And so the Chevy Volt's spoiler drags on everything. Speed bumps? Ssccrrraaape. Driveways? Ssccrrraaape. It's shallow enough that every intersection with a lateral gutter of any depth becomes the Rubicon Trail.

A deliberate, angled approach is your only defense — or a pair of earmuffs. And don't even dream of pulling all the way up to a concrete parking curb without making contact.

The approach angle to this protuberance is not specified, of course, but we'll soon measure that, too, just for grins. My guess lies at the high end of the single digits.

Of course GM knew all this going in, so they chopped it into three parts and made it kinda-sorta flexible. Nevertheless, Volt drivers must swallow their pride and simply tolerate the scrape sound and the inevitable ratty appearance of their front air dam.

As for us, we're taking bets on how much of the thing will be ground away at the end of our test year. Feel free to weigh in with your over-under guess of the replacement mileage. No word yet as to whether or not it'll pass the Top Gear UK "sleeping policeman" test that allows cars onto their Power Lap Times board.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 1,312 miles

And You Thought Honda Was Bad...

January 25, 2011

And you thought Honda was bad when it came to buttons. Just look at this. Not only does the Chevy Volt have a billion buttons on its center stack, they aren't even buttons. They are touch-sensitive with little nubs like your telephone's 5 digit that gives your fingers something to work with. The picture above is pretty much what I saw from the driver seat this weekend and it took a good 1-onethousand-2-onethousand-3-onethousand before I went "ah ha!" and found the right button.

In the end, though, I have to admit it's way cool. It's futuristic and I'm all for anything that makes me feel like I'm on the bridge of the Enterprise. I'm also OK with buttons. Like Honda, I'd much rather have a button for selecting something than working my way through 8 different iDrive or MMI menus.

So my real problem is that like Honda (A. SEL, SCAN, XM Categories), there are buttons that just don't need to be there. Do REC and DEL really need real estate? I'm not even sure what the TP button does. My best guess is that it provides Charmin. This isn't a Volt-exclusive problem, our Terrain has them as well. Are people really utilizing the radio TiVo function so much that a touchscreen icon wouldn't be sufficient? And also note that the Volt has these in lieu of an HVAC recirc "button," which is in the touchscreen's climate menu.

Another problem with the Volt's touch "buttons" is that they don't really work while wearing gloves (I know I'm in California, but it's chilly in the morning and my hands have poor circulation, so back off Mister I Live in Pennsylvania and it was 3 degrees this morning and my dog froze to the sidewalk).

The touchscreen works just fine with gloves (as is the case with most cars), but the Volt's center stack "buttons" work only 40 percent of the time after the firm press of a knuckle. That's a fail.

So basically I'm OK with a billion touch buttons in theory, but they need some work.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 1,308 miles

How We Measure Electricity Consumption

January 26, 2011

By now you may be wondering how the heck we're measuring our 2011 Chevrolet Volt's gasoline and electricity consumption. It's complicated, but not difficult if you follow a few steps.

Step One is measuring gasoline consumption at the pump. That's easy. We already know how to do that.

Step Two is measuring electricity consumption. That's quite a bit trickier, but not too difficult with the right equipment.

Above is one of our two secret weapons: A Coulomb ChargePoint SAE J1772-compliant charger that we paid for with our own money. It can charge two ways: a) 240 volts by plugging that white SAE pistol grip charger directly into the car, or; b) 120 volts by plugging the car's own charge cord into a socket hidden beneath that ribbed hatch labeled with the numeral "1". Better still, it's possible to use both at once, as illustrated in our Volt vs. Prius plug-in comparo.

And it's dead-simple to use. The Volt's key ring has this little card on it, and you simply wave it in front of the ChargePoint to authorize a charge. You can plug the car in before or after you do this, but it's easier to plug the car in first. Once plugged and waved, you wait a few seconds to see the Volt illuminate a green status light on the dash and honk its horn in confirmation.

This charger is connected to the internet, which gives us several advantages. When the car is full, the card owner gets an e-mail. If some jackwagon of a passerby unplugs the car before it's full, the card owner gets an e-mail (the Volt's alarm goes off, too). In our case, with so many different people driving the Volt and sharing one card, Vehicle Testing Manager Mike Schmidt gets the e-mails.

A single card is associated with a single vehicle, not an individual, so we can visit our account on the Coulomb website to track exactly how many kWh of juice was dispensed at each charge event over the life of a given car. Careful day and date association of this data with entries in the vehicle logbook allow us to match each charge to a driven number of electric miles.

You'll notice that the last two charges amounted to about 12.4 or 12.5 kWh. GM engineers have told us that the usable capacity of the Volt's battery is 10-point-something kWh — they won't tell us the number with any more precision than that.

Yes, I know the Volt's rated capacity is 16 kWh, but rated capacity and usable capacity are two different animals and the usable capacity is the one that matters to us. All hybrids and electric vehicles employ State of Charge (SoC) management strategies to ensure long battery life, which means their batteries are never allowed to be fully charged or fully discharged. So the central 10.x kWh "slice" of the Volt's battery is the usable portion owners can actually access. Usable capacity is the part of the battery you "empty" and "fill-up", even though SoC management means neither of these terms is literally true.

So if the usable portion is 10.x, and we dispensed 12.5, what happened to the other 2 kWh? Charging losses. The very act of charging generates raw heat in the battery, as any laptop user can attest. Additional heat is generated in the cord itself and the car's on-board charge monitoring system, and then there's the juice consumed on-the-spot to run the cooling systems for these components.

So while you may use 10.x kWh to drive a certain distance on the road, the Volt consumed 12.5 kWh to drive those miles as far as the electric company and your wallet are concerned. Charging losses are a fact of life with all plug-in vehicles, and they simply must be included in electricity consumption calculations.

Away from home our Volt's key card allows us to visit any other Coulomb chargers on the network. Such chargers can be set to "free vend" by the owners or they can charge a fee. The billing rate isn't necessarily the going rate for electricity, either — that's a whole 'nuther story we'll get into later.

Either way, use of our Volt's card at other Coulomb stations will create the all-important line entry on our Coulomb webpage with all the data we need. It's pretty slick.

Those green arrows above are there to head off a potential question. You'll notice that the Volt has been on the charger for some 8 hours, but there's no "end" time. The Volt is full, because 8 hours is more than enough to fill it and 12.134 kWh is consistent with a full charge. The lack of an end time merely means the cord is still plugged in and the charger is still occupied. The end time will get filled in as soon as the cord is disconnected. In other words, the "Occupied" time is not the charge time. For that you have to look at the time stamp on Mike's e-mails.

"That's great," you say. "But what about charging at home?"

At least one of you knows the answer, because I saw the name in an earlier post. This, my friends, is the Kill-A-Watt, an aptly-named device that measures the kWh flowing through it to whatever you plug into it: stereos, a fridge, a big screen or a 2011 Chevrolet Volt. The "Menu" button is used to scroll through kWh, outlet voltage, and a couple of other measured parameters. But kWh is the only one we care about.

A Kill-A-Watt costs $19.95 at Fry's, and they usually have them on the shelf near the extension cords (which you should never use when charging a Volt or any other plug-in car). My purchase of the Kill-A-Watt EZ was a mistake, because this $39.95 version isn't worth the extra 20 bucks. Basically, it allows you to manually enter what you THINK you electricity rate is, and it converts kWh to dollars. Pass. I can do that on my calculator. Buy the cheaper Kill-A-Watt and save some dough.

Right away, you can see that last night's home charge required 13.01 kWh — about 0.5 kWh more than most of our 240V charges at the office. It's too early to know for sure, but it could be that the charging losses associated with charging on 120V household current are greater than those generating during 240V charging. After all, it takes over twice as long to charge, so the cooling systems will run twice as long. We'll keep an eye peeled to see if this is an actual trend or a fluke.

That's it. That's how we're measuring the electricity consumption of our Volt. In the next installment I'll go through how we use this data to disentangle electricity consumption from gasoline consumption and ultimately calculate gasoline MPG and electricity consumption in kWh per 100 miles (kWh/100). We might even tackle cost.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

Spotted in the Wild

January 27, 2011

Came across this 2011 Chevrolet Volt out in the parking lot at a nearby lunchtime spot in Santa Monica. Will the Volt take the place of the Prius as the official car of the Republic of Santa Monica?

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

The Perfect Compromise?

January 28, 2011

On my daily commute I get notoriously poor fuel economy. It's bumper-to-bumper traffic that jumps from 0-40-0 and 0-30-0 and 0-50-0 three times a minute and I've got a heavy foot. Poor fuel economy is the price I pay for driving how I want. I'm okay with that. When I had a Mazda3 I averaged 15 mpg on this commute. I was okay with it.

So when I got into the Volt for my normal commute for the first time, I expected it to be like the Mini E or the Plug-in Prius we had and return roughly 50% of advertised electric range.

.....I was wrong.

The first picture in this series is from my parking spot at home when I booted up (you don't start this time) plugged in my iPhone, turned on the seat heaters and AC (that's just how I roll) and hit the road. The following is the big screen version of my consumption and range before takeoff.

So we're looking at 11.8 miles on this charge and 24 miles of battery life remaining. When I started my trip, battery range was listed at 39 miles. 39 - 11.8 = 27.2 so I was already nearly 3 miles worse than the computer anticipated. ( I had to drive Takahashi home, I was going faster than normal and it wasn't representative of my normal commute.)

Here's the after...

Exactly 8 miles later I was in our office and the battery remaining computer was sitting pretty at 18 miles left on the charge. For those keeping track, I used 7 miles of battery for 8 miles of driving. If I continued on this commute more, I assume the computer would learn my style and it would be even better.

On an every day basis, I drive to work and then I drive home. If I need anything (groceries, etc) I walk. It's one of the nice things about living in the Miracle Mile. 5 days a week I'd be happy as can be with an electric car. I love new tech, I like the torque, I like how quet they are and the EV powertrain suits a bad commute far better than even an automatic-equipped gas engine with stop/start. Trouble is, when the weekend comes, I'm on the road 2-3-400 miles just to get out of the city. This car is the perfect hybrid for that. (As it was designed to be.)

If my apartment building or office had a charger (and I didn't have access to one already) and it was $10K cheaper (Sorry, it doesn't feel or drive like a $40K + car) I'd own one. Plus it's a hatchback, we all know I loves me some hatchback.

(Notable: Rear room isn't great for anything that isn't a backpack. I never have rear seat passengers so I'm okay with this.)

Mike Magrath, Associate Editor, Inside Line @ 1,151 miles

No Charge Weekend

January 31, 2011

I had the Chevrolet Volt this weekend, but since there is no electrical socket near where I park, I had no place to charge it. And although it was a pretty low-key weekend for me, I wondered if I could make the charge last the entire time. I drove the Volt at a leisurely pace and I was able to get by without using the A/C or heater. Though the skies were a bit gloomy, the weather was in the mid to high sixties this weekend.

My total mileage for the weekend was 44 miles, 37.7 of which were on the electric charge. This is pretty consistent with Karl's numbers, except my route consisted of mostly city driving. On Friday night, I took the freeway home and was caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic for six miles. The rest of my weekend was spent running errands to the post office, Target and the grocery store. Saturday evening, I drove to the beach to take a photo of the car, but I caught more heavy traffic when I hit Pacific Coast Highway. These short trips in traffic would be less than ideal for a traditional gasoline engine, but they were a perfect fit for the Volt.

The gas engine didn't come on until my drive to work this morning. It was a seamless transition and the only giveaways were the instrument panel switching over to the blue fuel graphic and a slightly louder engine note. I was very impressed with this car and I wouldn't hesitate to take it out for another drive.

My nitpicks are minor. I noticed the same touchiness with parallel parking that Ed pointed out. The spoiler does scrape on almost everything. And the parking assist sensors in the front are a bit annoying. When you are pulling into or out of a tight space, they are constantly beeping and are a distraction from the task at hand.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 1,555 miles.

"Fuel" Economy Update

February 01, 2011

The 2011 Chevrolet Volt is unlike any of our other long term test cars, so it doesn't quite fit into our usual Fuel Economy Update format.

It's of course a plug-in hybrid that runs on electricity for a time before switching to gasoline, and this means there are three important things to track: electricity consumption in kilowatt-hours per 100 miles (kWh/100), electric range in miles and the familiar gasoline fuel economy in mpg.

Our Coulomb charger allows us to measure how much electricity we put into the thing, and a readout on the Volt's center stack tells us how far that charge took us before the gas engine lit up. From these we can directly calculate electricity consumption, and by subtracting the electric miles from the total miles driven we can back-out our gasoline-propelled miles. From there we do the usual thing and divide gasoline miles by gallons of dino juice added to calculate gasoline mpg.

So here we go. Here's our first result, presented along with a handful of our other cars for reference.

2011 Chevrolet Volt




Electricity (kwh/100 mi)




Electric Range (miles)




Gasoline (mpg)




'04 Toyota Prius (mpg)




'10 Ford Fusion Hybrid (mpg)




'11 Mazda 2 Touring (mpg)




Other Stats:

  • Total miles monitored: 1560
  • Gasoline miles: 1078.5
  • Electric miles: 481.5
  • Utility Factor: 31%

Things to remember, especially if you're doing math in your head:

  • Lower is better when you're looking at electricity consumption in kWh per 100 miles
  • The three normal vehicles can only be compared to the Volt's results on gasoline
  • Volt requires 91-octane premium, the others don't
  • The two electricity-related numbers are stand-alone figures. It's merely a coincidence that all three of the Volt's attributes settled into the mid thirties.

And here's how all of this compares to EPA ratings...

2011 Chevrolet Volt





Electricity (kwh/100 mi)





Electric Range (miles)





Gasoline (mpg)





'04 Toyota Prius (mpg)





'10 Ford Fusion Hybrid (mpg)





'11 Mazda 2 Touring (mpg)





Interestingly, our average electricity consumption and average electric range beat the EPA ratings. The same cannot be said for gasoline fuel economy, which falls a bit short. It's worth noting that no long road trips have yet been made in the Volt. Our Volt only has 1,600 miles on it. We're just getting started.

So far, our Volt's battery/electric performance seems to be much more variable than its gasoline consumption, this despite local temperatures that are mild with modest swings from high to low.

Once we have a bit more data we'll take a stab at translating these results into cost per mile. As you can imagine, that figure is tricky because it's highly dependent on local utility rates and the mix of gasoline and electric driving one does. Such factors will differ massively with individual circumstances.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 1,618 miles

Is It Good Looking?

February 02, 2011

I like driving the Volt, but is it good looking? I don't think so. Definitely not from the back. Too bulbous, too much going on and I'm not a fan of that huge central reverse light.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

Sometimes I Fear Technology

February 03, 2011

I say I fear technology in cars because of my friends 1985(?) Chrysler LeBaron he had many years ago. It was one of those cars that talked. After a while it went a little haywire. It started to speak at random times. Hit the accelerator too hard, "Your door is ajar." Cruising down the freeway, "Please fasten your seat belts." All spoken in a creepy computer voice reminiscent of my Intellivision equipped with Intellivoice. Yes, that reference is going back a ways.

Out Volt is PACKED with technology. Ok, it might not be as gimmicky as a talking car, but the touch sensitive center console does worry me. The Volt isn't the only current vehicle with this feature on the market. It looks as slick as the Enterprise's deck consoles, but I'd rather have the proven durable technology of buttons. If I did want this feature, I think I'd go by the old adage of waiting till the second generation for them to work out the first run kinks.

Do you fear this technology? Or do you think that I'm being irrational?

Scott Jacobs, Senior Photographer

2,000 Miles, Many on Electricity

February 07, 2011

We crossed the 2,000-mile barrier with our Long-Term 2011 Chevrolet Volt this morning. I was so focused on getting the maximum electric range I missed the official 2,000-mile rollover. But I did have a successful hyper-miling effort.

More details to come shortly, but after 4 days in the Volt I've certainly learned a lot.

Karl Brauer, Editor at Large @ 2,020 miles

Dollars and Sense?

February 08, 2011

I spent four days in a row driving our long-term 2011 Chevrolet Volt, and I honestly feel like I could write a small novel on the experience. Instead, I'll focus on the major lessons learned.

The first 24 hours were a lesson in frustration, as I managed to pull the worst range from the battery (as seen above) while simultaneously getting the most expensive electric bill I've ever received.

It all started with plugging the Volt into my 110v garage outlet after draining the battery on my commute home. The battery had run out after 35.4 miles, falling a bit short of the 37.8 I'd gotten on the same commute home the last time I drove the Volt.

Okay, no biggie. I plugged it in as soon as I parked in the garage and it was fully charged the next morning. However, my route into work wasn't along the relatively flat Pacific Coast Highway (which I use about 90 percent of the time), but instead along the 101 Freeway down to Malibu Canyon Road, then out to PCH. I used this route because I was leaving early enough to avoid traffic and (if you leave early enough) it's faster than the coast.

BUT (and when driving a Volt, this is a big BUT), the 101 south from my house includes the very steep Canejo Grade, which means you're not only traveling at freeway speeds but freeway speeds up a long, steep hill. I figured the Volt wouldn't like this, but when I got to the top of the grade the miles I'd traveled from my home read 7.7; miles I had left on the battery...16. Ouch!

Sure enough, the battery died at 25.8 miles and the the Volt switched over to internal combustion. It had taken 13.41 kWh to charge the Volt, but at that point this was just a number in the logbook. The real issue for me started when I got home that day and finally started going through the stacked up mail. In it I found my record-setting electric bill and confirmed I had paid $.31 for each kWh from mid-December to mid-January.

At that rate it cost me $4.16 to fully charge the Volt the previous night, a price that got me 25.8 miles the following morning. Even my math-challenged brain can deduce the obvious: driving the Volt up freeway hills after charging it at typical Southern California energy rates is an economic disaster. Image putting $4.16 worth of (non-premium) gas in almost any economy car. You're probably going to get more than 25.8 miles out of your investment.

Now, let's address the many issues this no doubt raises:

1. Can't you charge the Volt at a cheaper rate?: theory. After ranting about this issue on my Twitter feed (I was genuinely fired up when I first did the cost calculation) I got multiple reponses (including one from Chelsea Sexton of Who Killed the Electric Car fame) about alternative charging options offered by the California utility companies. I went to the government site to learn more and discovered a lot of government speak, but after wading through it I think I sort of confirmed the following:

You can get a smart charger to only charge at off-peak times
You can get a separate meter to track only electric vehicle charging

I'm not trying to be coy in my description of these alternatives, I'm just saying if you read the actual language (in the .pdf documents) you'll see it's full of government double-speak that allows for a lot variables and doesn't seem to gaurantee anything. For instance, I'm not sure the smart charger or separate meter ensures a lower rate if you otherwise still use enough electricity to hit the dreaded Tier 5 level. I think it does...I think.

2. Dude, you use a lot of electricity!: After thinking the exact same thing when seeing this bill something occurred to me a few hours later — Christmas lights. This bill covered the period of time when I had my lights up, which was the first time I've hung Christmas lights since moving to California in 1994. Yes, it will likely be my last, too, though using ancient, family heirloom lights from (not joking) the 1970s probably didn't help matters.

But, Christmas lights aside, if you're already an energy hog before you buy a Chevy Volt, or any other electric vehicle, you're almost certainly going to be hitting the highest rates of electric billing unless you find an alternative method for charging it. If you're considering an EV, please do yourself a favor and carefully research this financial aspect of operating the vehicle, first.

All this aside, I had a decidedly more positive experience with the Volt toward the end of my four-day seat time. I'll cover that in the next post.

Karl Brauer, Editor at Large

Maximum Motorized Motivation

February 09, 2011

After yesterday's post I might not come off as the biggest fan of our Long Term 2011 Chevrolet Volt. Some might even think I've "got it in" for the car and am attempting to portray only its worst-case scenarios.

Well read on my fellow cynics.

In this post I'm going to take you on a journey, literally, from my house to my workspace, located exactly 50.4 miles away. When I entered the Chevrolet Volt for this particular commute the battery was fully charged and read 35 miles of range. I was somewhat dismayed at this number because the car had previously read 40 and 38 miles after being fully charged a few weeks earlier.

Was the battery already showing signs of reduced charge capacity? "Probably not," I told myself. More likely the car's reduced battery range during my previous driving conditions had taught the computer to assume the worst.

So I left my house and traveled at speeds between 20 and 45 mph, with plenty of stop-and-go conditions, for the first 5 miles of my drive. Under these circumstances the battery range didn't drop to 34 miles until I was 5.5 miles into my commute.

"Hmm, I wonder how much I could stretch out the range if I put some serious effort into it?"

It's worth mentioning my commute route this day, unlike my previous drive into work, was along the relatively flat Pacific Coast Highway. At this point in the drive I decided to be very prudent with throttle application and hold my speed along the open stretches of PCH at around 55 mph (the official speed limit).

Driving at that speed effectively turned the Volt into a rolling chicane and had everything from diesel work trucks to the occasional Toyota Prius blasting past me. But I maintained discipline and even let the Volt slow down to the mid-40s on the slight uphill portions of PCH.

I knew I was making progress when my travel distance was at 21 miles and my remaining battery range read 22 miles. Don't forget that over half of my commute on this route (20-plus miles) has ZERO stop signs or stop lights. That means minimal opportunities for brake regeneration, though it also means no coming to a stop and having to get going again.

I didn't get back into heavy traffic unitl the battery range was down to 7 miles and my distance traveled was at 35 miles. This left me with 15 miles to go before reaching work, meaning I wouldn't quite make it on battery alone.

But I did eek out 45.5 miles on pure electricity before the Volt's engine started up, which is a far cry better than the 25.8 miles I'd managed on my previous commute using the 101 freeway and climbing the steep Canejo Grade. Even at the criminal energy rates charged in California, spending $4.16 to go 45.5 miles isn't a bad deal.

But here's the question: Could I conceivably get from my house to without using any gasoline? I've heard rumors of people going up to 58 miles on the Volt's battery, so theoretically it's possible.

What if I added some personal incentive to the goal? What if I said I have to try to get to on pure electricity, and whatever distance I fall short I have to cover on foot? In other words, when the engine starts I immediately pull over, park, and start walking.

If nothing else it could make for an interesting blog post.

Karl Brauer, Editor at Large

Makes You Think Green

February 10, 2011

Somewhere between one and two years ago (I've honestly lost track) I used some credit card reward points to order two 15-watt solar panels. I ordered them because:
A. They were essentially free, and
B. I was curious to see what, if any, benefit they would deliver

But as I said, I received these panels a while back and had done exactly nothing with them. Then I got the most expensive electric bill I'd ever received and suddenly it seemed foolish to not even give these panels a shot at reducing my electric costs (plus there's that whole carbon footprint thing).

Something about having the Volt in my garage (and sucking up expensive California electricity), along with seeing that monstrous bill convinced me to unpack those panels and let some UV rays hit them. But I needed to confirm what mounting screws to use, which meant taking one of the panels to my local hardware store.

No worries, as the panel fit easily in the Volt's cargo bay and I was able to have a store employee confirm the diameter and length of the screws I'd need to secure them to my roof. And yes, I had fleeting thoughts of strapping them to the top of the Volt in an attempt to improve the pure electric range.

A few hours (and solder burns) later I had both panels mounted and 35 feet of wire running down the side of my house to a couple leftover automotive batteries (yes, I also know deep marine cycle batteries are better for this application). I won't bore you with all the details involving charge controllers and inverters, but I will say I technically watched the second half of the Super Bowl via the power of the sun. Well, almost. The inverter's low-voltage alarm went off at about the two-minute warning, so my football entertainment had to go back "on the grid" for the game finale.

But there's no doubt my experiences with the Volt finally drove me to go solar (on a limited basis). If one of the many points of these cars is to make us more seriously consider our energy usage, mission accomplished.

Karl Brauer, Editor at Large

One Backup Lamp Short

February 10, 2011

I'm not a fan of single center-mounted backup lamps like the one found on our 2011 Chevrolet Volt. Yeah, it looks plenty big from the outside, but I need more illumination to the sides so I can see stuff in my side-view mirrors, too. I leave the house at dark, at 5:00 am, and on Friday mornings three trash cans are hidden in the shadows on the left side of the frame.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

Eject Your iPod (Alternate Title: And Volt Makes 3)

February 14, 2011

Like our GMC Terrain before it, our 2011 Chevy Volt has this nifty little iPod menu that makes quick work of finding exactly what you want on your iPod/Phone. (Though when you sort by song it sorts alpha instead of by album and I'm not a fan of that...anyway.)

The GM products also have this "Eject iPod" feature buried at the bottom of the list. To my knowledge, they're the only ones who add this step. I've gone into some detail before on how the GMC Terrain lunched my iPod — probably because eject buttons are dumb, I just tear the thing out every time.

Well, since that time we've had one other i-device divided by zero by a GM interface (an iPhone went 'pop' soon after a hard disconnect) and as of a couple of nights ago, my current-gen iPod Nano (and thankfully not my iPhone) bought the farm after one too many hard ejects. That makes 3.

Here's how it went down: Plug in iPod, drive around. Get home. Remove iPod. Go to bed. Wake up. Go to car. Plug in iPod, drive around. Get home. Remove iPod to play in the house (we were listening to an audio book and wanted to keep listening). Plug iPod into home dock — nothing. Give up and go to bed. Plug iPod into car next morning forgetting it done broked. Nothing. The screen shows there are files, but attempting to play them resets the iPod. Awesome. Reset iPod via computer. Everything's happy again.

So that's that. I'm going to heed the warning you get when ignoring the eject button (below) when my iPhone is plugged in, but with the Nano...I'm just going to keep yanking it out and then blogging when it deletes my data. I've never used eject on any other car (nor on my iTunes) and I don't plan to start now.

Mike Magrath, Associate Editor, Inside Line

Spoiler Update

February 16, 2011

A few weeks ago I posted photos of our 2011 Chevrolet Volt and its perilously low front spoiler. It scrapes if you even look at a driveway; that's just the way it is.

Yesterday I noticed the three segment spoiler had begun to unhinged itself, with Tab A coming unstuck from Slot B like a badly-assembled Hot Wheels track. The good news is it snaps back together like Hot Wheels track segments, too — at least for now.

I bet we'll be doing this a lot because I measured the ground clearance ( 3.125 inches) and the overhang (28.5 inches) at the forwardmost low point and calculated an approach angle of just 6.25 degrees. It makes me wonder how a Murcielago would compare, but I'm fresh out of Lambo keys right now.

Lest you still think this is a fluke, here's the joint on the other side of the car.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 2,238 miles

2011 Chevy Volt Can Learn From the Mini Countryman

February 16, 2011

"Note: Any photography equipment left in the trunk during a shoot will fly forward and hit the driver in the right arm." - Mike Magrath's caption for the above photo.

With a two-person back seat consisting of split buckets in front of a hatchback cargo area, this is going to be a problem. The Volvo C30 is another offender, but what about the Mini Countryman and its twin rear buckets?

Well, this certainly looks exactly the same as the Volt, but note the second picture.

The Countryman's cargo floor neatly pivots up and locks in place under the solid cargo cover, creating a sealed trunk that will prevent camera equipment from flying into the passenger compartment. I'd imagine there would be some noise suppression as well (the 5 Series GT uses something similar). You also gain some trunk depth by using this feature, though this is negated somewhat by the Mini roadside assistance kit and our particular Countryman's dog fence. Still, it's a smart solution that with some adaptation (spliting the cargo floor into two pieces since it's longer than the seatback height) could greatly benefit the Volt's cargo compartment.

There is something even better, though. The Porsche Panamera (below) has a central piece that plugs the seat gap with an armrest, something neither the Volt nor the Countryman have.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

What's Missing Here?

February 17, 2011

Our Chevy Volt's back window does have footprints from a cat or raccoon on it. It does NOT have something rather important. What's missing here?

If you said "Calvin Pissing on Toyota Logo Sticker," you are incorrect. The answer is a rear windshield wiper.

Many of the other cars with this fastback hatchback (fastchback?) body style have one: Prius, Insight, CR-Z. The BMW 5 Series GT and Scion tC do not, however.

Perhaps the rake of the Volt's back window isn't all that different than the increasingly coupe-like greenhouses of many sedans, but rear visibility isn't especially good, and with rain and general schmutz, it gets worse. As such, I think the Volt could benefit from a rear wiper — or at least the option of one like Porsche offers for the 911.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 2,577 miles

Keeps the Pressure On

February 21, 2011

I checked our long term 2011 Chevrolet Volt's tire pressure recently and found both front tires at 32.5 psi, while the rear tires were at 34 and 34.5 psi. The little sticker in the driver's door frame says all four tires should be at 35 psi.

Now although proper tire pressure is important in any vehicle, it's doubly so when you're driving a car with a primary purpose of conserving transportation energy.

I was actually pretty sure the tire pressure was low before I checked it, as steering response and bump reaction in the front felt a bit wallowy compared to the Volt I drove at the press conference in Detroit last October (note: the closest I come to having a Jedi force power is being able to detect low or unever tire pressure).

My portable air compressor had all four tires back up to 35 psi in about 5 minutes, and the Volt did feel a tad sharper afterwards, though we're talking very subtle shades of gray with these kinds of pressure changes.

As with our past Prius long-term car, or any future alternative energy vehicles we pick up (yup, another one is about to arrive in the fleet), we'll work hard to keep the tire pressures at factory spec. When you're talking maximum energy efficiency, this is critical.

Karl Brauer, Editor at Large

Theory to Practice

February 21, 2011

Until now, my relationship with our Volt has been that of a person who has pored over cookbooks but has never set foot in a kitchen. I've either written, edited or collaborated on five stories recently for Edmunds about electric vehicle power costs, battery operation and that popular EV topic, "range anxiety." But I've spent virtually no time driving an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle. I was looking forward to applying theory to reality.

On my drive home Friday, abysmal stop-and-go freeway traffic gave me plenty of time to (safely) put the Volt's energy usage and energy efficiency display screens through their paces. I kept an eye on the spinning green leaf ball called the "driver efficiency gauge." It turns a sickly yellow, like a dying houseplant, if you brake or accelerate too aggressively, so I avoided doing either.

Another display on the Volt confirmed I was using an energy-efficient driving style, but I think I lost points with my too-cozy climate setting. The nature of the traffic probably didn’t help, either. Whatever the reason, by the time the car flipped from electric to gas operation, I had only managed to get 29.5 miles of electric range — a far cry from the car’s best of 46.5 miles.

The next issue was charging, which I suspected that it was going to be a challenge. I live in an old house with a garage that does not have a 120V AC outlet close at hand. The nearest one is in an adjacent laundry room. I’d managed to charge a plug-in Prius few months ago by running the cord through the car’s open windows to get that last foot of cord reach. No such luck with the Volt, however.

I could have driven on gasoline only, and did so on Saturday. But where’s the fun in that? I consulted with our director of vehicle testing, Dan Edmunds, and the Volt’s owner’s manual, which cautions against using an extension cord and then tells you how to safely do it. I bought a GFCI-protected power strip ($27), attached it to a properly rated (12-14 gage, outdoor-use) extension cord, connected that to our kilowatt-hour reader and then to the Volt’s charging cord. It was not a pretty array, but all the lights went green and charging commenced. More than 10 hours later, a blinking green light on the Volt’s dash told me it was ready to go.

The Volt took in 13.36 kWh of electricity. We have a low-power household that rarely strays out of Southern California Edison’s Tier 1, where the charge is 13 cents per kWh. But just in case, I estimated a rate in the next tier: 15 cents per kWh. Based on that, the Volt cost about $2 to charge, and that's not too bad. Today’s goal is to see if I can eke out better range.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @ 2,451 miles

Cold Comfort

February 22, 2011

Range anxiety is really not an issue in the Volt, since the gasoline engine kicks in when the battery has run its course. Range envy is another matter. I developed a bad case of it over the weekend.

My driving pattern over the last three days — a 28-mile one-way freeway commute, around-town driving to the market and breakfast, the use of climate control and occasional forays into the Volt's sport mode — got me lackluster electric-only range of around 30 miles. Nothing approaching the car's 46.4-mile best.

So for my commute to Santa Monica this morning, I was determined to better my performance. I read the Volt's onboard energy efficiency tips before heading out. The car is most efficient at speeds below 50 mph. I couldn't drive 50 on the 405 without being honked into oblivion, but I kept my speed at 62 or so for most of the drive. The car's climate-control system is most efficient in fan-only mode, and Chevrolet recommends using the Volt's heated seats rather than running the heater itself. Done. It was just 47 degrees outside, but I skipped the heater and turned up the fanny-warming driver's seat.

As you can see from the Volt's energy-information screen at the top of this entry, I was doing pretty well — driving efficiently and making the most (or least) of the climate-control system.

The result: much better range. I arrived at Edmunds' office with 13 miles to spare, meaning I was on track to get 41 miles of electric-only range from the car. The collateral damage: I had no sensation in my fingertips. The next time I drive the Volt on a wintry morning, I'm either bringing along gloves or resigning myself to losing the range war.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @ 2,530 miles

The New Age of Electricity?

February 25, 2011

Around the time we got our Volt, my father bought this electric bike and left it at my house. I thought that it made an interesting comparison to the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. When the Volt's battery is depleted it shifts to the gas engine. When the eZip bike's battery is depleted I shift over to pedaling. The message here is that electricity isn't enough to get the job done — you need a secondary power source.

This isn't all bad. I use the electric bike way more than I thought I would. It extends the range of what I could reach by pedaling. And when I get there I'm not sweaty. In the Volt's case, I was disappointed when the battery was exhausted and it switched over to using the gas-powered engine. Still, getting all the way home and halfway back to work (37 miles) on all-electric was pretty cool.

In my first night in the Volt I liked driving it (except for the odd brake feel). I'll be in it for a week so I'm looking forward to getting to know it in more depth.

Free Parking, Free Juice

February 28, 2011

Last week, I mentioned in a blog that I would be going to the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) twice in the 2011 Chevrolet Volt over the weekend. One reader, Defiant2, suggested I use the free parking near Terminal 1. After some online research, I found that there are two free parking areas for EVs but only one has the charging unit we need.

Friday night I drove through driving rain to pick up my father and used the EV parking near Terminal 6. While they had the old style chargers that didn't fit the Volt, it allowed me to park without hunting for an open spot. As I was exiting I told the attendant that EVs got free parking. She laughed pleasantly and said, "Yeah, wouldn't that be cool? That'll be $5, please." It was 1:30 a.m. and I didn't feel like arguing the point. So I paid.

Sunday morning was a different story. I pulled in next to another Volt (the only other one I've seen on the road) and waved the ChargePoint card and hooked up the charger. The only disappointment was that my sister's flight was on time and I only charged for about 20 minutes. This time, the attendant was up on the whole parking perk thing and, after a long delay, flipped the gate up. Luckily, no one was stuck behind me or they would start hating EV drivers (even more than they already do).

In other Volt news, I used the Kill A Watt monitor and found that it takes about 12 kWh to recharge the Volt. At my current rate of .15 per kWh that means it costs $1.80 for enough charge to go about 35 miles. If you compare the Volt to a similar sized car, getting 35 mpg on gas at the Los Angeles average of $3.75 per gallon, that means the Volt is less than half the cost. The difference, of course, is the entry price of the vehicle itself. We paid $43,000 (or $35,500 once the federal tax credit is applied) for the privilege of saving money on gas.

While it is nice to have the "range extender" feature of the Volt, basically a safety net that catches you, it is always disappointing to see the battery icon replaced by the gas pump icon. The whole idea of getting this car is to go electric. And yet the range is pretty limited. On Friday I made it to the airport on electricity but returned on gas. After an overnight charge, I spent all day Saturday running errands electrically. On Sunday, again, I was only half electric. This morning, I made it all the way to work on electricity only to find our chargers are blocked off for construction.

I'm hoping to get the 2011 Nissan Leaf for a week to see if its 100 mile (which in reality could only be 80 miles) fits my driving patterns better.

Philip Reed, Edmunds Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 2,786 miles

What's the Right Price?

March 01, 2011

I would consider putting a Chevy Volt in my garage, but not at the current price of $43,000. Even after the federal tax credit we're looking at $35,500, and that's too steep. Just think of the cars in that price range.

After a rare trip to our local gas station (our Volt drank only 5.6 gallons after traveling over 500 miles) I found that the average Joe has pretty strong feelings about the price. One guy in particular gave me a piece of his mind.

Here's an interesting conversation I had while pumping $3.95 premium gas into the Volt.

Him: That's going to be my first Chevy? Aren't you lovin' it?

Me: I love it when I'm in all-electric. But the range is a little disappointing. And the price is too high.

Him: Yeah, they're rippin' everyone off.

I loved the way he flipped from one extreme to the other. But it's obvious that the word is out: the price is too high.

I have my opinion. But I'd be interested in hearing what you think the right price is for the Chevy Volt?

Philip Reed, Edmunds Senior Consumer Advice Editor, @ 2,864 miles

"Fuel" Economy Update 2

March 02, 2011

Welcome to the second update of our 2011 Chevrolet Volt's fuel economy — errr, electricity consumption. Well, it's both, actually.

The Volt's cost and consumption story is complex, so I'm trying something a bit different with this particular monthly summary. It's a work in progress.

Because you asked for it, I've added cost per mile calculations using national average prices for gasoline and electricity. You'll also see the cost per mile with California average gasoline and electricity prices, though the price many editors pay at home is far higher than this.

Some of you expressed an interest in seeing the "apparent" mpg, looking at gasoline used over all miles driven and ignoring electricity. It's a bogus figure from an overall cost and consumption perspective, but it has a use if all you care about is reducing our dependence on gasoline that's derived from oil. I hesitate to say imported oil, because some of it is domestic, but you get the idea.

Before we get to that, here is the consumption and range breakdown, with gasoline consumption figured over the gasoline-driven miles and electricity consumption figured over the battery electric miles.

2011 Chevrolet Volt




Electricity (*kWh/100 mi)




Electric Range (miles)




Gasoline (mpg)




* Remember, smaller is better with the kWh-per-100 miles unit

Here is how these compare to EPA consumption and range estimates.

2011 Chevrolet Volt





Electricity (kWh/100 mi)





Electric Range (miles)





Gasoline (mpg)





That's right, our Volt is beating the EPA's estimates for range and electricity comsumption but is falling short of the expected gasoline consumption.

The ratio of battery-electric miles to total miles is called the Utility Factor in engineering circles. It sounds weird until you associate the word "utility" with electric utilities. We were breaking in our gas engine during January, so the percentage of battery-electric miles (the UF) was a bit low. We brought that up significantly this month, as you can see here. More charging means fewer visits to the gas pump, so the "apparent" mpg goes up accordingly.

2011 Chevrolet Volt




Utility Factor (% EV miles)




“Apparent” MPG (ignoring electricity)




Cost per mile (US average prices)




Cost per mile requires a bit of clarification. The February cost per mile fell even as gas prices went up because we spent more time running off the batteries. This works out with the current national average electricity prices, but it doesn't hold true at any electricity price, as we will see later.

For the record, the national average residential price for electricity used here is 11.7 cents per kilowatt-hour. The DOE's official figure hasn't been updated since Nov 2010, so we're using that figure in January and February. This isn't a huge problem because electricity prices don't bounce around like gasoline prices.

But gasoline prices do fluctuate — a lot. Fortunately, the statistical data is also updated quite rapidly. For February we used the current national average premium fuel price, $3.633 per gallon. Last month's national average of $3.409 was used for January. Yeah, if you didn't already know it, the Volt requires premium.

For reference, here is the theoretical cost per mile of a couple of popular Hybrids, calculated using national average prices for regular unleaded. I say theoretical because you have to match the EPA combined rating to make these numbers.

2011 Toyota Prius (50 mpg comb)




2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid (39 mpg comb)




So far these figures are based on national prices, but electricity varies wildly by state — even within states or neighborhoods. It should be no surprise that California gasoline prices and electricity rates are more expensive than the national average.

2011 Chevrolet Volt




Cost per mile (Ca. average prices)




Cost per mile (charging at my house)




California electricity — 15.2 cents

California premium gasoline — $3.967 now and $3.632 a month ago.

Electricity at my house — 31 cents (SCE tiered rates, highest tier)

Note that the cost to plug in a Volt doesn't make sense at my electric rates. See how the cost per mile goes up during February, the month we plugged-in our Volt more of the time? In my specific case, the more battery I use, the more I pay. There is a tipping point for the price of electricity, and I live beyond it. I can't tell you what that point is with precision because the never-ending flux of gas prices makes it a constantly-moving target.

That's enough nerding for one day, don't you think?

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 2,865 miles

My Pac-Man Tied for Second

March 04, 2011

Last night I took the Chevrolet Volt to my mother-in-law's house. She lives in the San Fernando Valley, about 21 miles away from where I live. I had already used up six miles of electric charge to drive home from the Edmunds office. In order to get to the Valley, you have to drive up a fairly steep hill. I saw the electric range meter fall quickly as I climbed, and figured I would have a record-low electric-only range when the charge was finally depleted. It turned out to be quite the opposite.

On my way home, the electric range read 16 miles. I wanted to make the charge last, so I drove in the slow lane, going 50-60 mph. By the time I got to the top of the hill (at Skirball Center Drive, for those familiar with the area), the Volt's display said I only had two miles of electric range left. But these would be the longest two miles I had ever driven.

I was now going downhill and was able to coast at 50-55mph without giving any throttle at all. It was nighttime, so there was hardly any traffic. I was almost at my exit and the range was still pegged at 2 miles. I didn’t set out to break the range record that day, but as I passed the 42 mile mark, I thought to myself "I might be able to make a run at this thing!"

In a desperate attempt to conserve energy, I turned off the seat heaters that my wife was using and kept driving as consistently as possible. I exited the 10 Freeway on the Robertson offramp. This is about 10 miles from when the electric range first showed only two miles left. As I continued to drive on the street, the meter fell to one mile and soon after that the gas engine kicked in.

The Volt's display showed that I had driven 45.5 miles on electricity only. This is less than a mile short of the 46.4 record set by Dan Edmunds, but I did tie with Karl Brauer for second place. Looking back I should’ve stayed on the freeway to keep the momentum. But regardless, it was a good run.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @2,932 miles.

Our Favorite Caption

March 04, 2011

Thanks to breif for this week's favorite caption. Here are the others that gave us a jolt.

Ah, this should pay for a years worth of gas... (tellurium)
Get off of my lawn. (oldchap)
Ohm Sweet Ohm (ergsum)
Does owning a Volt mean you have to live in Watts? (ergsum)
Parked in a red zone??? It's my own driveway! (ahightower)
power sale! (jacton)
How much for the volt? Oh...too much. (fuel_on_fire85)
No charging. Cash only. (breif)
The Volt's "True Cost to Own" (anonimo)
The Volt needs a new ohm... (mrryte)
Electric Currency (ergsum)
Conducting Business (ergsum)
At least the batteries are included with the Volt... (jchan2)
ahh, poor James, the fiancee has currently grounded him (mnorm1)
Ohm my god, Watts that Joule of a Volt cost? (greenpony)
Who sold the electric car? (stpawyfrmdonut)
It's not that easy being green. (teampenske3)

What was your favorite?

To the winner:
You can select one of these three prizes:

- red fuzzy dice
- set of mini cones
- Hendrick Motorsports DVD

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

You Write the Caption

March 04, 2011

Soon-to-be-newlywed James Riswick sent me this photo of our Chevy Volt at a garage sale. How much for the Volt? Just kidding, don't want to get into that argument again.

What is your caption?

We'll post our favorite this afternoon.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Halogen vs LED/HID Headlights

March 07, 2011

I'm not a fan of halogen headlights. They aren’t very bright and they don’t look as good as HID or LED lights. I had driven a few cars with HID and LED lights and I was sold on them immediately. When I bought my car last year, HID lights were a must-have.

Our 2011 Chevrolet Volt has LED daytime running lights. They look great and give a off a nice cool blue light. But when you turn on your low beams, a pair of halogen bulbs comes on instead. This is disappointing because at $44 grand for a fully loaded model, you expect to get some premium features. Cost expectations aside, there are other reasons why the Volt could benefit from LED headlights.

A recent study by Osram Sylvania showed that having LED headlights can potentially extend an electric vehicle's range by up to six miles. I'm pretty sure every Volt owner would love an additional six miles of EV range (and brighter headlights).

You're probably thinking, "LED headlights are more expensive. If the Volt had them, it would cost even more." But for comparison's sake, the base model Nissan Leaf, which starts at $32,780, has LED headlights. Nissan has a partnership with Valeo-Ichikoh to produce a low-cost and energy-efficient headlamp.

General Motors already offers LED headlights in the Cadillac Escalade Platinum. If the tech in those headlights was too big to fit in the Volt, even an HID lighting system would be more energy-efficient than halogen.

What do you think? Should the Volt have LED headlights? What do you prefer on your cars?

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 2,982 miles

The Grapes of Wrath

March 08, 2011

The 2011 Chevrolet Volt has this gap between the seats because of the layout of its battery. I actually like it for a couple of reasons. Looking through that gap helps with rearward visibility. And the separation between the seats reminds me of my old 1992 Honda Prelude, which had a storage area that ran down the center of the two seats. But I found out this weekend that this gap could be dangerous in the event of a hard stop.

I was driving back from the grocery store when a car in the opposite direction decided to make a left-hand turn a short distance ahead of me. I had a green light and the right of way, but the man wasn't paying attention and cut me off. I slammed on the brakes, which worked really well, avoided a collision and was able to stop a few feet short of him.

When I arrived at home, I opened up the cargo area and saw that all my grocery bags were smashed up against the seatbacks and a pack of grapes (shown above) was in the back seat. During my hard stop the grapes somehow jumped out of the bag, threaded the gap between the seats and ended up in the back seat.

I pondered what would have happened if someone had been sitting in the backseat. Would they have been hit by flying grapes? What if the flying object had been something heavier? My advice to Volt owners is this: Buy the cargo net! According to the Chevrolet Web site, it is a $45 dollar option, but a small price to pay to keep your cargo from taking flight.

Chevy also sells a cargo organizer for $99, which according to the site "provides a storage compartment between the rear passenger seats, while closing the gap between the rear seats and the cargo area." I wasn't able to find a photo of this of the cargo net.

My apologies for this recreated photo, but I was a bit freaked out that I almost crashed the Volt. Taking a photo then was the last thing on my mind.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 2,993 miles.

Five Things I Like

March 11, 2011

I drove the Volt for just over a week and it made a great impression on me. I loved its high- tech feel, quiet ride and the interesting looks I got from Prius owners trying to figure out what I was driving. Our director of vehicle testing, Dan Edmunds, wants each week-long tour of duty in the Volt to end with a trip to the gas station. The Volt wet its whistle with less than a gallon of premium fuel. The total cost was $3.17.

After eight days with the car, here are a few things I liked about it, not ranked in any particular order:

1. Sport Mode: Activating this mode increases the responsiveness of the throttle and gets the car up to speed much quicker. It does drain the charge faster, but it is nice to have if you want more pickup.

2. No Range Anxiety: This isn’t an issue in the Volt. Instead you'll find yourself getting range envy — you want to see how far you can go on an electric charge.

3. Phone and iPod Interface: I like the ability to use either the touch screen or the designated button on the dash. It is very easy to find the song or phone number of the person you want to call.

4. LCD Screens: It may seem gimmicky to some, but I really like how these screens boot up and display information. It looks like the kind of "future car" we all imagined when we were kids.

5. Good Commuter Car: Dan will have more concrete data later, but my 12-mile round-trip commute is perfect for the Volt. The only time I went past the EV range was on the weekend and when I traveled to visit relatives.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 3,060 miles

GM Explains How the Volt Deals With Old Fuel

March 11, 2011

One of the most common questions on the 2011 Chevy Volt is, "How does it deal with stale fuel if someone drives mostly in EV mode?" And it was a question even GM asked as they were developing it — gas doesn't like sitting around for a year or so and that's a real possibility with the Volt.

Well, GM has made a video answer. Essentially, there's a fully-sealed fuel system that is vented upon customer activation (there may be a warning light) and two maintenance modes to burn off contaminants and calculates fuel age for controlled burnoffs.

Follow the jump for the full rundown.

Mike Magrath, Associate Editor, Inside Line

(A Short Term) 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'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:

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.

There's Always a Good Parking Spot

March 15, 2011

As you can see, our Chevrolet Volt gets us some perks. At my local grocery store, there are spaces up front that are reserved for "Electrical Vehicles Only." They're leftover from the EV-1 days, complete with big ol' spider-web-covered paddles for charging.

Clearly they haven't been getting much use in the last decade or so, but now that we have the Volt and the Leaf I plan on taking full advantage of them. I suspect they won't last for long given the fact that "electrical" cars are becoming more mainstream. Then again, I never seen another one parked in either of the three spots available, so it could be some time before I lose my privileges.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Inisde Line

Searching For Consistency

March 22, 2011

I really like the Chevrolet Volt's interface. You can control the menu functions with a button and dial in the center, but you also have the option to use the touchscreen. There is something minor that I would change both for usability and for the sake of consistency, however. The photo above shows the phonebook search screen. Your contacts are neatly alphabetized in three-letter folders. This makes it easy to quickly find who you want to call. There is also a voice-dialing function, for those who prefer that method.

But when I plug in my iPhone, it's not the same organizational system.

Instead, you get an A-Z listing of all your songs — or in this case, artists — that you must scroll through individually. You can scroll the knob in the opposite direction to get to the "Zs," but when I want to listen to an artist whose name starts with an "M," I have to trudge through the entire list.

What I'm more likely to do instead is to unplug the iPhone, find what I need, get it playing and then plug back in. It’s a minor inconvenience, but it feels unnecessary since the interface already has a better solution.

Do you find any inconsistencies like this on your cars?

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 3,360 miles

The Fight For 50

March 23, 2011

50 miles. That's what GM says, under ideal conditions, is the maximum range for the 2011 Chevy Volt under electric power.

Challenge accepted!

I was going to, by any means necessary, hit 50 miles on our Volt on battery alone. Here's what happened...

Attempt 1: Pacific Coast Highway North. Night. Late.

PCH seems like an odd place to do this, but here's what it offers: A REALLY long distance with virtually no traffic and a low-enough speed limit to not get crushed by angry drivers. Very little chance of hitting stops at that time of night.

Here's why it's bad: Cold — 50 that night. Hills (which can be negated, mostly, by coasting up them.)

Here's how it went down: Hopped in a fully charged Volt and went immediately to the highway --- no stops so far, sweet. I'd done about 5 miles and the trip computer was still estimating my journey at 35 miles on electricity — 0% decrease. I ignored cruise control and used a steady foot and hovered somewhere around 40-45. No HVAC. No stereo. Nothing charging. No heated seats. Miserable.

Lots of very boring "driving" later, the meter read 20 miles to empty with 39 miles under my belt. Score. I treated myself to a few minutes of the radio. (You can only hum Mephiskapheles' Bumblebee tuna song for so long) Five minutes won't hurt, right?

WRONG! The meter started dropping frantically...20...18...16..15...all in less than 2 miles! Damn. I thought the Volt would accept NPR. Quick, turn that off. Nothing...still dropping...dropping...dropping. I'm at 42.1 miles when the switchover happens.

And that's when I realized what went wrong. When I hit the radio on I brushed ever-so-lightly across the insane, over-complicated and annoying touch-panel CLIMATE button and turned the thing on. I can't get those stupid buttons to work when I want them to, but the minute I don't, all of a sudden my touch works.

Fine. Whatever. Back to the office to charge it. I'll try again in the AM.

So the next day rolled around and, opting for a warmer option, I decided to take the 405 south. Middle of the day would be slow but not stopped and there are no hills. Fine.

Heat OFF. Radio off. Seat heaters off. Go!

I found the first 20-year-old pickup I could with 94 mattresses in the back going 15 under the truck speed, glued myself to his bumper and set forth for the OC. Optimum weather and almost optimum speed. This should do it.

46.2 miles of tedium later, the battery died, I swore and tried to figure out what I could do just south of Irvine to blow off some steam. Plug in my iPod, turn around and drive home was the only option. At least the Volt's a nice place to spend time — good ride, good seats, quiet enough.

But 46.2 must be the new record, right? Nope. Dan Edmunds got 46.6. I texted him to see what he did. "Just drove it home. Listened to a podcast. Probably used climate control."

"I hate you." was all I could reply.

So try as I might...and I will try again...I wasn't able to hit 50 miles on the Volt's battery. But then again, I've never been able to match GM's claimed numbers.

Mike Magrath, Associate Editor, Inside Line

Where Are The Power Seats?

March 24, 2011

The Chevy Volt cames standard with automatic headlights, heated mirrors, remote ignition, automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth, OnStar, a touchscreen electronics interface, a navigation system, voice control, real-time traffic and a six-speaker Bose stereo with CD/DVD player, an auxiliary audio jack, an iPod/USB audio interface, satellite radio and 30GB worth of digital music storage. Our car comes with the optional Premium Trim package (leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and heated front seats) and the Rear Camera and Park Assist package (gee, what does that give you?)

That's a comprehensive and luxury-like amount of equipment, but there are no power seats. I can't comprehend why the Volt isn't offered with them (the damn Cruze has a six-way power driver seat!), but regardless, it should have them. Besides luxury/cost expectations, it would improve the driving position.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 3,419 miles

Case Study, Ron Montoya

March 25, 2011

Unlike other cars, the case for the "dual-fuel" 2011 Chevrolet Volt depends greatly on an individual driver's situation. Length of commute, driving conditions, driving style — the amount of electric-only driving and the need for gasoline depends greatly on these factors.

For this reason we can't use the overall average consumption approach we use for single-fuel pure gasoline cars. I'm including the Toyota Prius here because it uses exactly zero electricity from outside sources — there is no plug through which the battery can be pre-charged.

With those cars, total miles divided by total gallons works great, and we can co-mingle long commute data with short commute scenarios and still get a good randomized result that we can compare to the EPA's combined MPG estimates. There are differences in individual circumstances, of course, but it has been that way so long that we're all able to relate averages to our own situation.

But that doesn't quite work for the Volt. Someone who lives 2 miles from work will have a very different opinion from someone who lives 50 miles away. The former may not use any gasoline while the latter may use a lot. The differences are much larger here.

So we're doing something different with our Volt. We're going to collect "case study" data from different individuals. We'll choose the subjects carefully so each has a different sort of commute and we'll break out their results separately from the mooshed-together averages. Each will keep the Volt for a solid week. We'll do this once a month.

Case study #1

Subject: Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate

Commute distance: 5.9 miles each way

Commute type: 90% congested freeway, 10% surface streets

Utility company: LA Department of Water and Power (LA DWP)

Before we get to Ron's case study, here are the overall figures for all of the Volt's miles so far. We're using the following current national average prices here: 11.7 cents per kWh, $3.829 for super unleaded, $3.561 for regular unleaded.

Utility factor: 47% (47% of total miles in battery EV mode)

Miles driven: 3,000.2 - 1399.6 electricity, 1600.6 gasoline

Average electric range: 37.6 (from full battery charges only)

Fuel used: 491.4 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 47.7 gallons of premium gasoline

Apparent MPG: *62.9 mpg (total miles/gasoline burned, ignoring electricity consumed)

Actual gasoline consumption during gasoline engine operation: 33.6 mpg

Electricity consumption on battery power: 35.1 kWh every 100 miles

Overall cost per mile: 8.0 cents

Prius cost per mile: 7.1 cents (@ 50 mpg EPA combined)

*Remember, the Apparent MPG figure is a bogus factor from an overall cost and environmental impact standpoint, but we're including it for those who are primarily interested in reducing the amount of oil-derived gasoline they use. The electricity used in place of gasoline comes from somewhere and has its own cost, but certain potential Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf customers seem happy to ignore this. Rightly or wrongly, the Apparent MPG is simply and exclusively associated with gasoline consumption or the lack thereof.

On with the show...

It must be said that Ron is a renter and cannot charge the Volt at home. So he plugged it in at work instead. Almost all Volt owners will charge at home — few workplaces have a charger like ours, but by charging at just one end of his commute we're still able to simulate the real-world costs of real-world people. To that end, we're using his home electric rates to simulate what an actual homeowner in his situation would have paid.

Here are Ron's figures, measured over a full week and using his utility cost (14.76 cents per kWh, including all taxes and fees) and California's current average gasoline prices ($4.189 for premium and $ 3.993 for regular).

Utility factor: 89% (89% of Ron's total miles were driven on outside electricity)

Total miles driven: 194.1 - 172.9 electricity, 21.2 gasoline

Average electric range: 42.0 (from full battery charges - partial charges excluded)

Fuel used: 54.1 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 0.75 gallons of premium gasoline

Apparent MPG: *259.8 mpg (total miles/gasoline burned, ignoring electricity)

Actual gasoline consumption during gasoline engine operation: 28.4 mpg

Electricity consumption on battery power: 31.3 kWh every 100 miles

Overall cost per mile: 5.7 cents

Prius cost per mile: 8.0 cents (@ 50 mpg EPA combined)

Things to take away from this...

A Volt running at a 47% Utility Factor is 13% more expensive to operate than a Prius on a cost per mile basis, even at national average prices.

Ron's short commute allows him to drive on outside electricity 89% of the time, so for him the Volt is a full 28% cheaper to operate than a Prius.

Ron's performance on gasoline fell short of the EPA estimate (28.4 mpg versus a rated 37)

That said, Ron will use only 3 gallons of gas per month

Ron's electricity consumption beat the EPA estimate (31.3 kWh per 100 miles versus 36)

Ron household used 242 kWh last month. A full month of Volt use will add 232 more kWh per month, essentially doubling electric bill. A portion of the Volt's additional electric load will therefore be charged at the LADWP's higher "tier 2" rate. But in his case that rate is only 1.5 cents higher than tier 1 and the overall cost per mile won't change much. In winter there's no price difference at all between tiers 1 and 2.

Moral of the story: Purchase price aside, the Volt pays off handsomely for Ron and his 5.9-mile commute because he can run on electricity much of the time and his electricity is fairly cheap.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

Sucker Punched While Charging

March 28, 2011

I had our Chevrolet Volt for the weekend and by Saturday evening, I had used up all its EV range. I had a lot of driving to do on Sunday and I felt a little irresponsible driving it on gas for the rest of the weekend. Half the fun of this car is driving it on electricity and seeing how far you can go. Since I was planning to see a movie that night, I came up with a plan to stay all electric.

I arrived at the Edmunds offices at around 7pm. I put the Volt on the charger then took the bus into downtown Santa Monica. It was a 15 minute bus ride at one dollar per passenger. I arrived at the movie theater in time to see an 8 p.m. showing of "Sucker Punch".

I caught the bus back to the office and was sitting in the car by 11:05pm. The Volt's charge meter said it would be ready by 11:15pm. I had planned to wait it out, but it actually reached its full charge five minutes early.

As I took the Volt home that night, I wondered if other Volt owners would take such elaborate steps to make sure they drove the car on electricity as much as possible. The best thing about the Volt versus a true EV however, is that I really didn’t have to charge it that night. But it did feel good to conserve fuel and drive the Volt only on electricity.

As for Sucker Punch, anytime you have Dragons, Samurai's with chain guns, Robots and attractive women all in the same movie, it's an automatic two thumbs up from me.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 3,550 miles.

Going from Leaf to Volt

March 31, 2011

Like it or not, the 2011 Chevrolet Volt is frequently compared to the Nissan Leaf, mainly because they are the only two mainstream electrified cars on the market now. I drove the Leaf home Tuesday night and had the Volt the following night so the differences really jumped out at me. By the way, the price is one of the few aspects of the cars that you really can't compare. On the basis of the roughly $43,000 price tag, the Volt is simply not a real world consideration for anyone except the early adopter.

Here are a few quick impressions of the Volt and the Leaf:

Seats/Comfort/Interior: The overall feel of sitting in these two cars is very different. Both have comfortable seats (I think the Leaf would be a better fit for a large person). The Leaf feels open and airy while the Volt is more insulated with high door sills and poor visibility.

Interior room: The Volt seats four people only — no way you're squeezing five souls in there. The Leaf is built to carry five and the rear legroom is definitely better. The Volt's rear seats fold flat so you could slide in long items. The Leaf's rear seats also fold down but because of battery storage this does not produce a flat cargo area.

Noise: The Volt has the edge here — it is spooky quiet. If you have the radio and fan off, you can hear yourself breathing. Both cars have a slight whistling sound as they accelerate.
Power delivery: The Volt feels responsive with strong linear power delivery while the actual numbers show it goes 0-60 mph in 8.53 seconds. The Leaf is actually faster with an unofficial 0-60 time of about 7 seconds.

Range: Our Volt is delivering about 37 miles in all-electric mode. After that, there is always a letdown when the gas engine kicks on. Still, there is no range anxiety as you drive the Volt. I'm finding that for my driving patterns, 37 miles only gets me there — not there and back. And once the gas engine fires up it's just another gas-burning car. The extra 40 miles of range that the Leaf delivers opens a lot more possibilities for me. I can get home and back to the office charger without topping up. I can get to downtown Los Angeles and back to my home on a single charge. So, with careful planning, the Leaf affords an uninterrupted all-electric experience.

Summary: I really enjoy driving the Volt. When I suppress thoughts about the unrealistic price I can really enjoy driving nearly 40 miles on $1.95 of electricity. But given the lower entry cost of the Leaf, the ability to hold an extra passenger and access to the car pool lanes, the Leaf offers advantages that are impossible to ignore.

Electric to Pedal Power

April 04, 2011

This weekend I took Emma and her 20-inch beach cruiser down to the beach to do some cruising. I was surprised how easily her bike fit in the back of the Chevy Volt, still allowing one seat to remain in an upright position.

After we parked on Ocean Avenue, an older man stopped as I was removing her bike from the car.

"Is that fer when yer car runs outta juice?" he asked.

Seems he knew enough about the Volt to understand the electric part, but not enough to know about the gasoline-engine part.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 3,839 miles

Full House

April 05, 2011

Now that a 2011 Nissan Leaf has joined our long-term fleet, it has created a small impact on our long-term 2011 Chevy Volt.

We purchased a Coulomb Chargepoint CT2103 charger with the expectation that it could handle two EV vehicles. And it does. Our Coulomb charger supports simultaneous charging of one Level II (240VAC @ 32A) Electric Vehicle and one Level I (120VAC @ 16A) EV (or Plug-in Hybrid EV, PHEV).

Our Nissan Leaf requires a charging time (full charge from depletion) of 8 hrs on Level II and 21 hrs for Level I. The Volt, in contrast, needs only 4 hrs on 240V and 10-12 hrs on 120V.

Because Level I charging takes so long for the Leaf, it generally gets priority on the stronger Level II charger. That leaves the 120V charger for the Volt. And if the Volt's battery is depleted — as it was over the weekend — it results in that 10-12 hr charge to full or a incompletely charged battery. I got the latter last night.

So we may have to allow the Volt to remain parked for the night here and there to get fully charged, or re-visit our charging priorities.

All of this probably won't apply to a Volt owner, unless she, too, has another EV.
But maybe that's our future.

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ 3,850 miles

2011 Chevy Volt > Toyota Prius

April 06, 2011

As I alluded to yesterday, I drove a rental Toyota Prius this past weekend while in Indianapolis for a friend's wedding. I was originally given a Mitsubishi Galant. "Oh joy," I thought having never actually driven one before. "I get to see if it really is the worst midsize now that the 200 has replaced the Sebring!" Sadly or happily, the Galant had 40,000 miles, at least nine major exterior scratches and a dent in the driver's door that made the left-rear difficult to open. I tossed the key on the Hertz desk and said, "please try again." The cheerful Hoosier behind the desk gave me a choice and I went with the Prius — cheap on gas I figured.

And cheap on gas it certainly was. But it was also surprisingly noisy, with lots of road noise and a gas engine that sounds like lawn mower. The ride was also harsh, though the tires were also probably overinflated in true rental car tradition (I didn't check as I did a month earlier on Hawai'i). The driving position is still poorly suited to tall people despite the telescoping wheel and height-adjustable seat, the slanted HVAC and stereo displays easily wash out in the sun, the interior materials are quite cheap and I don't care for their rough graining. In other words, I didn't like it.

Contrast that to the Volt. It isn't noisy, even when the engine kicks in. The ride feels more substantial (regardless of tires), handling is better, the seating position is far better and the interior materials are vastly superior. There's also more of an electric-torque kick when accelerating in "gas" mode than you get with the Prius. Sure, the Volt has only two very cramped rear seats and less cargo capacity. Oh, and it costs way more. Regardless, I'd happily drive the Volt ... not so much the Prius.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 3,851 miles

First Impressions

April 07, 2011

Last night was the first time I took our long-term Volt home. The day before, I took our Leaf. That makes two days in a row that I didn't use any gasoline, and I'm showing no signs of withdrawal. So far, I'm enjoying both cars equally, so here's my take on the Volt.

The Volt feels solid on the road. It doesn't feel flimsy or like an appliance, and that's reassuring. I'm sure the cabin would've been incredibly quiet had I not been rockin' out (I can't seem to stop listening to Adele's latest album). I think that if I were in the market for an environmentally friendly car, this would be my choice.

On the downside, I found the glossy center stack too shiny and the controls poorly labeled. I like the way it looks, but during daylight hours, the lack of contrast between the type and background make the controls difficult to operate. I recently drove the new Ford Explorer with all of the MyTouch controls, and that seemed to be easier to read and use. The Explorer had a matte-black rubberized panel with legible and bright type.

Despite what Mr. Pearley Huffman thinks, I don't think the Volt is deserving of the "ugly car" label. Among cars in general, I don't find it offensive in any way. Among electric/hybrids like the Prius, Insight and Leaf, I actually think it's the best looking of the bunch.

Yup, I'm a believer. Are you?

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor

Doing Hatchback Duty

April 08, 2011

The Volt is a quasi-electric car, it's the way of the future, it has a funky touch-sensitive dashboard, blahbity blahbity blah. But it's also a hatchback and hatchbacks are better than sedans because they are more useful when the time comes to carry big bulky things. Things like a ginormous, original Z3/GoldenEye promotional poster from 1995. Picture after the jump.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 3,908 miles

Crap Games, Great Drives

April 11, 2011

As I drove down to Los Angeles of Anaheim for the second straight day to watch my Blue Jays lose yet again (could be worse, cough, Red Sox, cough, Devil Rays), I came to a realization about the Volt. Of all my possible expectations for GM's newfangled motor car, the one I wasn't anticipating was how capable it is on the freeway.

The electric drive range was long gone before I even set out for LA of A on Saturday evening, which meant I'd be in hybrid mode the rest of the way. No worries, though, as the Volt does an excellent job of highway cruising. If you need to pass someone quickly, there's plenty of electric-generated torque for a quick acceleration boost. The engine is only rarely noticeable (it's often tough to tell if it's running at all), and when it is, the noise is comparable to that of a more muted CVT-equipped car.

I'd be interested to see how it handles the hilly drive to Vegas, but color me surprised that the Volt handles the highway as well as it does city. I like this car more and more I drive it. Oh, and I achieved 34.5 mpg along the way.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 4,139 miles

These Buttons Were a Bad Idea

April 12, 2011

Okay, not all of these buttons. I'm mainly referring to the ones that are flat, hard to push and generally too modern for their own good. You know, like those fan speed buttons on the right or the radio button on the lower left.

I get that the Volt designers were going for something new for their super advanced family sedan. And going for a look that's different than every other midsize four door is perfectly reasonable given all the technology packed into the Volt.

But at the end of the day, design has to be functional and these buttons just plain suck. There's no tactile response when you push them, so all too often you're forced to just keep on pushing until something happens. Some have lights, but most don't. It's simply a case of being too clever when it wasn't really warranted.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Inside Line

Test Drive the Range Extender

April 13, 2011

I went to GM's Main Street in Motion last weekend. It's a fun event that gives you the chance you test drive a number of GM cars and their competitors. People at these events tend to drive the cars pretty rough, but understandably so — it's their one chance to see what the cars can do. GM clearly wants people to put the cars through their paces (within reason). In some spots along the test course, you'll encounter a big stop sign for you to try out the brakes. As I looked over at the Chevrolet Volt booth (I didn't have my camera with me, the above photo is from the GM site), I began to wonder about how they were standing up to the acceleration and braking.

If people are driving the Volts the same way they were driving other cars, they'd probably used up their charge. I asked an event rep if any of the four Volts being tested were running on electricity. "Not right now," she replied. They started the day with a full charge, she said, but at the time (it was about 11 a.m.) people were only test-driving the range-extending gasoline engine. I think they were missing out on the best part.

I could imagine that managing test-drives with a plug-in hybrid could be tough. As the event planner you have to decide whether you want to keep the line moving with four Volts active, or set half of them aside to charge, while the others are being driven. And even if they did put two cars on chargers, I doubt if the GM folks would have enough time to fully charge them during an event day.

But I don’t think most people really care — or notice — one way or the other. At the end of the day, people can tell their buddies that they drove a Volt. But if you go to Main Street in Motion to get the feeling of the Volt running on electricity, I suggest you get there early.

Event locations and dates

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate

L.A. to S.F. and Back

April 13, 2011

Today I'm driving our long-term 2011 Chevy Volt from Los Angeles to San Francisco. And tomorrow I'll drive it back. Along the way it should reach 5,000 miles on its odometer. I'll let you know how the Volt does as a road tripper on Friday.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

5,000 Miles Already

April 14, 2011

We've only been driving our long-term 2011 Chevy Volt for three months and it has already covered 5,000 miles. Remember our long-term Mini E only covered 7,700 miles in 12 months.

And the Volt has been dead reliable. No issues, problems or busted stuff to report.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief @ 5,056 miles

The Soothing Sounds of Start Up

April 18, 2011

I drove my friends around a bit this past weekend in our long-term 2011 Chevrolet Volt before we took a cruise around the Marina Del Rey harbor. My friends were quite impressed with the Volt and asked me the usual questions: how much does it cost, what's the range, do you like it? Yeah, I do like, including the greeting you get when you enter.

I showed them the displays upon entering, which are accompanied by the soothing sounds of nature: birds, water, new age music. It also reminds me of what you hear when you power up a mobile phone. This gives me a high-tech impression of the Volt.

Can you hear those sounds? Hit the jump to watch and listern.

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ 5,120 miles

Feels Good at 101 MPH

April 18, 2011

That is the Volt's top speed. 101 mph. It gets there quickly and feels like it'll stay there all day very happily. Notice the accel meter on the right. It's pinned. Fact is, with its speed limiter removed and different tires I'm sure the Volt could go much faster. Probably north of 125 mph.

Mileage does suffer at this speed however. Significantly.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

Voltec Technology Wins Edmunds' 2011 Green Car Breakthrough Award

April 20, 2011

The Volt's hustle comes from General Motors' Voltec technology, a rechargeable hybrid setup that allows the car to boogie for 20 to 40 miles on an electric charge; beyond this point, an internal combustion engine kicks in power. We think this tech is kinda nifty, so we've decided to recognize it with our 2011 Green Car Breakthrough Award.

Scheduled to be presented at the New York Auto Show, the Green Car Breakthrough Award is given out each year to a "vehicle, technology or program that sets new standards in fuel efficiency, emissions reduction and/or sustainability, or that stands out for promoting public use and acceptance of such a vehicle or technology."

"Voltec is a game changer for the electric vehicle community and it offers a blueprint for commercial manufacturers to build upon as these types of vehicles continue to develop," said John O'Dell, senior editor at "Applied to a broader base of vehicles, Voltec and other automakers' versions of the extended-range plug-in hybrid technology can have a tremendous impact on U.S. fuel consumption."

What do you think? Is Voltec a game changer or not?

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor

Aces IIHS Crash Tests

April 26, 2011

The Insurance Insitute for Highway Safety, the official test body of the auto insurance companies, released a full battery of test results for the 2011 Chevrolet Volt today, and the results were very good.

The Volt earned the top "Good" rating in the important frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests, plus Good ratings for its roof strength and head restraints. It's an IIHS Top Safety Pick. We just wish the IIHS wouldn't repeat the untruth that the Volt is an electric car in its press release — series-parallel plug-in hybrid, please.

More details on its performance can be found here, and there are more photos and videos after the jump.

Not Even Close

April 26, 2011

Damn. I was pumped to make the drive home last night solely on the Volt's electrons. No one's yet been able to get 50 miles on the spooky stuff alone. I live 46-odd miles from the office, and conditions were pretty optimal. At quittin' time, the freeway was moving well. No accidents or congestion, and ambient temp was low 60s. No need for climate control. Dan Edmunds suggested driving in "L" in Normal mode. "Stay off the brakes as much as possible and just flow."

Piece of cake.

Figured I'd even have enough battery left to pit at the local In-N-Out and planned to bring back a bag of soggy fries for Magrath, my own small Everest totem for being the first to scale 50 e-miles (I'd never consider such a rude gesture towards current record holder Kelly, whose Girl Scout confections help the afternoons pass in a foot-tapping frenzy).

Not even close. Battery checked out just after 41 miles.

Now, a disclaimer. The battery charge appeared full. The transformer-lookin' icon in the display was full green. But no one knows exactly when the Volt last went off the cable. Does the Volt's charge slightly dissipate if it sits uncharged for a short period? I don't have last week's car sign-outs handy, but I believe the Volt sat in the garage untethered this past weekend and all day yesterday.

That's my excuse. I got shorted, man. Dealt an undercharged battery. And it's my own fault for not plugging in the Volt earlier in the afternoon just to be sure. Lesson learned.

I share many of our collective sentiments about the Volt. It feels like a well-built slab of copper and metal. It's comfortable and quiet. The high-cycle e-motor hum might take some getting used to, as would the delay action brakes. The info overload - dual displays and busy center stack - would require some personal editing. But you can't help but feel this is where it's all going.

For my needs, the Volt might make sense. Charge it overnight and get to the office almost entirely on electricity. Even if I couldn't find a way to charge during the day and had to get home on gas, I've effectively reduced my fuel bill by half. What percentage of that gets made up in higher electric bills, I don't know. Haven't done the math. But as the technology takes root and solutions like stand-alone solar chargers become practical and affordable, hard to see how you wouldn't start coming out ahead.

My grandfather owned a service station for most of his working life, first for Standard Oil, then Chevron. Four bays, three lifts, and the old air hose that rang a bell when a car pulled in. Clean the windows, check the oil, pump the gas. Old-school full service. As a kid hanging around, one of the coolest tricks I learned was how to roll a shop rag and zap somebody on the thigh, leaving a welt.

My uncle owns it now. The bays are long gone, just a few pump islands and a mini-mart in their place. Sign of the times. The old Don has long passed, but I can't help wishing I could get his take on all this eee-lectric discomabobble.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

Hits and Misses

April 27, 2011

I've put enough miles on the Volt by now to have a solid impression of the car. Here are my top three hits and misses so far.


1) IP design: I haven't played with all the various gadgets buried within the various menus, but they look impressive. The graphics are sharp, the colors are pleasing and it conveys a sense of technology with being overwhelming.

2) Quiet cabin. Hybrids aren't known for their refinement for a reason. Usually because they have rock hard tires and minimal insulation to keep their weight down. The Volt doesn't feel like it has either.

3) Reasonable performance. Doesn't sound like much of a hit, but my expectations were low. I wouldn't take the Volt on a trip that included more than one mountain pass or any twisty roads. That said, around town and on the highway, it plenty fast.

And the misses...


1) Those dreadful center stack buttons. I've already covered them enough here.

2) The transmission lever. For some reason the designers decided to bury it in the center console. Every time I put it in gear it feels awkward. Can't think of a reason for the design choice.

3) The brakes. Still don't like the way they work at slow speeds. The binders on the Leaf work much better.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Inside Line

Helping Chevy Crack A New Segment, Apparently

May 02, 2011

Sure, it might be kinda overpriced for what you get, but based on GM's reports, the Volt is doing a great job of introducing the Chevy brand to a different kind of buyer — one with a decidedly green perspective. The manufacturer notes that almost nine of 10 Volt buyers who traded in a vehicle as part of their purchase are brand-new to Chevrolet.

GM hopes to keep this momentum going by tagging hundreds of Volts as demo vehicles, so that curious shoppers can test-drive and hopefully fall in love with the Volt after visiting the dealership.

"The Volt is clearly bringing new customers to our dealership," said Rick Alpern, general manager of Keyes Chevrolet in Van Nuys, California. "We are seeing customers who own competitive brands that have never visited a Chevy dealership before. Now they have a Chevy on their shopping list because of the Volt."

GM notes that Chevrolet dealerships in the initial launch markets of California, Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Virginia and Washington, D.C. have added more than 550 dedicated Volt demonstration vehicles, for the purpose of facilitating test drives. The manufacturer expects that there will be Volt demos at more than 2,500 dealerships across the nation by year's end; by this point, the vehicle's availability will have broadened to include 50 states.

"We know the best way to experience the Volt is to get behind the wheel and drive it," said Cristi Landy, Chevrolet marketing director. "An added bonus is that our dealers are seeing that the Volt is increasing traffic onto our dealer showroom floors and is exposing consumers to Chevy's line of ‘gas-friendly’ vehicles, including the Cruze, Malibu and Equinox."

With its space-age console design and whatnot, I can certainly see how the Volt would dazzle greenies on the hunt for the newest object of affection — it definitely delivers a unique driving experience, and that can be a selling point with cars like this.

Anyone out there test-driven a Volt? Were you impressed or disappointed?

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor

Aerodynamic Side Effect

May 02, 2011

I often drive with the windows down. I like the fresh air and in the case of our Chevrolet Volt, you can bypass the AC as a way to conserve battery life. But sometimes, the Volt makes this simple task hard to do. There is a great deal of wind buffeting that occurs at speeds of 60 mph and above. It is even more pronounced if only one widow is open. The buffeting is loud and creates a vibrating noise that hurts your ears. Cracking the rear windows helps a bit, but sometimes you don’t want that much wind and noise coming into the car. I tried to record the buffeting in a short video after the jump.

The Volt is an extremely aerodynamic vehicle. According to General Motors, outside of the EV1, the Volt has the lowest drag coefficient (0.28) of any vehicle the company has built so far. The aero design helped the Volt's designers realize a 7-mile improvement to the electric range. But it seems as though this ideal pocket of airflow that the Volt creates also has a side effect: This irritating wind buffeting.

Take a look at this video for a behind the scenes look at the Volt's aerodynamics.

If you're one of Volt owners that reads this blog, I'd be curious to know: Have you noticed the buffeting?

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 5,272 miles

The Green-archy

May 04, 2011

This is bad. Self-righteousness and infighting is turning green drivers against each other. A green car caste system is taking root on the highways! This must be a plot hatched by Big Oil.

On the drive in this morning in the Volt, I needed to pass some slower traffic that wasn't keeping right. Switched on my left-hand turn signal and waited for Prius Guy to either speed up or roll back and let me in.

Except he didn't. He just hung in the blind spot, trying to appear oblivious. This continued for more than half a mile, even after I telegraphed my intentions with a gradual drift to the lane divider.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to maintain some flow with traffic and not end up in the bumper of a laden Toyota landscaping truck with blown shocks, nor invite my follower into the Volt's back seat.

Finally, I saw a little developing break in the action. The Volt was running on gas by now, so I wasn't concerned about maximizing electric range. I stomped it, then slotted in ahead of Prius Guy. In the rearview mirror, I saw some muttering and exaggerated indignity. Probably a philosophy professor at Long Beach State. Now he's got something to riff on at the next faculty wine-and-cheese mixer.

Easy, Prius Guy. There's room enough for all us Earth-savers (and our Raptors). Your car is no longer the big story. Get over it.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

L.A. to S.F. and Back Part 2

May 04, 2011

A few weeks ago I drove our long-term 2011 Chevy Volt from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back. In two days I drove the Volt 916 miles nearly all of it on the highway. And, as you can see in the photo, while I was there I took in a Giants game.

The first 30 miles of the trip was on pure electricity. Then I started burning gasoline.

I drove the Volt like I would any other car. I didn't change my driving habits and I certainly wasn't showing off my hypermiling skills. And the results show it.

The first tank full of premium carried the Volt 285.4 miles. Then the Volt took 7.866 gallons. That's an average of 36.2 mpg. Then my right foot got heavier and the Volt got thirsty.

I ran through three more tanks, averaging 30.1 mpg, 27.9 mpg and 28.6 mpg. My average for the entire trip (excluding the first 30 miles on electricity) was 30.7 mpg.

Pretty disappointing. But there are some serious grades between here and The Bay Area, which didn't help.

I should also point out that the Volt was very comfortable on the drive. It hums along nicely at speed and I found its ride and its driver's seat to my liking. But it has a short range because of its small tank, so you'll never really test your bladder when road trippin' a Volt. Heck, the third tank of fuel only lasted 207 miles.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

Painless Pairing

May 05, 2011

Of the cars in our fleet, the Volt offers one of the smoothest Bluetooth pairings. It's not limited to the Volt; the Cruze and Regal also transmit the voodoo pretty easily. But the Volt's touchscreen lubricates the process by eliminating the dial wheel and keeping commands to a few touches. Hit the Config button, then Phone, and Add New Phone.

From there it's a simple matter of deciding which colleague gets their phone bounced from the queue (Volt can only store five at a time) and entering a pair code. The ease almost makes up for the dopey no-touch center stack.

A small thing for most owners who'll only pair two or three phones, but something most of us notice moving in and out of cars, constantly pairing phones, and interacting with different software. Chevy got this one right, especially with the touchscreen.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

The Chevy Volt-Vo

May 09, 2011

I spent some days with the Volt and have some impressions to share in a later post. But here's one quick thing that drove me bonkers. This Volvo-esque floating bridge piece might impress a conference of interior design Poindexters, but it's a pain in the knee. The cascading plastic pillar looks as hard as it is, and I found myself constantly shifting my foot around, trying to fit my kneecap in the gap.

And a stupid gap it is, too. Points for creating a storage nook, but it's useless for anything you might want to stash or grab while driving. It's blocked from the front by the shifter, and unless you're double wrist-jointed, good luck reaching in there with your right hand.

A nitpick, for sure. And a passenger might exploit its intended purpose. I just started trying to thread the Volt keys above the shift stalk every day, but most times ended up brickin' it like Bynum.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

54.3 Miles On A Full Charge

May 11, 2011

The single-charge range record for our 2011 Chevrolet Volt has fallen. A group of us with longer commutes have been vying to be the first to crack the 50-mile mark. Now we'll have to pick another goal.

I set the bar early on just after we bought our Volt, going 45.6 miles before the engine kicked on. That stood for a few weeks until Kelly Toepke took the lead with 47.0 miles on her trip home.

Last week, Dan Frio spent a full week driving the Volt, determined to be the first to crack 50 miles. All four of his runs were good, over 45 miles apiece, but he didn't quite get there. He did succeed in besting Kelly, however, inching into the lead with a 47.2-mile best effort.

Today I was in the Volt, and I got a late start, leaving at 4:00 pm. Anything after 3:00 pm sets me up for horrible traffic, as I live over 50 miles away. I usually work an East Coast schedule to get out ahead of everyone else, but a late meeting sealed my fate.

All of this worked in my favor in terms of Volt efficiency. Traffic was slow, but there were no accidents and the freeway never quite stopped.

The predicted range indicator started off at 43 miles, which didn't bode well. I chose to drive the car in "L" the entire time to maximize regenerative braking energy recovery. As in the Nissan Leaf "Bitter End" test, I ran with the AC off and the windows cracked, though I did allow myself the luxury of the lowest fan speed.

For the first 40 miles traffic was dithering between 15 and 45 mph, and I simply went with the flow, trying to stay in lanes that were moving smoothest. The use of "L" range allowed me to bleed off speed without touching the brakes when things bunched up.

Traffic only started to ease up and begin moving at 55 mph in the faster lanes when I got within 10 miles of home, the point at which I was getting close to Frio's record. Not to be denied, I drove those last few miles at 50 mph, running along with a furniture delivery truck and a couple of semis in the right-hand lanes.

You see the result above: 54.3 miles in a real-world situation. Slow-and-go traffic is apparently good for the Volt.

Anyone for 55 miles? How about 60 miles?

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 5,781 miles

Would You Believe 54.6 Electric Miles?

May 12, 2011

My new 2011 Chevrolet Volt electric range record of 54.3 miles on a charge lasted all of 14 hours. This morning I was doing so well that I actually drove past the office to once again see how long I could fend off the dinosaurs. In the end I squeaked 54.6 miles all-electric miles out of our plug-in Chevy, turned around, and drove back to the Edmunds parking garage.

Like yesterday, I left later than I wanted to and caught traffic. And that's the secret to good range: wade out into LA traffic instead of waiting it out or trying to miss it by punching out early. You want a traffic-enforced average speed of around 30 or 35 mph on a long freeway commute with a top speed of no more than 50 mph and no really slow periods or dead stops.

Of course this means out I'm on the road for nearly two hours *each way* instead of the usual hour and fifteen minutes.

It's a real-world situation, but not a tolerable one. I'd go nuts if I did it every day. I'll resume my habit of trying to beat traffic and run with others equally eager to get where they're going, even if it does mean I'll only get 40 electric miles out of the Volt instead. I'm totally fine with burning a little gasoline to preserve my sanity and spend a bit more time kicking back with the family.

Still, I have backed up my record, so I guess it's certifiable. And the very existence of traffic signifies that there are plenty of commuters that are driving the right mode to get decent electric range out of a Volt if they tried. Ironically, single-commuter carpool stickers and the higher speeds they permit could actually reduce a Volt's electrric range.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 5,849 miles

Not Yet the iPod Moment

May 16, 2011

Ever since we took delivery of it, I'd been hesitant to spend any time with the Volt. Seemed like too much ionic voodoo to wrap my head around, too many lights, colors, buttons and pie charts. But Dan Edmunds suggested I do my 90-mile round-trip a few times and see how far a charge would go. I'm glad he did.

Really came to like the Volt, as much for what it represents as for what it simply does as a comfortable, daily distance ranger. In my case, I rent and couldn't charge at home. I'd make the morning runs on gasoline. But after recharging at work all day, the challenge became getting home solely on battery.

I did it once. Made it from the Edmunds garage to home with a little left over, then circled the block to run it dry. That evening, traffic flowed fairly well once out of the constricted Santa Monica/LAX arteries. Kept it largely between 58-62 mph, stayed in the slow lane, and tried to coast and minimize braking. No A/C, drove it in "L" gear. Most days I made it nearly within a mile of my off-ramp.

As a pavement-eater, the Volt measures up. Its seats are comfortable, almost sporty, and the lack of a rear seatback makes the cabin feel bigger (an optical illusion that distracts from the scarcity of legroom back there). The wacky Volvo-esque center stack makes for an irritating knee rest, and the headliner has an odd honeycomb-like print to the fabric.

There are plenty of storage nooks: door pockets, behind the shift stalk (good for cell phone, parking pass), in front of the shift stalk (good spot for the key), center console, even a covered tray space in the upper instrument panel. There are at least three 12v power points, which somehow you expect in this kind of car. Doug Newcomb plans a full Volt audio review, so I'll just say the Bose system delivers plenty of headroom, clarity and - personal favorite - a three-band EQ.

On the road, the Volt feels substantial, heavy even. Not overweight really, just meaty. A distinct difference from a Prius or Insight. You feel it when you give it some steering input, but it suppresses roll pretty well. A sporting chassis obviously isn't the priority here, but you can tell that the suspension team didn't just phone it in.

Just past my on-ramp is a long transition sweeper that drops you into the flypaper called the San Diego Freeway. Given some pedal at speeds that one needs to merge ahead of a rig, the Volt tracks confidently through the long bend. It leans, but never gave up grip and felt like it had some to spare. It felt like what you think a Chevy should feel like. Solid. Dense. Still, you're always aware you're swinging around a 435-lb. battery array back there.

The only overwhelming disappointment was the Volt's sketchy braking. I just couldn't get accustomed to the artificial feel, and that faint click you hear when first applying force, then pushing your foot through a mushy zone with minimal feedback. I never got a good feel for the required force and found myself underestimating stopping distances a few times (thankfully with no consequence).

Additional gripe: when letting off brakes, before going to throttle, an annoying high-cycle hum fills the cabin. Is this simply a by-product of the motor switching to its generator mode? As with the brakes, a Volt owner would probably adjust and accommodate. But this drove me kinda nuts everyday. Loud music will mask it, but it's ever present.

Thus far, the Volt performs best in moderate to heavy traffic. My record of 47.2 e-miles stood for maybe a week, until Dan Edmunds shattered it with a 54.6 e-mile drive during heavy congestion. Now we're thinking 60 is within range. During my week with the Volt, I averaged 46.02 miles per battery charge, and 37 mpg on gas.

I admit I wrote off the Volt in the beginning as a sort of quixotic experiment. Maybe GM just wanted everyone to forget about the EV1 public relations disaster. But it's hard not to feel that, yeah, this is the future. For most people, the costs are still nebulous and hard to calculate. No one can really be sure without doing some real homework that they're not just shifting pump expenses to the electric bill.

The electric car/plug-in hybrid world is ripe for its iPod car, the game-changer that shows everyone how easy and convenient it is. The Volt is not that car; too expensive for even adventurous motorists. But it's accelerated the conversation. Even my 8-year-old neighbor knows what the Volt means.

And eventually we'll all get one. An e-car, or variation thereof. And just as many of us know that MP3s, while convenient, still suck for fidelity, and we start reaching back for turntables and LPs, so too will we reach for the keys to that analog V8 in the garage, primed and ready for refined dinosaurs anytime that pleasure receptor needs a scratch.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

GM Increases Volt Production

May 18, 2011

General Motors announced it's going to increase its production of the Chevrolet Volt next year by 33 percent. So now instead of building 45,000 for 2012, it'll be 60,000. This year production went up from 15,000 to 16,000 Volts.

This is GM's answer to the rising gas prices. According to GM CEO Dan Akerson, the Voltec gas-electric drive system will also be added to more models in preparation of even higher gas prices.

With the talk that crude may increase up to $120 a barrel (last week it was less than $100 a barrel), would that inspire you to buy a Volt soonish?

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

IL Track Tested

May 24, 2011

Like it or not, the 2011 Chevy Volt is one of the most significant vehicles in recent memory. With a gasoline generator and EV propulsion, the Volt bridges the gap between past and future propulsion for a reluctant and skeptical population. And while energy efficiency is the primary goal of the Volt, building a transitional car that delivers non-standard driving dynamics (like being the slowest car we've ever tested) will surely stop this progress in its tracks.

Frequent readers will notice that this is not the first time we've tested the Chevrolet Volt. The first time we had one on our track was a short-term, early-production version that Chevy promised was close to production. Trouble is, that car had 4,000 miles on the odometer and we have no idea the life the battery/generator lived. This car, however, is our long-termer, which we bought off the lot and lovingly introduced to electricity. We know how it's been driven and how it's been charged.

So were there any differences? Follow the jump for IL's Track Tested of our Long-Term 2011 Chevy Volt.

Vehicle: 2011 Chevy Volt
Odometer: 2,238
Date: 11/02/10
Driver: Mike Monticello
Price: $44,695

Drive Type: Front-wheel drive
Transmission Type: Planetary CVT
Engine Type: Naturally aspirated 1.4-liter DOHC, variable intake and exhaust, gasoline engine (premium fuel). 111-kilowatt drive motor, 54-kW generator motor
Displacement (cc/cu-in): 1,398/85.3
Redline (rpm): 4,800 (not indicated)
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 149-horsepower Voltec electric drive, 84-hp gasoline motor @ 4,800
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm): Voltec engine: 273 lb-ft
Brake Type (front): 11.8-inch ventilated discs with single-piston sliding calipers
Brake Type (rear): 11.5-inch ventilated discs with single-piston sliding calipers
Steering System: Electric power steering with ZF steering gear
Suspension Type (front): Independent MacPherson strut-type with side-loaded strut modules, specially tuned coil springs, direct-acting hollow stabilizer bar; hydraulic ride bushings
Suspension Type (rear): Torsion beam, coil springs, hydraulic bushings
Tire Size (front): 215/55R17 93H M+S
Tire Size (rear): 215/55R17 93H M+S
Tire Brand: Goodyear
Tire Model: Assurance
Tire Type: All-season, low rolling resistance
Wheel size: 17-by-7 inches front and rear
Wheel material (front/rear): Aluminum alloy
As tested Curb Weight (lb): 3,747 (61.3% front)

Test Results:

EV Mode
0-30 (sec): 3.5
0-45 (sec): 5.7
0-60 (sec): 8.9
0-60 with 1-ft Rollout (sec): 8.5
0-75 (sec): 13.1
1/4-Mile (sec @ mph): 16.6 @ 85.3

Gasoline Generator
0-30 (sec): 3.5 (3.5 w/TC on)
0-45 (sec): 5.7 (5.8 w/TC on)
0-60 (sec): 8.9 (9.2 w/TC on)
0-60 with 1-ft Rollout (sec): 8.5 (8.8 w/TC on)
0-75 (sec): 13.1 (14.1 w/TC on)
1/4-Mile (sec @ mph): 16.6 @ 85.3 (16.9 @ 81.8 w/TC on)

30-0 (ft): 29
60-0 (ft): 118

Slalom (mph): 61.4
Skid Pad Lateral acceleration (g): 0.79

Db @ Idle: 47.9 (gas) 42.9 (EV)
Db @ Full Throttle: 67.3 (gas)
Db @ 70 mph Cruise: 64.5 (gas)

Acceleration Comments: Could find no discernible advantage between launching in D or L or Sport or Normal in full EV mode. Just a smooth surge of near-silent, if underwhelming, power. Of note, could register up to a 3-mile loss of range after a quarter-mile of full-throttle acceleration. The quickest run came once we squeezed the Volt out of its electric juice, bringing the gasoline engine into play for acceleration purposes.

Braking Comments: Lengthy pedal travel, but decently firm feel. Occasional significant rear lockup and lots of ABS commotion. Regenerative braking had little to no effect at shortening panic-stopping distances.

Handling Comments: Skid pad: A singing tire is a happy tire, so what's a howling tire? The ones fitted to the Volt. Massive understeer the likes of which we rarely see these days, and the chassis is not overly willing to change its attitude. ESC intervenes, but throttle correction was still needed. Slalom: Feels heavy, cause it is. Steering is slow and there's a goodly amount of ESC intervention. ESC cannot be defeated so it was important to go only as quickly as possible without invoking the system to freak out and add a buch of brake. Driving aggressively just made for slower times.

May Fuel Economy Update

June 06, 2011

It's time to add the May data into our 2011 Chevy Volt and 2011 Nissan Leaf fuel consumption summary.

Yeah, I know. Some people don't like my persistent use of the word "fuel" with respect to electricity. Sorry, but it's still the best shorthand there is for stuff you put into a car to make it go — especially in the case of the Volt, which can be filled up with two kinds.

Above you may also notice that the Volt is plugged in via its 120V home charge cord. That's because the Leaf gets dibs on the 240V charger owing to its utter lack of a range extender, otherwise known as a gasoline back-up engine. If the Volt's battery isn't full, it's no big deal. The same cannot be said of the Leaf.

Once the Leaf is full we swap the Volt onto the 240V charger to make sure it gets topped up, too.

2011 Chevrolet Volt




Electricity (kwh/100 mi)




Electric Range (miles)




Gasoline (mpg)




2011 Nissan Leaf




Electricity (kwh/100 mi)




Projected Range (miles)




Observed Range (miles)


As always, lower is better for electricity consumption in kWh per 100 miles.

Big changes this month include a new best range for the Volt of 54.6 miles. That's me, and I was able to back it up with 54.3 miles so it's a real thing. The Volt's average electric range therefore rose from 37.5 to 38.8 miles.

The Volt's lifetime electricity consumption improved along with this, falling from 34.8 kWh/100 to 33.6 kWh/100. Gasoline mpg improved from 32.7 mpg to 33.3 mpg.

Yeah, we had more lightfoots in the car this month.

As for the Leaf, nothing much changed. Electricity consumption did rise slightly, from 31.5 kWh/100 to 32.0. There was a recording error for the last charge of the month that should correct itself when June is added in, but there's something else at work, too. We came close to breaking our 76.7 mile single charge observed range, but close doesn't change the chart.

2011 Chevrolet Volt





Electricity (kWh/100 mi)





Electric Range (miles)





Gasoline (mpg)





2011 Nissan Leaf





Electricity (kWh/100 mi)





Projected Range (miles)





Observed Range (miles)


The lifetime averages of our Leaf and Volt are still beating EPA estimates for electricity consumption and range. The Volt still lags behind the EPA's estimate for gasoline consumption, which is odd because it's the same drivers driving the same car on the same trip.

Maybe not, though. We have heard Jekyll and Hyde stories of folks driving sedately to get a good electric range number to appear on the Volt's screen, after which they try to make up for lost time once the gas engine comes on.

2011 Chevrolet Volt





Utility Factor (% EV miles)





Apparent MPG (ignore electricity)





Cost per mile (US avg prices)





(Cal. avg prices)





(at my house)





May saw the Volt rebound from its trip to San Francisco as its Utility Factor rose from 20% to 52% as it spent more time on electricity this month. This nudged its lifetime UF from 40% up to 42%, but as every baseball hitter knows it takes awhile to raise your average after a slump.

Apparent MPG was 39.1 mpg in April and 76.2 mpg in May, a turn of events that bumped the lifetime average up from 54.5 to 57.3 mpg.

Take the Volt on very many long trips and the average gasoline cost-per-mile and apparent mpg will reflect it for a long time thereafter. With only one out of town trip under its belt, our overall cost-per-mile dropped from 8.6 to just 8.3 cents even though this month's cost was 7.0 cents on its own.

2011 Nissan Leaf





Utility Factor (% EV miles)


Apparent MPG (ignore electricity)

Infinity (zero gas used)

Cost per mile (US avg prices)





(Cal. avg prices)



5.0 ¢


(at my house)





Average electricity prices stayed about the same this month, but the Leaf did use a bit more juice per mile. We're starting to suspect that plugging in every day isn't desirable if the last person drove it a very short distance, say 4 or 5 miles. It seems that recharging in these circumstances is rather inefficient for reasons we can't yet explain. Of course anyone who ventures less than a few miles from the office is doomed to heavy west-side traffic, so it may also be the driving pattern. We're going to try and disentangle these factors.

Even so, the Leaf equaled the EPA consumption rating of 34 kWh/100 miles for the month.

Popular hybrids, for reference





2011 Toyota Prius (US avg prices)





(Cal. avg prices)





2011 Fusion Hybrid (US avg prices)





(Cal. avg prices)





National average gas prices fell slightly at the end of the month, improving the cost-per-mile projections of the traditional hybrids we're following for comparison.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

Fuel Economy Pong

June 09, 2011

There's a lot going on with the main meters directly in front of the driver in our long-term 2011 Chevy Volt. When I first drove this thing, I'll admit I was a bit overwhelmed by all of the info.

Let's focus on the far right of the display. There's a fancy spinning green ping pong ball that you're supposed to keep vertically centered in attempt to coach you into some smooth driving. If you accelerate, the ball goes up. Brake, and it drops: the harder, the farther.

I must say it got my attention and is a lot simpler to understand than growing shrubs.

It also reminds me of one of those lung capacity tests with a ping pong ball in a bong-like tube. (Which I actually sampled during a recent physical check. Good times.)

Hit the jump for fuel economy pong in action. (Sorry for the quality of the video — I was busy driving.)

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ 6,400 miles

2012 Chevy Volt Gets Price Cut

June 10, 2011

For 2011, the Chevy Volt was priced at $41,000. For 2012, that number will be $39,995 — $1,005 less than before — or $32,495 with the $7,500 tax credit. This price lowering is possible "in part because of a wider range of options and configurations that come with the expansion of Volt production for sale nationally." There are now seven option packages for the 2012 Volt compared with three for 2011.

The new top-of-the-line Volt with leather, backup camera, nav, premium paint and premium wheels will go for $46,265.

New standard features include: keyless access with passive locking — the car locks/unlocks automatically when the key is close to the car. ( THANK YOU, GM ) OnStar turn-by-turn navigation for three years, Chevy MyLink and available 17-inch sport alloy wheels.

The 2012 Chevy Volt is now available for national pre-order.

At $32,495, the Volt is an enticing possibility if you've got a place to charge it.

Mike Magrath, Associate Editor, Inside Line

Steal My Stuff

June 13, 2011

I went shopping in the Volt on Saturday and as I closed the hatch, I realized the car lacks a cargo cover. There is no option for one on the Chevy Web site, nor could I find one as an aftermarket piece. There certainly isn't any pre-made "plugs" in the car to add one — just some hook-like things for a cargo net.

By comparison, both the Prius and Insight have similar hatchback/trunk designs yet both offer cargo covers. It would be nice if the Volt had one to keep your valuables away from thieving eyes. But at least there's now a way to plug the trunk hole.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

2011 Chevy Volt Has a Cargo Cover

June 14, 2011

Yesterday, I should have said the Chevy Volt does not have a traditional cargo cover. You know, the roll-up kind found on the Prius, Insight and virtually every wagon or SUV on the market.

However, as two of our commenters oh-so-graciously pointed out (as well as the Volt's dealer order guide), the Volt does have a cargo cover. Those little hooks I assumed were just for the cargo net also hold in place the canopy-like cargo cover. A video on how it works after the jump.

I obviously did not and do not recall seeing another car with a cover like this. But you learn something every day. So, sorry Volt.

Sorry for the crappy photo, the same place I used yesterday was not available.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

Motor Oil Longevity

June 14, 2011

How long does the oil last in a 2011 Chevrolet Volt? Turns out it's difficult to say.

After 6,489 miles, the original factory-installed oil in our Chevy Volt's engine retains 78 percent of its life. Put another way, only 22 percent of its life is currently used up. A bit of quick math reveals that our Volt isn't likely to need its first oil change until the odometer reads 29,495 miles.

Huh? Doc Brown explains: "This sucker's electrical."

Well, sometimes it is, anyway.

So far our Volt has an average Utility Factor of 42 percent. If the UF stays at that level, 12,388 of those miles will have been pure battery-electric miles with the engine dormant and its oil on hiatus.

However, this also means the other miles, 17,107 of them, will have been gasoline-derived ones with the engine and its oil at work. At first glance that seems like a long oil change interval indeed, even considering that the recommended oil is Dexos-1 certified 5W-30, a blended synthetic.

But we must not forget that the Volt's engine isn't revving up and down nearly as much as that of a normal car. Operating mostly as a generator, its load is relatively constant and it never revs terribly fast. Perhaps that magnitude of oil change interval isn't such a stretch after all.

In reality we have no real basis for comparison. As a plug-in hybrid, the Volt's engine has a unique duty cycle that makes it hard to know if 17,000 miles is worthy of a dual eyebrow-raising or not — maybe just the one.

It's probably best to key off the oil life monitor because the Volt doesn't have a dedicated odometer that keeps track of engine-powered miles and we're guessing most Volt owners aren't geekily parsing electric miles and gasoline miles like we are.

At the end of the day, none of this hand wringing really matters because the 2011 Chevrolet Volt is also programmed to ask for new oil and a new filter when the clock strikes two years, at which point the oil life monitor will march down to zero no matter what the odometer says.

It's quite possible that our Volt will turn two years old before its engine oil accumulates a fatal number of miles, and that will be even more likely for Volt owners that achieve a greater overall percentage of electric miles, a higher Utility Factor, than we have to this point.

Ultimately, wear and tear won't force our Volt's first oil change, time will. Going back to our original question, the most likely answer seems to be "Two years."

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 6,489 miles

What's Your Number?

June 15, 2011

Right around the time the Volt was being released, I had the opportunity to sit down with some of the engineers who produced the driver interface. I asked them if there were any Easter eggs that were hidden in the system, you know, like if you hit a certain combination of seven buttons at once, the screen will bring up a Tetris game. But no, according to them there are no hidden gems in there. What they did tell me, however, was what that green number is on the bottom of the screen.

It's the production number. We have the 340th Volt to roll off the assembly line. While it's not as cool as a game of Tetris, I thought this was an interesting tidbit.

Seriously, though, how cool would it be to have a game of Tempest hidden away? Just look at that, it's got a knob and a fire button right there!

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor

Center Stack Hack

June 17, 2011

I like our Volt. I really do, and pretty much for the same reasons that Magrath pointed out. And like Mike, I also detest the center stack controls. Now, I' don't consider myself a technophobe or luddite. In fact, I'm quite the opposite. I'm an early adopter, I love technology, but if the execution is off just a little, well, the claws come out.

And that brings me to the Volt's center stack. A shiny plastic chunk in the middle of the dash. And there's the first misstep — shiny. During the day, I can't read the right side of the stack because the reflections are so harsh they wash out the text on the "buttons". And the text on the buttons are too small, condensed and, well, poorly chosen. No, I don't have bad eyesight, I actually have quite exceptional vision, thank you.

But my biggest complaint is the overabundance of buttons and their unintuitive layout. But rather than whine about it, I decided to offer up my own solution.

The shiny plastic is now a matte rubberized finish. The text is bigger, bold and all lower case (for that hip, techy look). I also organized the buttons into distinct sections and deleted quite a few. I figured the secondary functions could easily be relocated to the touchscreen. I also placed the buttons in ovoid dimples, with the idea of putting the sensors at the center of the impressions to avoid any unintentional inputs.

Another idea I had, but didn't mock-up, was to replace almost the entire center stack with a big touchscreen. Maybe I'd add a few knobs and hard buttons below.

What do you think? Is it an improvement, or should I delete Photoshop from my computer?

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor

My Favorite Commuter

June 17, 2011

It's not that it's forbidden in any way, but when the sign-out sheet comes around the office, it's generally frowned upon to take the same car night after night after night. It's usually an easy thing to get around, after all, we've got a lot of nice cars in our fleet: BMW 528, Mustang GT, Equus, Optima SX Turbo and more....

But whenever the board comes around, I always hover over the Volt before realizing I'd driven it just the night before. I can't help it. Except for what could be the worst center console design in history (seriously, this thing works less often than teamsters — hey-o ), I love the Volt. The seats are perfect for commuting, cushy but not too soft and not too wide. The iPod interface is bright and clear (though shuffle is best as it doesn't arrange albums correctly all the time), there's good visibility, enough power to pass and most of all, it's super-quiet when in EV mode (i average about 30 miles on battery) and just what I want to get me home after a long day of work.

The only thing that would keep me from owning one is the lack of a charger at my apartment (not looking to own anytime soon) or office. Change that and I'm in. I've never said anything close to that about a Prius.

Mike Magrath, Associate Editor Inside Line @ 6,600 Miles

A Surprise Gift!

June 22, 2011

Look what came in the mail today to "Volt Owner."

Wonder what's in it....

Ohh, bubble wrap.

....and a classy Trapper Keeper with a magnetic closure.

Neat...there's stuff inside the Trapper Keeper

Like this book, Chevrolet Volt: Charging into the Future by Larry Edsall with a foreword by Bob Lutz. $19 on Amazon.

Well that's neat, a Volt branded Flip UltraHD cam. $109 on Amazon.

There was also a card explaining what was going on. So instead of typing it, here ya go....

This is certainly a neat gift for the early-adopter Volt owners, and was originally a gift only for the first 100 Volt buyers, we were surprised to get it. But the surprise soon turned to joking as our office is a cynical bunch. Here are some of the comments so far:

"What, no carbon offset credits?"

"Is the box recycled?"

"Flip just went under, is that a good message for an innovative car?"

"Hey, did my tax dollars just buy you a Flip cam AND part of a car?"

Mike Magrath, Associate Editor, Inside Line

Shockingly, Not A Crappy Drive

June 23, 2011

I don't know if I hang with the wrong or the right crowd, but no one has ever asked me: "So what's it like to drive a Chevy Volt?" Maybe my friends just assume I only care about high-powered sports cars and sports sedans.

But one person actually has been pestering me about the Volt: Me. Last night, I finally got the chance to drive our long-termer.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it turns out the Volt is simple and fairly normal to drive. In a strange way, it's kinda fun because you can actually drive it in full electric mode for a long period of time, including highway speeds. With other hybrids, as soon as you step on the gas with any real force, the gasoline engine immediately fires to life.

In fact, the most confusing thing about the plug-in Volt may be our elaborate fuel/electric logbook (photo below), which is much more in-depth than with our gasoline testers. But for good reason. And yeah, I probably screwed it up and Dan Edmunds, our Director of Vehicle Testing, will fire me soon.

Back to the Volt. The switchover from full electric to gasoline is nearly seamless. For the record, it did The Great Switchover at 34.6 miles. Traffic was moving at a decent rate last night, which means the Volt was not operating at its most efficient because speeds were relatively high.

Acceleration was reasonable in both full electric and gasoline modes. It's about as quick purely numbers-wise as the Kia Forte 5-door I had been driving the last few days. But in real-world stop-and-go, it actually feels considerably faster, what with all that immediate torque available.

I can see why people might be attracted to this car. It has a plush ride and comfy seats for a real kick-back commute. The steering is admittedly a bit lifeless, and the Volt feels Heavy when you lean it into a turn. There's little in the way of sporty driver involvement, but then, this is an A to B car if there ever was one.

The Volt has some quirks and faults for sure, such as its odd low-speed braking behavior that makes it difficult to be smooth, but we'll delve more into those on later blogs.

For now, I'm pleasantly surprised. And I'd definitely drive it again. The fuel/electric logbook won't scare me off.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 6,761 miles.

That's Not Distracting

June 24, 2011

So I'm driving down the 405 South yesterday afternoon in our long-term Chevy Volt. I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing: minding my own business, keeping my road rage in check and paying attention to the all-important electric-to-gasoline switchover. Which was at 39.9 miles (versus the previous day's 34.6), the slower-moving traffic playing right into the Volt's electric hands.

Oh, and I was getting a little more annoyed at the Volt's low-speed braking weirdness, the amount of braking force not always related to the amount of pedal pressure. I eventually started moving the console lever to L as much as possible to slow the Volt instead of using the brakes.

And then, I see this:

Seriously, how's a guy supposed to concentrate on ANYTHING other than 'ol Jen's naked body lying right there in front of him? She's been taunting me for weeks now.

On a completely different subject, I've been drinking a lot more water lately.

But here's what I'd like to know: How much have accidents increased on this one stretch of the 405 since this billboard has been up?

Mike Monticello, Highly Distracted Editor @ 6,827 miles.

Runnin' On Electric

June 27, 2011

Had a pretty quiet weekend, logging only 40 miles around town for errands and to go see some live music at a local coffee shop. But since I never drove very far during any one stint, and because I recharged the Volt in my garage, I was able to run all of those miles on electric (not that it's a great feat, mind you).

It's an odd feeling running the Volt in pure electric. On the one hand, it's eerily silent, which is very different than what I'm used to, whether it be with cars or motorcycles.

But I also find that I have this odd desire to go full-throttle from a stop around town, which isn't exactly efficient. I liken it to riding a scooter: The few times I've ridden a scooter, I'm full-throttle all the time, baby. Part of the reason for that is that scooters generally don't have much power and don't go very fast, so you have to get up to speed quickly or you get run over.

It's similar in the Volt: Around town, it's natural for me to want to use all of what little power the Volt has. I know I shouldn't do it, because the Volt is theoretically all about efficiency. But there's something fun about out-dragging a gasoline-powered SUV from a stoplight with an electric car. Even if they might not have been fully aware we were racing.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 6,867 miles.

Silly Airdam

June 29, 2011

It's been said before, but I'm saying it again: The Volt's front airdam is ridiculously low. Heck, it may very well be the lowest airdam of any car we've tested, including tuners and exotics.

There are some minor, minor speed bumps near our office. And even if you're going slowly, the Volt's airdam smashes down on the pavement as you drive off the bump. Every time.

As a result of speed bumps and driveways, here's what's happening to our Volt:

Yes, it's an extremely flexible material. But it's still an eyesore.

The below photo shows a fairly normal angle for getting the Volt into my garage. Yet even angling it this much isn't enough, as the airdam still scrapes big time. And the entry to the garage isn't even that steep.

This photo below shows just how much of a crazy angle it takes to get the Volt in without touching down. This couldn't be done if there was a second car in the garage. Like I said, ridiculous.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 6,867 miles.

Electric Seats. Or Not.

June 30, 2011

Call me crazy (go ahead, it's okay. I've been called worse things), but I was a little surprised to find that our $44,695 Chevy Volt doesn't have power front seats. Not even the driver's seat.

I don't really care about the manual fore/aft seat adjustment, but it's nice to have an electrically-operated seatback. I'm kind of a fidgety person, so I usually mess with the seatback several times during my long commute.

If I can't have power operation, I'd at least like a VW-like round knob which gives an infinite amount of adjustment, as opposed to the Volt's lever, which doesn't always leave you in that exact right position.

On the bright side, the front seats are plenty comfortable when I can find that perfect setting.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 6,971 miles.


July 08, 2011

So the parking attendant at the gym I go to is a pretty casual car guy. He gets cars to some degree, he knows what's special and what's cool and chats me up about what I'm driving every day. He isn't, however, an enthusiast and, until yesterday, had never shown any interest in any green vehicles I may have been driving.

"That's my next car, bro!"

"This is?"

"Oh yeah. I need that."

"Huh, really? I didn't peg you as an electric car type of guy."

"It's electric?"

"Well, kind of...see it's got....Yes. It is electric."

"Whatever, man, I don't care, that thing is gorgeous and I want it in my garage!"

I was lucky enough to get the Volt two days in a row — seriously, I still love driving this thing — and he said the same thing the next day. "Gorgeous!"

I don't see it, however. Sure, it looks kind of menacing in black and our Volt-specific color is by far the worst, but even in the good colors, gorgeous? A Prius-based design with a bowtie?

Now the first Volt concept? That was a looker.

Mike Magrath, Associate Editor, Inside Line

We're Not Parking It ...

July 12, 2011

"We're not parking it, we're abandoning it." - John Winger, Stripes

I had a similar notion as I pulled away from our test track this afternoon, leaving behind the car I brought there. So why have I abandoned our Volt in Fontana? Have Santa Monica utility rates just become too much? Do I think the Volt could be improved by the addition of giant spiders?

Find out tomorrow morning.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

Audio Review

July 16, 2011

The Chevy Volt is a unique vehicle, right down to its audio system. The Volt's Bose Energy Efficient Series Sound System was designed to be 30 percent smaller, 40 percent lighter and use 50 percent less energy than "systems with comparable performance." Bose claims that technology such as High Motor Force speakers and "switching technology" amplifiers give the Volt's sound system high performance with less heft.

But the proof is in the listening, so I put our 2011 Chevy Volt through its audio-evaluation paces. And for a seven-speaker system that comes standard with the car, the much-hyped plug-in hybrid sounds pretty impressive on the inside.

The Setup
The seven speakers that make up the Bose Energy Efficient Series Sound System include a 1-inch tweeter in each A pillar, a 6.5-inch woofer in each front door, a 4-inch "mid/high-range" speaker in each rear door and a 4.5-inch woofer in an 8-liter enclosure in the spare-tire well. Bose doesn't provide amplifier power specs, and only says that the amp provides eight channels of output and equalization.

The Sound
As with every system I test, I listened to 10 musical tracks that I've heard in literally hundreds of vehicles to gauge clarity/lack of distortion, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy, soundstaging, imaging and dynamics. The music ranges from the jazz of Bluesiana Triangle and sparse folk of Luka Bloom to the full-on rock of Red House Painters and bass-heavy rap of Outkast. I also use several non-musical tracks to further test soundstaging, imaging, linearity and absence of noise. For more details on this testing process and the tracks used, check out the article Sound Advice.

The Volt's Bose Energy Efficient Series Sound System is a good example of how car audio performance isn't necessarily a numbers game. While luxury automakers are locked in an audio arms race to see who can add the most speakers and amplifier power to their premium systems, a simple setup like the one in the Volt — while it can't deliver the audio firepower of a mega-watt system with a double-digit speaker count — can still be sonically satisfying.

The Volt system's weaknesses are in the typical areas and the most difficult to reproduce: low, midbass and high frequencies. With most musical passages, the high end was bright and brittle and low and midbass parts were boomy and at times distorted. One surprising exception was with the rap-bass boom of Outkast's "Ain't No Thang," which the little 4.5-inch woofer and the 6.5-inchers in the front doors did a decent job of reproducing with power and oomph.

Despite these deficiencies that dragged scores for clarity, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy and dynamics down to just above average, the system had a spacious and detailed sound. The Bluesiana Triangle track "Shoo Fly Don't Bother Me" is a go-to cut for determining soundstage width and proper image placement since the song has a very open and airy mix, with quiet passages that make it easy to pick out individual instruments. The track's percussion hung in distinctly separate parts above the dash the way it's supposed to, while the flute solo that starts at about two minutes in imaged as close to the middle of the dash as a system without a dedicated center-channel speaker can get. Likewise, soundstaging and imaging in the short instrumental track "The Blues Walk" from the Lyle Lovett and his Large Band LP were way better than I'd expect from a system of this size and makeup.

The two non-musical tracks I use to test staging and imaging — one with voices recorded so that they appear in the left, center and right of the soundstage, and seven drumbeats that are supposed to move across the dash at precise intervals — confirmed these listening impressions. The Volt's system failed the voice test — but just barely, and I had to listen very intently to determine that the center vocal was detectable in the left channel. It easily passed the seven-drumbeats test. With linearity, a measure of how well the sound holds together at low- and mid-volume levels, the system scored poor and good, respectively. It also passed an absence of noise/zero-bits test.

The Sources
The Volt has an in-dash CD/DVD player that will show DVD movies on the in-dash display when the car is parked. It also has AM, FM and XM radio with a Time Shift feature that can store up to 20 minutes of a broadcast.

iPod integration is through either an aux-in jack or USB port. You can use an iPod's 30-pin computer-sync cable to connect the device to the car. Menu items include the usual suspects of playlists, artists, albums and songs, and the more atypical genres, composers and audiobooks (but not podcasts). Access to an iPod's content is pretty painless using the Volt's touch screen or a center knob in the dash — but I can't say the same for the PITA center-stack buttons for basic audio functions. Arrows on the left side of the screen let you scroll through menu items, although the system takes its sweet time doing so. And GM forces you to eject your iPod each time or risk losing data.

If you prefer to be entertained by literature rather than Lil' Wayne, the system is specifically designed to play audiobooks downloaded from and then burned onto either a CD or loaded onto a USB thumb drive. Music files on USB drive can also be played, and menu items include playlists, artists, albums, songs and genres. Music files can be ripped to an onboard 30GB hard drive from a CD, but not from a USB. The system also doesn't offer Bluetooth audio, which should be a no-brainer considering many other GM cars do.

What We Say
The Chevy Volt has been an unqualified win for GM coming out of the company's post-bankruptcy period, and it's also a much-needed affirmation that Motown can still deliver technologically advanced vehicles that can compete on the world stage. It's doubtful that anyone will buy the Volt because of the Bose Energy Efficient Series Sound System, but it's a nice bonus — and standard equipment.

Plus, while it's debatable that the Bose Energy Efficient Series Sound System is on par with the rest of the car when it comes to cutting-edge technology, at least it can be enjoyed in a very quiet cabin — while the car is running just on juice, that is.

The Scores
Sound: C+
Sources: A-
iPod Integration: B-
Cost: A+

Doug Newcomb, Senior Editor, Technology

First Meet and Greet

July 20, 2011

I drove the Volt briefly for the first time ever a couple nights ago. It was a bit strange finally driving a car I'd been reading about for months (or years). I enjoyed the seat time. In general, I like the technical aspect of cars that are efficient. So I was pleased to see I went 33 miles on battery power and still had, at least according to the Volt, about another 12 miles left of juice.

The Volt isn't weird to drive, either. It's quiet on the highway, has a nice, compliant ride quality and feels substantial at the wheel. Parking it was trickier than expected, though, due to the touchy brakes, limited visibility and somewhat wide turning circle (36 feet, about 2.5 feet more than the Cruze's circle, even though the Volt is shorter).

I know this drive was just a taste, so I'm looking forward to spending more time with our Volt in a couple of weeks.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

Propulsion Power is Reduced

July 20, 2011

To Mountain Mode or not to Mountain Mode, that is the question. The Volt's Mountain Mode essentially stores up electricity so that you can apparently climb any grade in the United States at 70 mph. Trouble is, it hurts your electric range (should you be in electric-only mode) or your fuel economy. This was my quandery last week during leg 1 of the Fuel-Sipper Smackdown.

As this was a fuel economy test, I decided to leave the Volt in Normal. Even with the plug-in electric charge depleted, the powertrain had no trouble getting up the rather steep Cajon Pass on Interstate 15. Other grades were dispatched without issue, including one ascending Panamint Valley. However, as I made the long climb up the mountain leading into Death Valley, the Volt doth protested.

As the above photo shows, I got a warning saying "Propulsion Power is Reduced," and my speed quickly declined. By this time it was too late to engage Mountain Mode. Eventually, I had my foot planted to the floor, the engine was whirring like a lawn mower and the Volt was dawdling up the mountain at an embarrasing 35 mph. The other fuel-sipper cars formed a parade behind me, wondering why I decided to drive like Ma and Pa RV Owner.

Had this not been a fuel economy test, I almost certainly would've seen the big scary mountain ahead and gone "duh, Mountain Mode." But at least I now have a good idea of the rather extreme circumstances in which the Volt's gasoline engine is overwhelmed when in Normal Mode. (There's also the matter of whether drivers will even know there's a Mountain Mode there).

So how did fuel economy fair in this scenario? Curiously, the Volt still managed to achieve 39 mpg (subtracting its E range) on this more vigorous portion of the Death Valley leg, whereas it only managed 31 on the less mountainous second portion. I have no idea why. Beyond Fuel-Sipping, Death Valley was definitely an interesting test for the Volt.

For more fuel economy numbers from Fuel-Sipper Smackdown 4, you'll have to wait a few weeks, however. Stay tuned, but at the very least I can say I once again walked away impressed with this nifty car.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 7,799 miles

Redefines Driver Involvement

July 21, 2011

I drove our Chevy Volt A LOT last week. To be precise, 420.5 miles over the course of 12 hours through the Mojave Desert and Death Valley. That's a long time to be in any car and given my proclivities for more sporting, involving cars, you'd think that would be more than enough eco car for me. Yet here I am this week driving the Volt every single night.

Why? Because although it's definitely not sporting, I've discovered that the Volt is redefining what I consider an "involving" car.

Yesterday, one of our commenters asked what the little green dot does in the instrument screen. It essentially tells you when you are maximizing the battery's range and regeneration. In fact, while I make my daily slogs through traffic, that little green dot helps me to be an intricate and involved part of the Volt's efficiency. I find myself looking even further ahead and gently applying the brakes to gradually bring the car to a stop using regenerative braking rather than the traditional clampers. I take great concentration in accelerating in a smooth, efficient manner. In other words, it gives me something to do.

It's not the same as perfectly executing a downshift or feeling the road through especially good steering, but in a high-congested urban environment, the Volt keeps me involved like few other cars can. And in that way, it's made me realize that it's not just performance that makes me connect with a car, it's that amount of involvement. I want to feel like a part of the machine, not just a passive operator along for the ride.

True, the Prius and other hybrids have similar high-tech read-outs and the ability to maximize battery life. However, they don't share or match the Volt's many other car benefits that go beyond its powertrain (not to mention its ability to go further under electric power when in gasoline/hybrid mode). There's just no way in hell I'd be driving a Prius this week after 420.5 miles through the desert. Actually, there's a good chance I would've pulled off the road and just taken my chances walking through Death Valley.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 8,296 miles

My Week in the Volt

July 22, 2011

My commute is conducive to owning a Chevy Volt. I only go about 8 miles each way in traffic, so I'd theoretically be one of those people who could go months without ever tapping the gasoline engine. Since my wife rarely drives her car other than during her similar commute, that would go double for her.

As such, I decided to take the Volt every night this week to see what type of electric range I would get and over how many days the charge would last. As I described yesterday, I was trying to be as efficient as possible without being a hypermiling road block.

The result is I went 43.4 total miles on electricity, which was good for four "legs" from my house to the office or vice versa. However, the Volt switched over to gasoline with about 1 mile left to go on my fifth "leg" driving home last night. In other words, I was using electricity for 2 and a half days. Of course, I could've recharged each day, but I probably wouldn't bother. Why? Laziness partly, a lack of need would be another, but think about it from a futurist perspective. If you owned two Volts or cars similar to the Volt, you could plug in one car at a time rather than having two giant electricity vampires suckling on your house.

The more time I spend with the Volt, the more I'm convinced that it's a fantastic model for future cars. The price will go down over time, battery capacity will go up and there theoretically will be a wider variety of vehicle body types available for those who find its packaging limited. My week in the Volt points to the way of the future.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 9,353

Dusting Off EV Parking Spots

July 25, 2011

This parking lot is at Helms Bakery in Culver City, which is not actually a bakery any more, but rather a group of furniture-selling outlets. More importantly, this parking lot has a pair of electric vehicle parking spaces with a charger hooked up to solar panels on the roof. Great concept ... if it's 1997 and you have a GM EV1. Or one of the few surviving RAV4's.

Perhaps there's a household-style plug on there somewhere, but for our Volt and Leaf, chargers like these are otherwise useless. They have the old EV car plug, which looks like a black paddle and can be used for the 1990s-era EVs. With only those surviving RAV4s, these chargers (which can be found throughout Southern California) have only been collecting dust over the years while the spots they occupy have been conquered by drivers smart enough to realize that there's a greater chance of a unicorn dropping a deuce on their hood than an electric car stopping by to angrily discover some gasoline-swilling knob in their designated space.

Yet, electric cars are back. Or rather, electric cars and super hybridy plug-in cars like the Volt. As such, it's been fun parking the Volt in these old spots whenever I can as a symbolic gesture. Sure, I can't actually plug in, but then it's not like I'd extract much juice while popping in to look at an ottoman for 20 minutes anyway. It's the thought that counts.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 8,389 miles

Sorry About That, Socket

July 26, 2011

Our 2011 Chevrolet Volt no longer has a charge cord because, well, the friendly folks at Guaranty Chevrolet wouldn't give it back to me after I brought our Volt in for service this afternoon. "Too dangerous to use," they said.

Our poor Kill-A-Watt socket agrees. I do, too, but I'm a little disappointed because I was looking forward to free airport EV parking tomorrow.

There's nothing wrong with the car itself, so I'm still driving it on gasoline. Turns out the strain relief disentegrated on the Volt's standard charge cord, exposing wires inside and stoppping a recent charge attempt dead in its tracks.

We first noticed this after an overnight charge resulted in just 5 miles of electric driving range — the charge system had shut itself down overnight, but not before our little friend here got scorched. It seems the wall outlet itself would have been the thing that overheated if I hadn't had this handy kWh measuring device sandwiched in between.

As you can see, the strain relief has broken, allowing the wires to pull tight. No one has been playing jump rope with the thing, and we rarely ever unwind the cord all the way like this.And remember, we use this charger only about 1/4th of the time — mostly we use our wall-mounted Coulomb unit.

No, the strain relief itself is too weak and soft. I've owned plenty of those orange extension cords and have never pulled the end off one of those.

Aside from weak material, the size and shape of the in-car storage well for the cord may play a role. Unless you re-wind the cord carefully and somewhat tightly around the charger, the wound cord assembly will be too bulky to fit back in. A bit more breathing room in the storage well would allow a loosely-wound cord to still snap into its spot.

Here's the plug-end of the cord. The strain relief hasn't completely broken apart on this end, but it has fractured like this in two places.

Bottom line: The standard 120V charging rig is far from robust enough to last the life of the car. Our melted Kill-A-Watt suggests that fire is a possible outcome. This is nothing to fool around with. Time for the "R" word.

Forum traffic indicates a lot of other Volt owners have suffered from the same problem. It seems a design change was introduced, but it isn't clear when. Some say only the first 120 Volts were affected, but others with higher VINs have reported the problem. Our car's VIN ends in 340.

A design change indicates aknowledgement of a problem. It isn't clear if any Volt owners have been notified. We certainly were not.

Either way, the dealer says I'm going to get a replacement charger assembly under warranty, and it'll arrive tomorrow. Let's hope the replacement features a beefed-up strain relief and cord design. The guy at Guaranty Chevrolet didn't know one way or the other. Volt owners on the forums suggest I'll be happier with the new one. We'll see.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 8,482 miles.

New Charge Cord

July 29, 2011

This afternoon I picked up the replacement charge cord that had been previously ordered for our 2011 Chevrolet Volt by the friendly folks at Guaranty Chevrolet.

Contrary to expectations, is looks pretty much like the old cord — except of course the strain relief isn't broken. The material seems just as squishy and pliable, but I think I count nine segments instead of eight.

Like the old one, the business end of the cord emerges from the housing and starts wrapping around it immediately, putting the strain relief under strain right out of the gate. I hope this one's up to it. Time will tell.

Also, the cord itself is a half-wind shorter (or longer) such that the massive plug end now falls naturally into its storage pocket. Our last one didn't match up like this, forcing us to take a loop off and fold another foot of cord into the pocket with the pistol grip in backwards.

There may be other improvements I can't see buried within, but an hour-long call to GM didn't reveal any specific design details. I did learn that our VIN falls squarely in the "before" range, but I could not get confirmation of the VIN switchover point at which this newer cord was supplied with new cars.

Be that as it may, here's the punchline...

This thing costs $441 — the world's most expensive extension cord. OK, there's clearly more to it than that, but still. I was guessing $200, tops. Silly me.

And check out the $57.94 for labor. What labor? I suppose that's for looking at my broken cord and saying, "Yep, she's broke all right." That and processing the paperwork.

But I guess it doesn't really matter because I didn't pay a cent. That's right, all $500 described on this bill was covered under warranty.

Bottom line: Our Volt is sitting in my driveway as we speak, getting charged up once more on 120 volts through a brand new charge cord and a brand new Kill-A-Watt meter.


Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 8,689 miles

A Long Weekend Away From the Cord

July 29, 2011

The real, and obvious, beauty of the 2011 Chevy Volt, is the range extender feature. There are some crazy people who are upset about this because the Volt isn't a real EV. Fine. Whatever. It's not. But you know what it is? A real car.

I had the Volt for a quick three-days-away-from-the-office pseudo vacation and, like most Volt owners, I did not vacation in a place that had convenient access to a charging port. I was looking forward to this time in part because I'd never spent much time with the gasoline motor of the Volt. Sure a few minutes here and there, a quick run up the freeway now and again, but this would turn out to be three solid days with no charge.

How'd it go?

Well. Extremely well.

In total I put 258.4 miles on the Volt, only 27 of them off of the fully charged battery. Sure, without the battery there's a little less zip, but the car is still pleasant to be in and not offensively slow. It does have some issues (noise, engine strain) cruising on highways with a 75 mph speed limit too.

The only annoying thing is the disconnect between the accelerator pedal and the noises of the gasoline motor. (Just to refresh, when the battery's dead, the gas motor works as a generator spinning metal near magnets to make electricity. ) So what you end up with is a gasoline engine that revs completely independently from the actions of your foot. Decelerating while the engine revs go up is really awkward and slightly troubling. Still, after it doesn't unintentionally accelerate anywhere, you get almost used to it.

Oh, the best part? Nearly 40 MPG driving like a guy who likes to drive (and usually gets well below EPA ratings) and not some jerk in a hybrid. There are full-throttle events, twisty roads, 75 mph freeway runs and too much crappy traffic to mention represented here. Riswick would certainly have managed better. I'm happy with 38.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor, Inside Line

Driving with a Partial Charge

August 02, 2011

I moved recently and I was looking forward to seeing how our Chevrolet Volt would do on my new commute. But when I was ready to leave, the Volt was still charging. It was about an hour and a half away from a full charge or about 75 percent full. The battery indicator showed that I had about 26 miles of electric range available. My new commute is about 19 miles (it used to be six), and some of it is uphill. How far do you think I went before the gasoline engine kicked in?

This photo makes it seem as though I set a new electric range record — but I didn't. The display will not reset itself unless the battery has a full charge. To get the real electric-range number, I went to our logbook and subtracted the last electric range mileage (39.9) from the 67.5 mile readout. This gives us a total of 27.6 miles of range — on a 75 percent charge. Not too bad. Some people would get that number on a full charge (*Cough* Mike Magrath *Cough*).

The stop-and-go traffic really helped out in my case. If I were traveling at normal highway speeds, the incline before the drop into the San Fernando Valley would have taken a sizeable chunk out of the range. But by moving at a slow speed and driving calmly, I kept the drain on the battery to a minimum. I also didn’t use the A/C until I was over the hill and when I did, I kept it on "Eco" mode. Later in the day, I ran a few errands and before I returned home, the gasoline engine kicked in on. I'll try my commute again with a full charge and see if I can make the round trip on electric power only.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 8,902 miles

HDD Fail

August 04, 2011

As you're all pretty tired of reading, I like our Chevy Volt quite a bit. So much so in fact, that I've decided to burn some CD's into its 30gig HDD so that I don't have to bother with an iPod cable or carry CDs can test the system.

Someone had already tried this with "Something for the rest of" but I didn't want to hear that, I was going to record Flogging Molly's "Speed of Darkness." So I popped it in and drove home and then, before apparently it was done recording, turned the car off.

When I got back in the car the following day (yes, I did this back in July), the recording continued from the same track, but placed it in a different folder. Part of this, I think, is because the Volt had no idea what this CD was, unlike say my computer which figured out the tracks no problem. So now I have two folders for one album, tracks 1-8 in one and 9-12 in the other. Still, I've never seen it handled this way.

I guess I'll have to commit to driving for an entire CD-length should I want to load anything else in and then keep a handy notebook of which dates correspond to which albums. Still, this might be better than the Volt's normal habit of pointlessly alphabetizing album tracks.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor, Inside Line

Works for My New Commute Too

August 09, 2011

The Chevrolet Volt made a lot of sense when I lived about six miles from work. But now I live much further, and the last time I took Volt home, it was only 75 percent charged, so I wasn't able to get an accurate representation of its range.

I now have an 18.5 mile commute that goes up a hill before a drop into the San Fernando Valley. I catch a fair amount of traffic on both ends of the commute, which actually helps out the Volt by keeping the average speed down. Going up the hill at full highway speeds would significantly deplete the charge.

When I left the office, the Volt estimated that I had 39 miles of range on the fully charged battery. I drove home calmly and frequently used the "L" gear when I was in traffic to take advantage of the more aggressive regenerative braking. I alternated between "D" and "L" as if the Volt had a manual two-speed transmission. This kept me off the brakes and kept the eco ball centered in the gauge cluster. The weather was mild, so I didn’t have use the A/C. I drove with the general flow of traffic and the fastest I went was about 65 mph.

I was able to make the 37-mile round trip and still have 14 miles left on the estimated electric range. This was impressive, given that the Volt went up a hill twice. If you add up the figures, the car theoretically could have gone about 51 miles. This would've been a record for me, but still short of Dan's impressive 54.6 miles. I don’t have any kilowatt numbers or utility bills to back this up, but given that I can make my commute both ways without using gas, I'd say the Volt still makes sense for my commute.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 9,069 miles

Knuckle-Buster 9,000

August 12, 2011

(Note: As a righty, taking pictures of your own right hand inside of a car is exceedingly difficult. At least for me.)

You know what they say about guys with big hands, right? Yep, that they have a really difficult time using the shifter of the 2011 Chevy Volt.

As you know, there are a lot of things I like about our Volt. If i were in the market for a daily-driver, the Volt would be near the top of my list. But it's not perfect, there are a few things that really bother me about the Volt and most of them have to do with the center console.

1) As I've stated before, the buttonless touch-panel sucks to use. I fail on 2/3s of button presses and accidentally activate things all the time. It needs to go. Now.

2) The shifter and shifter surround are rubbish.

A) The shifter itself is too fat, hollow and scratches easily.

B) The shifter surround is too small which means:

— I smash my knuckles on the damn thing when I try to put the car into park or when I reach into the cave to get it out of park.

— I cut my knuckles on the unsanded flashing on the inside when trying to pull the lever from park. Even if I'm careful, my hand is too big to press the shift-lever-release button and not hit the side of the shifter cave.

Close up view should show a decent amount of my skin under there.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor @ 9,112 miles

I Would Own One

August 15, 2011

I just spend the better part of the weekend driving our long-term 2011 Chevy Volt. Sometime last evening, Volt packed with my offspring, I decided I could happily own one.

Fact is, I like driving the Volt. Another fact is that I don't like driving a Prius. And another is that I would never hem myself in with the limited driving range of a Leaf.

Meanwhile, I drive just 9 miles to work each morning. And my wife spends most of her days well within the Volt's 40 miles electric range.

For us, the Volt makes a lot of sense. It would be used as an electric vehicle most of the time. But my wife could also drive it to grandma's house (either 75 miles or 135 miles away depending on which grandma) without breaking a sweat.

I left the Volt with my wife today. I wanted her to use it. I'll report her reactions tomorrow.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief @ 9,234 miles

My Wife Likes It, But...

August 16, 2011

Yesterday I gave my wife our long-term Volt to drive. And she liked it.

I gave her the Volt with 27 miles worth of electricity and a full tank of gas. She ran her planned errands with the kids (bank, Home Depot, etc.) and used up the 27 miles in a couple of hours. Then she called me. Her sister wanted to take the kids to Disneyland. Disneyland is about 50 miles from our house. A Nissan Leaf ain't making the round trip. "Have fun," I said.

"But I'm already out of juice," she replied.

I of course explained to her how the car worked and she hit the road worry free.

As I said, she liked the Volt. She liked the freedom from range anxiety. She liked the way it drove. She said the seat is comfortable. And she said it felt peppy. She also said it felt good whether the engine was running or not. But there were two problems. And one is a dealbreaker.

The first problem is visibility. She didn't like the split rear glass and the huge A-pillars. But the dealbreaker is the rear bucket seats. With only room for four she says no to the Volt. Gotta have room for five in a pinch.

Hard to argue with.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

What if it were a Cadillac?

August 17, 2011

...because it's going to be.

Meet the Cadillac ELR, currently in development.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor, Inside Line

Right Time, Right Place

August 17, 2011

I recently got to spend some significant seat time in the Chevy Volt. Like other editors, I found positive and negative (no pun intended) aspects about GM's much-hyped plug-in hybrid. More about those in other posts, but I had a very positive experience while driving the Volt on the interstate one day.

I saw a brand-new Dodge Challenger with dealer plates barreling down a freeway onramp. As the driver merged onto the highway behind me, he had huge a grin on his face. My guess is he'd just bought the car and was taking it out for a sunset shakedown cruise. His grin grew a bit bigger when he sidled up next to the Volt and I gave him a thumbs-up. But sorry about that Bright White color, bro ...

Watching him pull away made me think what a great time it is to be a car enthusiast. And a fan of American cars.

I missed the classic muscle car era, although the first vehicle I bought was a '71 Chevelle Malibu and spent most weekends pulling parts at junkyards with like-minded friends. (Collectively we owned a '65 Pontiac Catalina, '64 Pontiac Tempest, a '71 Plymouth Barracuda 340, a '74 Dodge Duster 360 and a '71 El Camino SS 454.) And I came of age in the middle of the domestic auto industry's Malaise Era. Except for the occasional Buick Grand National and the Camaro IROC-Z, these were lean times for fans of American cars.

When the Volt crossed paths with the Challenger, it made me realize and appreciate the times we're living and driving in now. And it made me consider how Detroit — and especially left-for-dead GM and Chrysler — can still make cool, innovative and competitive cars.

I've never been the nationalistic, flag-waving type, although I have a soft spot for muscle cars and have always been a Chevy fan. Maybe listening to Neil Young's Rust Never Sleeps made me nostalgic. And his song "Motor City" has been on my mind a lot lately.

Regardless, the present sure beats driving a 1981 Chevy Chevette in the past. Or seeing a 1981 Dodge Challenger pass you on the road.

Doug Newcomb, Senior Editor, Technology

Less Guilty Conscience For Short Trips

August 18, 2011

One thing I've noticed when driving our Chevrolet Volt for a short trip or errand is that my conscience doesn't gnaw at me as much as if I had driven a regular car instead. It can be something as simple as backing the Volt out of my driveway to unblock a car in the garage — there's no fretting about cold-start emissions or needless wear-and-tear on the engine. Instead all I did was use a bit of electricity. It's a similar experience if I have to make a quick trip to something like a grocery store. There's no wasted gas at startup or waiting at stop lights.

Of course I'm still using energy for such things. But the Volt is much better suited.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

Low Awareness

August 19, 2011

Since I was driving the Volt for a few days, I decided to poll some friends and family to find out how many knew what the Volt was. Not very many, I found.

Most didn't know what it was at all. One knew what it was but thought it was "an electric car." Of about 10 people I asked (an admittedly small sample), only one really knew the deal. And I'd consider him a car enthusiast.

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised. But I'd be happier if more people knew about it, if for no other reason that it's an American car the general public can actually be proud of.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

No Charging on Electric Avenue

August 23, 2011

I may live on Electric Avenue, but I can't charge the Chevy Volt here. With no power to my personal garage, I can drive the car home from the office on a full charge, but it switches to gas just six miles into my morning commute back to the office.

If you knew you would have access to a charging station at work, but never be able to charge at home, would you still consider a plug-in hybrid?

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 9,856 miles

Now At The Co-Op

September 07, 2011

A Volt sighting is far from an everyday occurrence in these parts but I can't think of a place more likely to harbor a nest of Volts than the Co-Op — a grocery store deep in the heart of Santa Monica where the produce is organic and the shoppers come in an instantly recognizable shade of green.

This rather fetching red number was parked just outside, by the curb. Right now, the Prius is the model most seen in the Co-Op's parking lot. Maybe one day the upstart Volt will snatch that crown.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor

10,000-mile Recap

September 09, 2011

We recently broke the 10,000-mile barrier in our 2011 Chevrolet Volt. What's happened so far? A faulty charging cable sent us to the dealer and Chevy announced it was lowering the price of new Volts. That's it. Oh, unless you consider it's fuel economy noteworthy...

To date we've driven 3,946 miles on electricity and 6,054 on gasoline. For the sake of argument, let's call that a 40/60 split. At just 40 percent, our utility factor is low.

According to the SAE, a vehicle with a projected electric range of 35 miles should be spending closer to 58 percent of the time on electricity. We drive the Volt like a normal car. So a handful of long distance, gasoline-only trips to Las Vegas and San Francisco have influenced this factor adversely.

On the electricity front, we are performing better than estimates. Note here that this is a measure of consumption. At 33.7 kWh/100 miles we are actually using less than the 36.0 kWh the EPA expects.

Gasoline efficiency isn't quite as positive. Our 34.2 mpg average is a fair amount worse than EPA estimates. But we've seen it reach into the 40s under the right conditions.

The total cost per mile to own our Volt thus far is surprising. We used the California (CA) and national (N'tl) averages for electricity and gasoline prices to calculate the cost/mile. These figures do not include any maintenance, simply fuel. Here in Santa Monica the Chevy cost us 9.1 cents per mile to operate. For reference, a Toyota Prius would cost considerably less, 7.7 cents per mile. The Prius figure assumes its 50-mpg EPA rating, though we've yet to back that up through testing. Nevertheless, it gives you something to chew on for comparison.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 10,000 miles

Boop Beep Boo Beep Boop

September 14, 2011

"These aren't the droids you're looking for ..."

That is all.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

Can You Plug-In On a Road Trip?

September 15, 2011

A few months back, we took our long-term Chevy Volt on our fourth-annual Fuel Sipper Smackdown comparison test. In the past, we followed the same route and testing procedure, but the Volt required that we switched things up. If we were to give Chevy's extended range electric vehicle a fair shake, we'd have to start it with a full battery. That meant we would have to park it overnight at our test track location before getting started and then find someplace in Las Vegas with a charging station. Sure, we probably could've asked my ex girlfriend if I could plug it into her garage, but that would've been awkward for everyone.

Thankfully, Ron Montoya came across an article about the Flamingo Las Vegas being the first Las Vegas hotel to install an electric car charger. That seemed like a perfect solution. I put in a call to EV Charge America, the Las Vegas-based company that produced and installed the Flamingo charger, to verify that the charger did indeed exist and wondered if we could "reserve" the charger for the two nights we'd be staying in Las Vegas. Arriving there only to find one of the world's scant few other Volts would be just our luck and a test-ruining scenario.

EV Charge America's CEO Bob Rosinski agreed to set us up and explained that the Flamingo's charger is a 240V model with a single terminal similar to the ChargePoint one we have at Edmunds HQ. It's more a residential model, however, and it will eventually be replaced by a charger with multiple charge cords.

Sounds good, smash cut to our arrival at the Flamingo. Rolling down the window, I stopped at the security guard booth.

"Excuse me, I'm trying to find the electric car charger." I might as well have said "Can you direct me to dee naval base in Alameda. It's where dey keep dee nuclear wessels."

He had absolutely no idea what I was talking about, so I decided to drive around until I found something that looked like an electric car charger. Eventually, right there at the main entrance was a pair of parking spots blocked off with police tape. Sure enough, there was the electric car charger, but there was no identifying signage for electric car parking (or that it was reserved for the all-important Edmunds editorial team). We pulled down the tape and plugged in our Volt ... nothing happened.

Me on my iPhone trying to get through to Bob Rosinski of EV Charge America. Note that the green lines had not yet been painted and the green bollards not yet installed.

Full Behind the Scenes Fuel-Sipper Smackdown Photo and Video Gallery

Given our experience with our own charger, we recognized that we would need a special mini access card to activate it. We went to the front desk where a very nice, helpful employee nevertheless had no idea what we were talking about. His attempts to contact someone in the Flamingo's maintenance department were just a fruitless. Basically, we were SOL ... at least if we were an everyday Volt owner who doesn't know the president of the charger manufacturer. At 10 pm, Rosinski went above and beyond to kindly deliver the needed access card and we were in business.

Though EV Charge America sells chargers that can be activated by anyone at the push of a button or by swiping a credit card, the Flamingo's parent company Harrah's insisted on using the access cards and giving them out to guests who requested them. That's an iffy system to begin with and it's worse when hotel employees don't even know about it.

Nevertheless, we came down the next morning to discover that as we slept the Flamingo had painted green lines around our car and even installed green-painted concrete bollards. It got me thinking, though: Had Bob Rosinski really come through in reserving the spot, or did our arrival just perfectly coincide with the Flamingo finally getting around to preparing the spots? Or had our arrival reminded the Flamingo that they were dragging ass on its EV parking?

Inevitably, it didn't matter and we left for our city driving loop. At lunch, however, Montoya had a prophetic insight: "You know, we probably should've put that traffic cone back in front of our spot."

No, we didn't steal that chap in the wheelchair's parking space. He and his friend were just curious about the Volt.

He was right. With only green lines and no EV signage, a Chrysler 300 with a disabled parking sticker saw no problem parking in our spot from the night before as the spot's old disabled placard hadn't been removed. The second spot, which didn't have any placard, was occupied by a Nissan Versa whose owner appeared to be standing outside. I haphazardly double parked and bolted out of the car, hell bent on making sure elderly Mr. Versa didn't leave with his car in the spot. Thankfully, I didn't have to give the heave-ho to a disabled veteran, because he just as quickly vacated the spot. I stood guard and waited for John DiPietro to back in the Volt since the charger was on the wrong side in this spot. Crisis averted, Volt charged.

This is all a very long-winded way of saying "It's very difficult to recharge your Chevy Volt when on a road trip." Indeed, this is the first moment when I fully realized our position as extreme early adopters. We only had one hotel choice (a terrible one, the Flamingo is a dump), nobody at the hotel knew the charger existed, the Flamingo's access card system is silly and you always run the risk that the other Volt in town will take your space (not to mention Mr. Versa).

Since then, the Mandalay Bay has installed a charger (d'oh!) and Rosinski said that our test indeed served as a kick in the pants for the Flamingo. EV Charge America delivered a batch of cards to the Flamingo and one can only assume the hotel has increased the signage to fend off non-EV drivers. However, similar scenarios will no doubt be playing out all across the country as plug-in cars become more prevelent — EV Charge America's business has increased 1000 percent in the past three months. It will be interesting to see what a similar plug-in road trip would be like in a year, two or three.

Inevitably, though, this is all very much a moot point: the beauty of the Volt is that you don't actually have to plug it in.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 7,799 miles

I Could Be An Ideal Candidate

September 19, 2011

If you were to ask GM's marketing gurus who their target buyer of the Chevrolet Volt would be, it'd probably be somebody similar to me. I own a house in California suburbia that has both a garage and solar panels (the panels aren't currently operational, but that's another story.) I'm interested in alternative energy, both for vehicles and in general. Finally, my total household income is enough to theoretically support the purchase of a $35,000 new car.

OK, so I'm not actually in need of a Volt as I already have other vehicles and working for Edmunds/Inside Line dictates otherwise. But I find the idea interesting. So for this week and part of next week, I'll be trying to emulate a Volt buyer. My general plan will be to drive the Volt as if I was a stay-at-home parent and see how it works out. I'll be running errands, taking kids to school, visiting friends and doing whatever else I can think of. I'll be looking out for how much electricity and gas I use, charging issues and general interest.

Enlightening or boring, I'm not sure how it will play out. But I'm curious.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 10,616 miles

Stay-At-Home Parent: Errand Test

September 21, 2011

As I noted on Monday, I've got the Volt all this week and next week and am trying to drive it as if I owned it and was a stay-at-home parent. With a lot of short trips and easy access to at-home charging, I'm playing to the Volt's strengths here. But it's also interesting to me to see how it does.

So far, it's all been quite positive (ha!). With a conservative driving style, I've been able to go about 40 miles on a charge, and 40 has so far proved to be plenty. Even if I've done multiple trips in a day, I've always brought the Volt back home at some point, and that means I've been able to hook the Volt up to the charger to top off (or at least have the option to). For errand running situations, it'd be pretty hard not to stay on full electric continually in my opinion.

Besides the power issue, the Volt also works pretty well as an urban runabout. It's quiet, comfortable and has a trunk that's big enough to handle most daily items.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

120-Volt or 240-Volt Home Charging?

September 23, 2011

Leading up to my extended time with our Chevrolet Volt this week, my general assumption was that you had to get a 240-volt home charger if you were to actually own an electric car. I saw it as sort of an accepted accessory you just have to get, like a $30 case when you get a new smart phone.

But so far this past week I've gotten along just fine using the 120-volt charger that comes with the car. So now I'm wondering: is the $2,000 home charger aspect overplayed?

Here's my opinion on a 240-volt home charging station: I don't think very many people are going to need one for a Volt.

Going with 240V does one main thing: it reduces the amount of charging time, usually by at least 50 percent compared to regular 120-volt household current. However, if you're normally just charging overnight after a day's use — and with the Volt you can give a full charge from depleted in that time frame — you don't really gain anything by having 240V. Whether it's 120V or 240V, your car is still fully charged by the time you're ready to take it out the next day.

Also, my coworker Phil Reed pointed out another interesting aspect to me: it's rare that you're charging an electric vehicle from fully depleted anyway. Usually you've only used a certain percentage of electric power, and either you've come home or perhaps arrived at a public location or office that you can charge (a rare situation, admittedly). But either way, it's not like you're always going to need a full 10-hour (120V) or four-hour (240V) charge time.

Plus, installing a 240-volt home charger can be expensive. The basic SPX charger GM recommends for the Volt is $490. Installation can be another $300 to $1,900. Of course, there might be rebates or incentives. But it's still not chump change.

Now, having said all this, I'm going to seemingly contradict myself and say that I'd still buy a 240V home charger if I owned a Volt. But there's a difference between needing one and wanting one.

There are two main reasons. One would be extra piece of mind — I'd just like knowing that if I needed a quick charge ("quick" being relative for an electric vehicle) for some reason, I'd have 240V at my house. And the other is efficiency. I've noticed that my at-home charges have used more kilowatt hours than they typically do at our office location. Dan Edmunds speculated on the reasons why in a previous post, but basically using a 240V charger is more efficient.

Finally, if I did own a Volt, it's not because I'm trying to save money. I've already bought a $40,000 car, and its raison d'etre is electric drive. Dropping another $1,500 or whatever for a 240V charger probably wouldn't seem like a huge deal.

So, 120-volt or 240-volt? It would depend on the owner's wants and needs. But don't just assume that 240V is a neccessity, particularly for the Chevrolet Volt.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

2011 Chevrolet Volt: Stay-at-Home Parent: Kid Test

September 26, 2011

This past week I've still been doing my stay-at-home-parent test with the Volt, the latest being.kid schlepping duty. I've found the Volt's effectiveness for this task to be mixed.

Mostly, I've been taking my four-year-old daughter to school in the Volt. This isn't a particularly difficult challenge, as I could do this with just about any car with a back seat.

But for what it's worth, the Volt has worked out very well for this task. She likes the fixed rear center console that takes place of a center seat (she can easily put her things there) and finds it terribly amusing that she can step through to the rear cargo area and exit the vehicle through the rear hatch (with me lifting her out).

As a family vehicle, however, the Volt has been more problematic, at least for me. Since I also have a four-month-old boy, the Volt's relatively small back seat is a problem. There's just not much room to fit a bulky reverse-facing child safety seat. If it's just me and the two kids (i.e., the stay-at-home parent test), it's OK as I can put the reverse-facing seat on the passenger side. But yesterday I was planning to visit a friend's house with the whole family, and my wife understandably didn't want to go squished up against the dash.

We ended up taking my wife's car instead for that trip. How big of a failing is this? I guess it depends on your view. On one hand, the Volt would certainly more more useful if it were roomier. But from a more realistic standpiont I can see the Volt working best a secondary vehicle; chances are someone who buys a Volt will probably have a another vehicle that's more utilitarian to handle tasks like this.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 10,742 miles

Driving Style Test

September 30, 2011

For the first week I had our Chevrolet Volt, I drove it as if it had the equivalent of electric gold in its battery pack. I employed pretty much every easy trick I could think of for improved efficiency — maximum use of the regenerative brakes, no excessive speeding, coasting up hills, predictive approaches to stop lights. Mostly, this is because I wanted to. Chevrolet designed the Volt to be efficient, so I figured I'd return the favor by driving efficiently.

But then I thought: does it really matter? Is my driving style really making a difference? So I devised a test to find out.

Since I'd been taking my daughter to school every day as part of my stay-at-home parent emulation, I had a repeatable route of about 17 miles of city driving. For two days I drove the route with efficiently in mind using the techniques noted above. Then for two more days I drove "normally," which was basically driving like everybody else on the road.

After each trip I recharged the Volt (on the 120V charger) and used our Kill-A-Watt meter to determine the amount of electricity used (in kilowatt hours) for the drive.

Efficient Driving: 29.4 kwh/100 miles average

Normal Driving: 33.9 kwh/100 miles average

(I wasn't driving 100 miles, but I converted the figures so that they're the same style that we've been reporting in the fuel economy updates. Remember that the lower the number, the better)

So the Volt became 13.3 percent more efficient in my limited testing. And driving this way hardly made any difference in terms of when I got to my destination — there was no cost to me in terms of time. But I will say it does take more mental energy to drive this way. Sometimes it's kind of fun to test yourself, but other times you'll just want to just drive and not think about every little energy savings.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

Late Adopter

October 01, 2011

I'm almost embarrassed to admit I haven't driven our long-term 2011 Chevrolet Volt until now. It wasn't personal; there was just always a three-pedal car that I figured would be more interesting to drive when the end of the day came around.

After one evening I've yet to cross into the Volt's gasoline-engine mode, but that will come later today. One thing I hadn't counted on is just how normal the car would feel in electric mode, and by that I mean it's not like a regular hybrid where the combustion engine interrupts your all-electric zen 15 seconds into the driving experience, and it's not like our Mini E or Nissan Leaf where you have to map out your itinerary every time you leave the house. The Volt comes across as the logical middle ground.

Another thing I've noticed is the electric power steering. I think it might be the best EPS I've experienced to date in a GM vehicle. It has more weight to it at low speeds than I'd expected, and it's actually kinda precise. Presumably, I'll have more substantive thoughts about the Volt over the weekend.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 11,026 miles

Feels Ordinary Off the Plug

October 03, 2011

Thirty-four miles into my weekend, our long-term Chevrolet Volt's 1.4-liter gasoline engine started up and that was the end of the EV experience. I live in an old apartment building with no outdoor outlets and bad wiring to boot, so plugging in wasn't convenient.

Obviously, the "range-extending" engine makes it possible for people like me to own a Volt, whereas a Nissan Leaf simply wouldn't work. Trouble is, this car feels pretty ordinary when it's not doing the all-electric thing and it's full of compromise, so I'm not sure I'd want to own one.

To start, it's not that roomy. Three friends and I piled in to go to lunch in Venice, and I had to scoot my seat way up to make room for an adult to sit behind me. The front passenger was about 6-foot-3, and with his wife seated behind him, legroom was at a premium — as were shoulder room and hiproom, because the Volt is based on GM's global C segment platform (Cruze, Astra, etc.) so it is not wide.

In addition, the efficiency-enhancing front diffuser/spoiler thingy results in a seriously low-clearance car. You can go as slow as you want, and it will still catch on some driveways and on the decline sections in Venice, California's "canal district" (above). No big deal, really, since the black plastic is there to protect the real bodywork, but the continual rubbing is annoying.

Finally, when getting up to speed on a freeway entrance ramp — without the lithium-ion juice — the Volt feels kind of slow (even if it isn't actually slower in reality). Not as slow as I'd expected, mind you, given the engine's 84-hp rating, but not enjoyable. And I was driving along with the knowledge that I was only getting 30-35ish mpg as opposed to 45ish like in a Prius.

Yet, once I was at speed, I liked being in the Volt more than I like being in a Prius. It's a heavy car — about 700 pounds heavier than a Prius — and while it's fun to complain about curb weight, in this case it contributes to the Volt's very solid highway ride ride. Straight-line stability is good, too. It's like driving a normal car instead of a hybrid, and this time I mean "normal" (or "ordinary") as a compliment.

Also, even though the Volt's passenger quarters aren't roomy, its hatch area is quite useful. So I'll give it a couple points there. And I love the instrument panel, so five more points there.

No question, GM's plug-in hybrid is an interesting car, but unless you're plugging in every day, at least via 110 volts, you can't fully appreciate what it has to offer. This is a moot point for most of you reading here, but in L.A. where most people rent (and then lease a 328i or Prius), this logistical challenge diminishes the Volt's appeal.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 11,144 miles

Wacky Wipers

October 05, 2011

The Chevy Volt has a wacky wipers. You know, the ones that are pretty much equal in size and work in opposite directions as if in mirror image of each other. These used to be common in minivans and many GM cars in the '90s had them, but they are pretty rare today. Amongst cars I can think of the Honda Civic and the Volt — though there's almost certainly something I've forgotten. It would seem that they are a good solution for cars with broad windshields.

For some other interesting windshield wipers, see the old Mercedes-Benz uniwiper, the Toyota FJ Cruiser triad and the drunk Dodge Viper ones that went in opposite directions like the Volt but not at the same time.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 11,160 miles

The Gas Gauge

October 06, 2011

I was rolling in our long-term 2011 Chevrolet Volt last night and wasn't sure how much gas I had. Well, the gasoline range is shown there, but looking at that cluttered driver display didn't help much.

You see, GM say they are selling an electric car here. And if you're running in EV mode like I was in this instance, the fuel gauge is an afterthought.

I had some difficulty understanding how much gasoline was in the tank from that tiny fuel pump icon. Yeah, I know I could look at the range and assume that it was full. But I wanted to read it from the gauge. Addtionally, in that pic it looks like it's empty because the icon is only lightly shaded. Trust me, it looks tiny from the driver's seat.

There is a way to get a better read on the fuel situation.

Here's a pic that Scott previously took of the driver's display (above). Ignoring the vehicle's speed for a moment, you'll notice that the electric range has been depleted and, with the vehicle running on gasoline, the electric charge and the fuel capacity icons on the left side of the display have automatically switched places. The driver needs to take no action for this switch to take effect.

This is preferable to me, although I can understand GM's emphasis on the EV range when running in that mode.

But if you want to have the gasoline gauge displayed more prominently all time, the driver can customize the display. Just hit the Config switch near the driver's left knee and the fuel level is more prominent in the display, all the time (bottom pic). Dan said that this gray fuel pump icon changes to that blue fuel pump icon in the top pic once the switch is made to running on the internal combustion engine.

OK, that's better GM. But this display is still way too cluttered. And the gray shading on the fuel pump icon should be darker to clearly indicate the fuel level.

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ 11,200 miles

That Looks Familiar

October 07, 2011

Hm...where have I seen this not-very-good backup light before?

Ahhh, right, there it is.

Am I late to the party noticing that the Volt has the same backup lamp as the Saturn Sky?

Mike Magrath, Features Editor, Inside Line @ 11,191 miles

Does the TV Fit?

October 10, 2011

Mark invites me over to play the super-top-secret sneak preview of Forza 4. I want to play and establish the slowest time, proving once again I'm crap at video games. Pizza has also been promised.

However, there is not one but two baseball playoff games on that I really want to watch. Oh the decisions that plague me. In the end, I chose cake and eating it.

I bundled up by surprisingly lightweight 32-inch LCD TV in a beach towel and carried it down to my garage where it sandwiched perfectly inbetween the front and back seats of the Chevy Volt. Arriving at Mark's, I was laughed at, but soon we had his DirecTV plugged into my TV sitting on a chair and Forza playing on his ginormous 3D flatscreen. Totally doing this again sometime.

Who says you need to compromise?

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

The Shifter is Cracked

October 11, 2011

The plastic trim piece that covers our Volt's shifter is cracked. It's pretty significant too, since the lower side of the crack is slightly higher than the other creating an edge. It looks like a fault. I'm not sure what caused it, but I see two possibilities: 1) Some sort of weird heat/cold expansion situation or 2) Someone accidentally dropped something heavy on the shifter. Do we have any bowlers?

If it's the latter, they would've had to do it with the car in gear since when in park the shifter is tucked into its cave under the center stack.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 11,160 miles

August and September Fuel Economy Update

October 12, 2011

With no Nissan Leaf to kick around, the 2011 Chevrolet Volt fuel consumption tally becomes a bit easier to put together.

Here's a summary of the Volt's gasoline and electricity consumption for the months of August and September.

Consider these random factoids: Since January the Volt has made 39 visits to the gas pump over 6,715 miles and has been plugged in 152 times for another 4,335 miles. Some of those were partial charges, so these numbers can't be used to compute an average range.

But I have the required detail in a huge spreadsheet I'm staring at. Here's what it says about how our Volt has fared since it joined the LT fleet back in January.

2011 Chevrolet Volt





Electricity (kWh/100 mi)





Electric Range (miles)





Gasoline (mpg)





In EV mode our Volt is using 6% less electricity per hundred miles and travelling an average of 10% farther on a full charge than the EPA leads us to believe. Good stuff.

On the other gasoline-stained hand it's consuming about 8% more premium unleaded than expected when operating in series hybrid mode.

2011 Chevrolet Volt





Utility Factor (% EV miles)





Apparent MPG (ignoring electricity)





Cost per mile (US average prices)





(Cal. average prices)





The Utility Factor shows an improvement from July, when the Volt ran quite a distance on gasoline to Vegas and back as part of our annual fuel sipper smackdown.

Things improved significantly last month when the Volt spent about half the time in EV mode in the hands of editor Brent Romans. His week with the car was even better than the numbers suggest, as Brent was able to drive the Volt as an EV 95% of the time near his home in Fresno, California.

Turns out that Brent is one of those folks that has the right sort of driving pattern to get the most out of a Volt. But the long drive from his remote office to the Edmunds HQ is the main reason why the Utility Factor average fell to 49% for the month.

A funny thing happened to gas prices in September: they increased in California but fell a bit nationwide. For this reason the Volt's per-mile operating cost in our home state was a full penny higher than the national average; the difference is usually just a half-cent.

Popular hybrids, for reference





2011 Toyota Prius (US average prices)





(Cal. avg prices)





2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid (US avg prices)





(Cal. avg prices)





That same California cost offset shows in the hybrid per-mile costs.

The Volt's net fuel cost still floats somewhere between the Prius and a Fusion Hybrid, but it's clear that someone with a short commute, someone like Brent that could keep the Volt in EV mode most of the time, could achieve an operating cost well below that of the Prius.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

Gas vs Electricity

October 12, 2011

Since last Friday, I travelled 72.5 miles in our Chevy Volt. I went 35.5 miles on an electric charge, then 37 miles on 1 gallon of gasoline. My driving environment was a mixture of highway and hybrid-friendly stop-and-go traffic. My driving style was somewhere in between normal and thrifty, though I was definitely trying to maximize electric motivation when in gasoline-burning hybrid mode.

Based on our local Exxon station, it cost me $4.059 to go 37 miles

Based on our electricity bill, it cost me about $1.75 to go 35.5 miles.

Could the gasoline engine be more efficient? Maybe, but if your commute is like mine, it would absolutely be cheaper to run the Volt than any gasoline-powered car since you'd almost always be running on electricity. Once it becomes cheaper to produce the car itself and its various components, I truly believe this is the recipe for future commuter cars.

P.S. Yes, I realize the screen says 0.99 gal used, but the gallons used read-out in the gauge cluster I was looking at said 1 gal when this photo was taken. I guess it rounds up. Maybe I got 37.1 miles or something, but I'll never know. Oh well.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

Electric Car Meets Electric Karts

October 13, 2011

During the oh-so-grueling city driving loop of the Fuel-Sipper Smackdown, we took a break from being frugal with our accelerator pedals and decided to blow off a little pent-up car guy energy by putting our feet to the floor — or rather a little metal panel.

Pole Position Raceway is an electric go kart track located just across the street from the Palms that we previously hit up a few months ago. Sadly, we did not hit it up (nor did we know it existed) when we actually stayed at the Palms for Fuel-Sipper 3. Oh well.

Like the Volt, the electric karts are noteworthy for their right-now electric torque. As such, they are a lot more forgiving when you lose momentum (it's like the difference between Yoshi and Donkey Kong in Mario Kart). They're also less apt to give you a headache from exhaust fumes.

Follow the jump for a video of our excursion and our results.

Picture Snapper Kurt Niebuhr
Best Lap: 25.43 AVG: 30.30 Gap: 0

Automotive Editor Mark Takahashi
Best Lap: 25.90 AVG: 30.56 Gap: 0.48

Automotive Editor John DiPietro
Best Lap: 25.94 AVG: 30.85 Gap: 0.52

Automotive Editor James Riswick
Best Lap: 26.10 AVG: 31.01 Gap: 0.68

Video Shooting Guy John Adolph
Best Lap: 26.97 AVG: 33.31 Gap: 1.55

Automotive Content Editor Warren Clarke
Best Lap: 27.39 AVG: 36.13 Gap: 1.97

Consumer Advice Associate Ron Montoya
Best Lap: 28.33 AVG: 34.24 Gap: 2.91

To no one's surprise, Kurt took this one. As you'll see from our Forza 4 leaderboard, get used to seeing him on top. Mark had a strong showing and Johnnie D did a great job considering he hadn't been karting in years. I struggled with grip, quickly realizing in turn 2 that the Pole Position Karts are a lot more apt to break loose than those at K1 here in Los Angeles. John Adolph's kart has the camera attached and right in front of him is Warren Clarke, whose average was severely hurt by a crash that put the race on yellow for 2 laps. It also raised our lap averages into the 30s. Ron Montoya apparently thought we were still fuel sipping.

Hopefully we'll get back to Pole Position sometime soon. There's a lot to do in Vegas, but I'd much rather do laps there than burn my money at a table. Maybe that's just me.

Click here for more Behind-the-Scenes stuff from Fuel-Sipper 4

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

The Gas Gauge Part 2

October 13, 2011

A week ago, Al blogged about the Volt's gas gauge, noting that it was difficult to tell how much gas you had when running on electricity. Given the gas icon's design, it's tough to tell if it's indicating full or if it's simply indicating it's existance.

Since I burned some gasoline the last two days, I thought I'd follow up on this topic. The gas gauge went down and the above photo shows what the gauge looks like when you press "Config" and ditch the floating efficiency ball. It's a little more obvious and you can definitely tell how much gas you have, but as Al originally noted, the grey bars are hardly eye-catching.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 11,300 miles


October 19, 2011

This is the IP housing for our 2011 Chevy Volt. After some 11,000 miles, it has started to squeak like a trapped mouse every time the car rolls over any rough pavement. So, in LA, all the time.

You can hold down the left side (pictured here) and make it stop for a little while, but within a few minutes of letting go the squeak returns.

Traditionally for little things like this we wait until the car needs service, but our Volt's oil change schedule is something like every 24 months. I'm thinking of making a special trip for this. We'll see if anyone else is as bothered by it as I am.

If it was yours: Wait or take it in?

Mike Magrath, Features Editor, Inside Line @ 11,388 miles

Finding the Balance

October 25, 2011

We've had the Chevy Volt in our long-term fleet for about 10 months and last night was the first time I drove it. I don't have anything against the Volt, I was more leery of Dan Edmunds telling me I filled out the complicated electric/fuel consumption record incorrectly. Turns out it was easier than I thought.

I managed to drive home and back without ever switching over to gasoline. Another couple of blocks would have put me over. So, I guess I'm one of those commuters that Bob Lutz was talking about, who drive fewer than 20 miles each way to work. I travelled 39.6 miles on electricity.

On the instrument panel there is this floating ball thing that shows acceleration and braking. I found myself trying to keep the green ball in the center as much as possible. It actually does stay there quite a bit on its own. It reminded me of the balance game in my Wii Fit (picture above), except the Chevy Volt doesn't yell at me for not using it in 15 days.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor @ 11,641

Brake Early

October 26, 2011

I'm not feeling the love for the brakes in the Chevy Volt.

The pedal has a firm feel that doesn't seem to move much when you put your foot down. I like to feel like I'm actually participating in the stopping of a car. The pedal feels like the buttonless buttons in the center stack. It goes something like this:

Put your foot down.
Feel nothing.
The car seems to be stopping...
Maybe I should stomp on it.
Jerky Stop

The brakes do stop the car but not confidently. I'm sure the eco-friendly tires contribute to this lack of conviction.

I wouldn't know the Volt has a regenerative braking system if I didn't read it. It doesn't feel like it. I enjoyed the aggressive braking of our Mini E and the subtly assertive style of our Nissan Leaf. And I was often able to gain some driving time back in those cars. Since the Volt becomes fairly inefficient when it switches over to the gasoline engine, any regenerative help would be appreciated.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Where's The Hold Button?

October 26, 2011

This is the interior of the Vauxhall Ampera. Besides being slightly different in terms of design (the knobs are far smaller and also in the wrong spots) there's a big functional difference here, the "HOLD" button.

This is a simple and rather brilliant idea by GM to let the operator decide when their car would be most efficient. Hint: It's not always in the first 30 miles of the drive.

Let's say I'm driving our Volt out to visit Dan Edmunds down in Orange county. That's going to involve a lot of fairly fast highway driving and then a bunch of stoplights and signs once I'm off the freeway. EVs don't really like highway speeds; they operate best somewhere right around 30-35 mph.

I know that and you know that but the Volt doesn't care. It gives you electricity first and then you're stuck with the motor the rest of the ride. The Ampera, however, is a little smarter.

Picture it: Meander through LA traffic to the highway in EV mode — using about 2 miles of range — then flick the hold button and suck down gas while cruising along at 75 for the next 30 minutes and then put it back into EV mode when dealing with the stop-start of a residential area in a different county.

Now, mountain mode sort of does this, but it puts the internal combustion engine at a higher load than normal to provide more power for motoring up long, steep hills. Not exactly a situation you want to be in all the time.

It's a super handy feature that GM can't bring over soon enough. They can keep those stupid small knobs, though.

Magrath, Features Editor, Inside Line

2011 Chevy Volt > 2012 Ford Explorer EcoBoost

October 29, 2011

Our 2011 Chevy Volt and 2011 Ford Explorer don't have a ton in common. They're both domestics, they both have four cylinder engines and, importantly to this blog, they both have stupid, near-buttonless touch-panel control centers.

It's that near buttonlessness that propels the Volt to victory here because if I'd been driving the Volt instead of the explorer last week, I wouldn't have been pulled over...

Picture this: I'm driving west on LA's Olympic boulevard somewhere on the West Side. The speed limit is something like 30 or 35 despite being six-lanes of dead-straight roadway. I don't know the exact speed limit because when I'm on it, there's too much traffic to go 25. The limit might as well be 88.

So I'm driving something like 20 in our Explorer with an LAPD officer on my tail. The car had brand new plates, I wasn't speeding, I didn't care. I did, however, want to change the radio station. I turned up the radio via the little dial and then reached up to the screen to try and figure out how to do a direct input for station navigation. Well, between the volume and the screen is a red triangular danger zone. It's the button for the hazards, but it's not a button, unlike our Volt, and every time I get near it, I set the damn things off. You'll remember Riswick had a similar experience with MyLincoln Touch. I forgot. I hit it.

So then there I am driving down the road in front of a cop with my flashers on.

And then he puts his flashers on.

I pulled over in the closest, safest location and he hopped immediately out of the car and jogged to my window to see if I was okay. I told him I was. He asked if I'd lost control of the vehicle. I told him that I only lost control of the stupid button. He then told me, essentially, to RTFM and to have a good day.

Call me crazy, but emergency buttons should be reliable. If you need to turn them on it should be easy and obvious. If you need to turn them off it should be easy and obvious.

The Volt is, the Explorer isn't.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor, Inside Line

Airdam is Broken, and Fixed

November 01, 2011

We already made our point that the front airdam on our 2011 Chevrolet Volt is too low. Just in case we needed more supporting evidence, take a look at the picture. No matter how sharp of an angle we entered the driveway and no matter how slowly we went over speed bumps, this was inevitable.

The center portion of the 3-piece airdam popped out. Almost as if Chevy expected this to happen, the exposed tab tucks right back into place with minimal effort. All it cost to repair was a couple of minutes and little dust on my collar. Sure it was easy, but it was also annoying.

Well, it is fixed, until the next time.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 11,729 miles

10,000 Sold By Year's End?

November 08, 2011

GM had its best month of Volt sales so far in October, with 1,108 models sold. That's a pretty sizable increase over sales in September, which came in at 723 units, and it puts total year-to-date sales for the model at a little over 5,000 units.

Now you may remember that GM projected first-year sales of 10,000 units for the Volt, back when the model was first introduced. With just a couple months left in the year, the manufacturer obviously has some catching up to do if it hopes to meet its forecast.

One approach that GM is taking to boost sales involves shoring up its supply. According to the manufacturer, Volt dealers have complained about having more customers than inventory, and it plans to make more Volts available to customers by allowing dealerships to sell the 2,300 demonstration models that it had been requiring them to keep on the lots. As a result, retail inventory will more than double, from 1,800 to 4,100. GM also plans to grow its Volt dealer network by year's end.

What do you think? Will these efforts enable GM to reach its target? Or is 10,000 units by the end of the year a pipe dream?

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor

Busting Fuzz

November 08, 2011

There is a power outlet located under the Chevy Volt's dashtop outlet. Gee, what on Earth could you plug into it? Especially with that cut out in the cover pointing at the windshield? Hmm, I can't think of anything at all. Certainly nothing that could possibly be illegal in the Commonwealth of Virginia, for example.

As I can't think of such a thing, I certainly can't say how you'd exactly use this power location to create a less wire-rific set-up for such a hypothetical device, but I also certainly imagine it would help. Our Mustang also has a power outlet located up high on the dash, but not hidden away in such a covert manner. A potentially thoughtful feature though ... if I knew what to do with it of course.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 11,779 miles

2011 Chevrolet Volt Owners, Are You Concerned About Fire?

November 10, 2011

Last month's fire in North Carolina involving a 2011 Chevrolet Volt incited the gas/electricity company, Duke Electric, to ask its customers with electric cars to stop using their homes' charging stations, at least while the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

"'Because the early report said the fire started somewhere in the vicinity of the charging station, we suggested they [customers] may not want to use them out of an abundance of caution,' said Duke Energy spokesperson Paige Layne." — from Green Car Reports.

However, fire investigators aren't quick to blame the Volt and instead point to possible faulty wiring leading up to the charging station.

Back in April, the Volt was wrongly accused of causing a garage fire in Connecticut, but then was cleared of blame, even though the true cause was inconclusive.

After these remote fires, I can't help but wonder if it makes Volt/electric car owners a little nervous about charging at home. Anyone care to chime in?

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor


November 11, 2011

Never underestimate the power of a robust, low-frequency pulse of air, and its resonance on the surrounding sheet metal, when closing a car's door. The Volt has a nice, reassuring thunk that says it's more mid-90's Impala than, well, mid-2000 Malibu.

I think the Chevy marketing people are working the wrong angle here. Instead of playing on the "isn't that an electric?" range-anxiety theme, they should be working the Volt's substantive feel, how it presents itself as more of a solid metal cocoon than the standard go-to hybrids on the road.

Granted, any automaker can layer the doors with sound deadening material and structural reinforcement. Doesn't make it a good car, necessarily. And most car shoppers won't mind the sound of anemic metal-to-metal contact if they think the car will get them 50 mpg. But the Volt is a good car. And the sound it makes when you get in and close the door, and when you step out and do the same, would give it a head-start in most people's minds.

Probably wouldn't hurt if the accounting department shaved $10,000 off the sticker, either.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

Wasn't Trying, But Thanks

November 15, 2011

Went to adjust the volume while listening to Stern this morning and brushed the REC sensor field. The Volt threw up this terse warning. I was slightly fascinated that someone thought to include this screen, as the REC sensor is normally used to import CD/USB tracks into the Volt's hard drive.

Then I wondered how much longer this activity won't be permitted. There are portables that can record 10 or 15 hours of SiriusXM programming. In this era of the App Store and constant software updates, updating the Volt's multimedia system to enable sat-rad recording should be as simple as GM sending a firmware update through OnStar, or at the very least with a visit to a local dealer.

Something tells me it has more to do with music industry licensing than technological inability. Probably a bit of both.

On another note, I've decided to leave future hypermiling feats to Dan Edmunds and Magrath. Last couple times I've driven the Volt home (48 miles one way) on a full charge, I've only averaged about 32 or 33 electric miles. That's driving it at around 70 mph in normal D mode with pretty open traffic, not on the brakes much. I've babied it a handful of times — 62 mph, L mode, smooth on and off the throttle — and usually made it within two, three miles of home before the gas engine kicked in (made it all the way home on the battery only once).

Still liking the Volt, after all the hype, hysteria and 12,000 collective miles. Actually like the way the gas engine kicks in with a satisfying hum, not unlike a modern diesel. Makes me excited for the Cadillac ELR. Just hope they get the brakes right on the next pass.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

Leno is Wrecking Us

November 18, 2011

When we get a new long term car early, we like to lead the mileage pack. Remember the GT-R? We hit every mileage milestone first. We needed an oil change before Nissan America had even figured out how to price them. We got the super-expensive 18,000 mile service first. Hit the 20,000 and 25,000 mile markers, too.

With 12,000 miles on our Volt, we knew we weren't leading the pack, but learning that Jay Leno has put 11,000 miles (the press release said 10,000, but one of GM's guys tells us he's now over 11) on his Volt...on electricity alone. He's never even put gas in it. He's got a 41-mile commute that must be the perfect speed, slow but never stopped.

GM is celebrating this achievement by giving owners a special "10,000 mile Electric Mile" badge. Ours will be sold long before we manage that number. (Will update this post when I figure out how many EV miles ours has. In progress.)

Mike Magrath, Features Editor, Inside Line

Two Things That Always Happen

November 21, 2011

Two things always happen when you're at the grocery store in the Chevrolet Volt:

1) While waiting in line at the outdoor ATM at the bank next door, someone will ask you if the Volt uses gas. (Conversation ensues accompanied by simultaneous patting of head and rubbing of stomach to illustrate the principles of the Volt's gas/electric powertrain.)

2) While driving across the lot to park in front of the grocery store, you nearly run over some really old guy and his grocery cart because the Volt is so quiet in electric mode that he doesn't hear you coming. (Rude gestures are exchanged.)

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, @ 12,229 miles

Left Out

November 23, 2011

File this in the Whiny Baby Pants bin.

I'm left-handed. I know it's the (cool! creative!, wonderul!) minority of handedness, but would it kill automakers to put two grab-handles in their rear hatches? Look at all that blank space on the left of our long-term Chevy Volt's rear hatch, doing absolutely nothing but begging for a grab handle. That vast swathe of plastic practically screams, "Ooh, grab me!" doesn't it? (I think it actually said that to me when I was taking this picture.)

This isn't a Volt-specific tragedy, either. It's rampant in the automotive world. My personal car, a Honda CR-V, only caters to the righties, too. I deal with this injustice every. damn. day.

Fine. I learned to use right-handed scissors in kindergarten. I can learn to close a hatch that way, too.

Bryn MacKinnon, Senior Editor, @ 12,278 miles

Black Friday Hike

November 28, 2011

Took the family on a hike last Friday, to work off the stuffing and whatnot and enjoy some nature. The Volt's cargo area served as a convenient post-hike picnic spot, at least for the kiddos. The cargo area is plenty deep for the little ones to sit in, and it's a relatively small surface area to have to deal with. While it isn't as accomodating as a crossover, SUV or minivan would be obviously, it was great to have a contained place to plunk them and feed them. Thankfully, our snacks were non-greasy, non-smushy, non-crumbly and non-sticky, so cleanup was easy, too.

Bryn MacKinnon,, Senior Editor @ 12,360 miles

Battery Fires Prompt Chevy To Offer Loaners, Should We Get One?

November 28, 2011

For those of you who have been under a rock that shields you from automotive news, there's been a bit of a dust-up lately with the Chevy Volt and some minor fires that have occurred after crash testing. First there was a crash test that resulted in a battery fire three weeks later, and then just last week NHTSA intentionally damaged a few Volt Battery packs causing two fires. Nothing's quite as good for the environment as exploding batteries, right?

As you'd expect, GM is acting quite quickly to ensure customers that the Volt is safe but understands that people who are driving the cars every day (Mark Reuss is a Volt owner, BTW) may be concerned and have taken steps to console nervous drivers.

"Even though there have been no customer incidents, we're taking steps to ensure your peace of mind. If you are in any way uncomfortable driving your Volt as a result of this information, we want to make it right. We will provide you a GM vehicle to drive until this issue is resolved. Contact your Volt Advisor to make arrangements or to answer your questions. If you are not aware of your specific Volt Advisor, the contact information is: phone: 877-4-VOLT-INFO (877-486-5846) email: " said Mark Reuss in a statement. (Full transrcipt after the jump.)

We've got a line out to GM for the specifics on the program and will update this when we hear back, but for now the question is: Should we? Would you?

November 28, 2011

Dear Volt Owner,

You may have seen the recent news articles regarding the NHTSA's (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) safety investigation of the Chevrolet Volt. I’m writing you today with more details that, I think, will put things in perspective and make you feel better about your Volt.

First and foremost, I want to assure you of one very important thing: the Volt is a safe car. The Volt continues to have a 5-star overall vehicle score for safety in NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program. It was also given a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

There are good reasons the Volt is safe. Our team has put more than one million miles into making the Chevrolet Volt as safe as it is remarkable. After all, our families, neighbors, co-workers and friends are among those who own the cars we’re tasked with designing, engineering and manufacturing.

Here are the facts behind the most recent news articles. In May, the NHTSA ran one of its most-severe crash tests at a test facility in Wisconsin. The Volt battery was damaged and the coolant line was ruptured. Three weeks later, an electrical fire involving the test vehicle occurred.

NHSTA, working with GM engineers, has been running a program of severe impact and intrusion tests on Volt battery assemblies as part of its effort to understand and replicate the May 2011 incident. Thanksgiving night, NHTSA told us that one of the batteries tested was involved in an electrical fire similar to the one that took place in Wisconsin. As a result NHTSA has begun a preliminary investigation of Chevrolet Volt battery assemblies.

We are aware of no real-world consumer incidents that have produced a similar result. These recent tests show a very rare set of circumstances: A severe impact resulting in the battery and coolant lines being compromised. And then the passing of a significant amount of time before an electrical fire may take place.

The Volt is as safe as conventional vehicles for its occupants – before, during and immediately after a crash. When electrical energy is left in a battery after a severe crash it can be similar to leaving gasoline in a leaking fuel tank after severe damage. It’s important to drain the energy from the battery after a crash that compromises the battery’s integrity. GM and NHTSA's focus and research continue to be on battery performance, handling, storage and disposal after a crash.

Even though there have been no customer incidents, we're taking steps to ensure your peace of mind. If you are in any way uncomfortable driving your Volt as a result of this information, we want to make it right. We will provide you a GM vehicle to drive until this issue is resolved. Contact your Volt Advisor to make arrangements or to answer your questions. If you are not aware of your specific Volt Advisor, the contact information is: phone: 877-4-VOLT-INFO (877-486-5846) email:

We take enormous pride in Volt and what it represents—a new era of electric vehicles that can reduce dependence on gas, reduce air pollution, and more. Ongoing collaboration between the government, manufacturers and other stakeholders will enhance post-crash protocols and accelerate acceptance of electric vehicles.

There is nothing more important to us at General Motors than the safety of our customers. We will continue to aid the NHTSA investigation in every way possible.

We stand 100% behind the quality and safety of the Chevrolet Volt - now and always.

Thank you for being a Volt owner. By the way I am also a Volt owner; my daughter drives it every day and she will continue to do so.

Mark Reuss

President GM North America and Volt Owner (#1457)

Mike Magrath, Features Editor, Inside Line

Calling the Volt Advisor

November 29, 2011

General Motors is offering skittish owners of the Chevrolet Volt loaner cars, while it sorts out what's going on with a couple of Volts that caught fire after crash testing. We thought we'd check the process out and see what some other Volt owners plan on doing.

On the official Volt blog, many owners are deciding to forgo the loaner and remain confident that their vehicle is safe to drive. "Thanks for offering to loan me another vehicle," says Greg Hendrick, a commenter on the blog, "but frankly I would be far more concerned with the gasoline tank exploding in the loaner car than the battery in my Volt."

We're going to keep driving our Volt, but we were curious to see what sort of loaner was being offered.

When we called in, the advisor first assured us that the Volt was still safe to drive and that those fires were isolated incidents. He then said that the loaner would most likely be a Chevy Cruze or Malibu, based on availability. If the local dealership had an in-house rental service like an Enterprise outlet, you would likely get a vehicle from that fleet. Our Volt advisor added that if a consumer had a special request, it would be taken into consideration. If a person chooses to take the loaner, they would have it for about 30 days or until GM resolves the issue.

Is a Cruze or Malibu an acceptable replacement for the Volt? What would you request?

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate

Child Safety Seat Behind Driver

November 29, 2011

I usually try to avoid installing my son's rear-facing child safety seat behind the driver seat, even in midsize cars like the Volt. But my husband happened to do just that when he graciously installed it in the Volt for me this weekend. We were in a hurry to get where we needed to go, so rather than bothering to reinstall it, I just went with it.

I was happy to discover that the baby's seat didn't impinge on my comfort while driving at all. I am 5'8" tall, and you can see in the picture above, there's plenty of space between the driver seatback and the top of the baby seat.

How does the Volt's ability in this arena stack up with the hybrid/electric competition? With 42.1 inches of front legroom and 34.1 inches of rear legroom, the Volt's legroom is just behind the Prius' 42.5 inches in front and 36 inches in the rear seat. The next time we get a Prius in the office, I'll have to try the kid seat behind that car's driver seat, too.

Bryn MacKinnon, Senior Editor, @ 12,365 miles

A Macro Look at Interior Materials

November 30, 2011

Last night was my first time getting behind the wheel of our 2011 Chevrolet Volt, and I have to say, I liked it. Decent interior materials and everything feels pretty solid (well, except what's up with that crack in the shifter?). The leather on the seats isn't exactly plush but it doesn't feel cheap either.

We bought our Volt for $44,695, which includes the $1,395 Premium Trim Package with leather seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and premium door trim. Just for comparison's sake, here's the interior of our $41K Volvo S60 T5.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

According to GM, It's a Creak

November 30, 2011

Just before the 2011 L.A. Auto Show, I got an email from General Motors about a blog I'd written on a squeak in our Chevy Volt. They read the blog and then scoured their web of Volt owners to see if anyone else was having a similar experience. They weren't. This made us feel special. It made GM even more determined to get to the bottom of it.

Well, it just so happened that Jim Federico, Executive Director of mini and small cars and electric vehicles, would be flying into town for the show and, with our permission, would like to take a look at the car. They knew our office was in between the airport and the LA Show and asked if Jim could stop by on his way from one to the other.

We told them we couldn't let them fix it, but we'd be happy to have him by the office to inspect our Volt. Federico has worked as an engineer and executive with GM for 30 years and is responsible for the Opel Insignia, Chevy Silverado and Cadillac CTS.

Federico showed up fresh off the flight dressed in a sharper looking suit than I'll likely wear to my wedding and spent no time before tossing his briefcase to the floor and crouching under the car. Engineers.

He then hopped in the passenger seat and asked me if I could replicate the squeak and, approximately, how far we'd have to go to hear it. Luckily, the shroud over the IP makes the super annoying noise as well at 0 mph as it does at 20 — you just have to coax it a little. Pushing down extremely lightly on the left corner produces the sound every time and with almost the exact same frequency as it does if you let the car wiggle it on a rough road.

I got one light squeak out and Jim slid out of the passenger seat and over to the driver seat where I was sitting.

"It's not a squeak."

I'm sure at this point I'm going to get some crazy PR spin here.

"It's a creak," he says with a grin. "We call this a creak."

Jim then spent a few minutes examining the rest of the car taking down the VIN, examining the brakes, looking under the car and trying his luck to get a creak out of any other interior panel.

His conclusion? Our Volt is a very early build (one of the first couple hundred to hit private hands) and the IP cover wasn't secured properly. As he left he said he'd look into it further and asked if we would follow up if we bring it to a dealer for this issue. Likely he'll ask them for documentaion of what exactly was happening in there to make this car different than all of the others.

GM cares about the Volt. Executives don't make mid-route pit stops if there's no get and finding a cause of one creak is apparently enough of a get on this one.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor, Inside Line


November 30, 2011

While scanning through the photos of the 2013 Scion FR-S reveal, I came upon a small cache of photos I never posted from the 2011 L.A. Auto Show. Included amongst those photos was this interior shot of a 2012 Chevy Volt.

Check. That. Interior.

This is how I'd equip mine, with the $1,300 "Jet Black seats/Ceramic White accents, Perforated leather-appointed seat trim" option ticked. I would wax it and not let anyone touch it unless they were wearing white gloves. Okay, maybe that's a little far, but still this is super cool and just reaffirms the fact that we got the worst interior AND exterior color. Such is the trade off with getting a car really, really early.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor, Inside Line

Charged at Home

December 05, 2011

Earlier this year, I wrote about going an entire weekend without having to charge. At the time, I didn't have much of a choice. I had to park in a carport with no electrical sockets nearby. This post didn’t sit well with some of our readers. They said that we weren't using the Volt as a typical owner would. I have a garage now, and this time, I was the typical Volt owner.

This weekend I had dinner with some friends and attended my wife's company holiday brunch, neither of which was close to home. The rest of the weekend I ran errands around my neighborhood. I left the Edmunds' offices with a full charge and then plugged in three times at home. With the battery fully discharged, it takes about 10 hours to get a full charge on 110-volt current. In this sense, I wasn’t the typical Volt owner — he would likely have his own 240-volt charger, which would cut that time in half. Perhaps I was more like a Volt owner who went to a relative's house and borrowed an outlet to plug in overnight.

I drove a total of 208 miles, 116 of which were on electricity. My utility factor was about 56 percent, well above the 40 percent we've been averaging. At home, the Volt consumed 31.64 kWh. At my rate, which is 15 cents per kWh, it cost about $1.88 for a full charge. The total cost for the weekend of charging was $4.75. Not bad for 116 miles of driving. The instrument panel showed that I had consumed about 2.4 gallons of gas. This translated to about 38 miles per gallon.

The Volt and the Leaf are often compared to one another. Initially, I preferred the Leaf. I figured, if you're going to go the EV route, why not go all the way? But now my opinion has changed. When you want to go somewhere in the Volt, you don’t give it a second thought. You just go. And if you run out of (electric) juice along the way, oh well. You have the gas tank, and you still keep going.

The Leaf, on the other hand, requires more planning that I care to do. Los Angeles County is huge. I have friends and family in all its corners. Some of the round trips I take would either not be possible in a Leaf or would be very stressful due to range anxiety. I'm not saying the Leaf is a bad car, but for my needs, the Volt is the best.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 12,828 miles

Still Very Safe, Says IIHS

December 06, 2011

The Volt did exceptionally well in crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) back when the model was first introduced for the 2011 model year. That organization gave it the highest score possible in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength crash testing, and named it a Top Safety Pick.

Given the car's troubles with post-crash battery fires, some suspected that the IIHS would perhaps give the car a less glowing rating for 2012, but that isn't the case.

The safety group reports that it found no evidence of damage to the Volt's battery pack during its tests, and the car has retained its Top Safety Pick designation for 2012.

Says IIHS spokesman Russ Rader: "If we had found that the battery pack had been damaged or certainly if we had subsequent concerns about fire risk — that would have raised red flags."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) — the federal regulators that launched the investigation into the safety of the Volt's battery pack back on November 25 — also reports that it has no plans to change the Volt's safety rating for 2012. NHTSA currently gives the car a perfect five-star overall safety rating.

GM is reportedly close to a fix that would eliminate the risk of a fire being triggered in the Volt's battery days after a crash. Repairs under discussion involve laminating the circuitry of the car's battery pack and beefing up the case that encloses the lithium-ion battery.

At this point, repairs are expected to run GM about $9 million in total, which works out to about $1,000 per Volt.

(Automotive News)

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor

Colllld Start

December 06, 2011

This morning it was so cold that there was frost on our 2011 Chevrolet Volt. Frost! So when I jumped in the car, I immediately set about trying to make it as warm as possible. Seat heater full blast, temperature ratcheted up to 77 degrees, change from Eco to Comfort, Auto.... Yeah, I wasn't going for extending driving range here, which apparently can be helped if you just use the seat heater instead of the actual heater.

Since the car just started the air was still cold so naturally I decided to wait until it warmed up a bit after some driving to turn up the fan. But the thing is that it never warmed up. At least not within the 40 minutes it took for me to drive to work. The seat heater worked just fine but even though my backside was baking I was still shivering. I'm assuming that I must have not pressed the right options in the above screen. Right? (FYI, I pressed "Comfort" and cleared the Auto seat heater button for the passenger seat after I took the photo.)

Watching Chevrolet's How-To video on how to work its climate controls didn't clear things up for me. Any Volt owners care to shed some light on this matter? Did I do it wrong or is the Volt's heater just not very effective?

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

October and November Fuel Economy Update

December 07, 2011

This month is two months worth of 2011 Chevrolet Volt summary because, well, I had a logbook problem to sort out and I simply couldn't disentangle October from November.

No matter.

During this period we made an effort to hand the Volt over to folks who live closer to work in order to increase the percentage of electrically-driven miles (aka the Utility Factor) up closer to where it should be. A plug-in hybrid with 35 miles of electric range should theoretically spend 58% of the time running on battery power in the hands of a typical buyer.

Many of our editors live too far away to make best use of the Volt in terms of its UF, so we've been struggling to keep the electricity/gasoline ratio real.

That said, we have a very solid grasp of the Volt's consumption of each fuel on its own. Here then is the summary of the Volt's performance so far over 11,989 miles of data with October and November included.

2011 Chevrolet Volt





Electricity (kWh/100 mi)





Electric Range (miles)





Gasoline (mpg)





As usual we're doing better than the EPA's estimates in terms of electricity consumption and range. And on gasoline our Volt is doing about 10% worse than its EPA rating.

2011 Chevrolet Volt





Utility Factor (% EV miles)





Apparent MPG (ignore electricity)





Cost per mile (US average prices)





(Cal. average prices)





As you can see we brought our Utility Factor up to 53% this time, and lead directly to lower operating costs. Increased use of electricity = less money per mile.

This is true despite slighty a higher electricity consumption rate this time. Last month we used 34.1 kWh for every hundred miles of electric operation. This time we used 35.8 kWh per hundred miles. Our average mpg on gasoline dropped from 36.9 to 33.0 mpg, too, which is why Apparent MPG went down a tick despite an increase in the percentage of electric miles.

Why? Our effort to increase the electric miles put the cars into the hands of editors that live close to work. Anyone who knows West LA knows that means more off-freeway traffic of the impacted nature. This city is not the city of city mpg fame. It's far worse. The freeways are a picnic in comparison.

Still, on an overall cost basis, the increased Utility Factor more than made up for the increase in per-mile electricity consumption because electricity is that much cheaper than gasoline.

Popular hybrids, for reference





2011 Toyota Prius (US average prices)





(Cal. avg prices)





2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid (US avg prices)





(Cal. avg prices)





Note also that the Volt's per-mile cost dipped below that of the all-gasoline Prius (a theoretical Prius, it must be said, that is nailing its EPA prediction) for what may be the first time during this long-term test. It seems it takes a Utility Factor of 50% or higher to get to the crossover point, something that's a piece of cake for a real-world buyer who drives the predicted 58% of his or her total miles on electricity.

To the surprise of no one, the cost-based case for the Chevrolet Volt hinges absolutely on a prospective buyer's ability to drive within the car's electric range as much as possible and at least 50-something percent of the time.

UF is easily the biggest knob in the equations. Here, in a month where gasoline mpg, range and raw electricity consumption all got worse, a higher Utility Factor was able to offset it all and bring our ultimate per-mile costs down anyway.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

Researching the Used Car Price

December 07, 2011

Our Chevrolet Volt is nearing the end of its long term test. At this time, we typically research a car's value to estimate what we'll get and what we'll sell it for. So far, Edmunds (or any other pricing guides for that matter) does not have any used car pricing data on this car. We were one of the first to buy a Volt, and will probably be one of the first to sell it at the used private party price when the time comes. We are in uncharted waters and we need a point of reference. So we decided to take the Volt to Carmax and see what they offer.

The 2011 Volt presents a few unique challenges when trying to determine its value. As a potential buyer, you'll have to assume that the prior owner has taken the $7,500 tax credit. As a seller, you'll have to realize that this tax credit is still available to new buyers and adjust your price accordingly. Plus, you may have to discount it even further, because not only is the 2012 Volt about $1,000 cheaper, it also now qualifies to travel in California's carpool lanes.

Our Volt has roughly 12,850 miles on it, 40 percent of which have been on the electric engine. This is great information for our fuel economy updates, but can we use that as a selling point for a potential buyer? Would they feel better knowing that although this car has 12,850 miles, only 7,710 have been on the gas engine? For warranty purposes, the only miles that matter are whatever the odometer says.

When we bought the car new, we paid $44,695 (plus tax and title). Subtract the $7,500 federal tax credit and this leaves you at $37,195. But where do you go from there?

We'll have the answer for you tomorrow, but in the meantime, what's your prediction for the Carmax offer?

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 12,850 miles

Trade-In Appraisal and a Surprise Feature

December 08, 2011

Yesterday I talked about the unique challenges that we faced when trying to determine the Chevrolet Volt's value. Our Edmunds True Market Value (TMV) experts had already calculated a figure, but we thought that a number from a consultation with Carmax would help verify it with a real-world price quote.

The Carmax appraisals are typically done by a single person. But our Volt was such a unique car that two appraisers were put to the test. A sales rep stopped to spectate and asked the appraiser a few questions. He seemed very knowledgeable about the car. As we’ve seen in past experience with Carmax, the appraisers walk around the car and test out all the accessories. If a car is still under warranty, they forgo the one-mile test drive they typically take.

Something strange happened when the appraisers popped the Volt’s hood. All of a sudden I heard the engine come on. This surprised me, because we had an estimated 31 miles of electric charge remaining in the Volt’s batteries. I had never seen this behavior before and even asked the appraisers if they had somehow forced the engine to switch over. It turns out that this engine ignition when the hood pops open is part of the Volt's design. According to GM's reps, this is actually a safety feature. Since the Volt is so quiet, the gas engine will start after the hood is popped to remind owners that the car is still on.

Going back to the appraisal, Carmax offered us $32,000. We asked our readers to submit their own guesses about the Volt's trade-in value and Curry2spicy was the first to guess correctly. My own prediction was $33,000. The $32K isn't too far off from what our analysts were expecting, so it’s a fair price. If the depreciation seems severe to you, keep in mind that this price is factoring in the federal tax credit.

We later contacted a Chevrolet dealer for a second opinion. The dealer gave us a significantly lower price than Carmax, $27,000. Jlaszlo was the closest to this price. He guessed $27,500.

With no true reference points out there yet, pricing the 2011 Chevrolet Volt’s trade-in value is like the Wild West right now, as they say. But this variation between our estimate, Carmax’s offer and the Chevy dealer’s offer should serve as a reminder that trade-in price quotes are simply educated guesses that might not always match up with what you were anticipating. So whether you have a Chevy Volt or a Chevy Malibu, it is important to get an appraisal from multiple sources. Otherwise, you can easily miss out on thousands of dollars.

It's not quite time to sell our 2011 Chevrolet Volt, so for now we'll let the Carmax appraisal expire. Our TMV experts are in the process of calculating a private party TMV figure. This should help us get a better handle on the price at which to list it when the time comes.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Asssociate

One Lap of Orange County

December 13, 2011

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


LT Test


Electric Range (miles)



7% better

Electric Use (kWh/100)



5% better

Gasoline Use (mpg)



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




Electric Range (miles)



26% better

Electric Use (kWh/100)



22% better

Gasoline Use (mpg)



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

How's It Holding Up?

December 16, 2011

It had been awhile since I was behind the wheel of our Chevrolet Volt so I signed it out for a nice long drive the other night. Here's what I was reminded of:

- The interior does nothing for me. It's not just the shiny plastic center console or the mediocre seats, it's the whole layout in general. It's just not a very comfortable car to spend time in.
- Our Volt was built well. It has over 13,000 miles on it and I didnt't hear a squeak or rattle the entire trip. Pretty good for a car that was running on batteries much of the time.
- The brakes are awful. They work fine and all, but trying to be smooth about it is nearly pointless.
- The gas engine is noticeable, but not intrusive. Some people say they can't even tell when the gas engine is running. They're nuts. Or legally deaf. That said, the noise it does make is minimal so no matter what you're running on the Volt is a relatively quiet car inside.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Inside Line


December 16, 2011

You may find this hard to believe but the seat heaters in the Chevy Volt get too hot for me. It has three toasty levels with the highest level getting really hot. I find I have to knock it back to the second level and then it's just fine. Everything in moderation.

I'll be driving the Volt this weekend and plugging it in at home for the first time. Let me know if there is anything you want me to research for you.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Charging At Home

December 19, 2011

In warm weather I can drive the Chevy Volt home and back to the office without recharging. My roundtrip commute is just under 40 miles. But now that the weather is colder, a full charge on the Volt only allows us about 35 miles of electric driving before switching over to the gasoline engine. I'm sure most of you would consider our California weather to be cool rather than cold. So, if any of you have a Volt in a really cold climate, I'd love to hear about your electric range experiences.

After driving home Friday night, I still had about 14 miles of estimated range left. A few errands on Saturday left me with 1 mile left. That's when I plugged in and left it to charge overnight. It sure is nice to be able to "refuel" your car at home instead of going to a gas station — if you've got the time.

The cord from the charging unit to the car is very long, so you don't have to worry about it not reaching your car. But the cord from the unit to the actual plug is very short. You need to have something for the heavy unit to rest on while you charge so it's not dangling in the air. The way my garage is set up I had no problem. I usually park in the driveway though, and leave our other car in the garage. So, this wouldn't work for people who don't have secure parking. I have outdoor electrical sockets but there are too many curious critters wandering around my neighborhood at night, so I wouldn't want to leave it plugged outdoors while I was asleep. Am I being too paranoid? The charging unit gets warm and I can imagine a skunk or raccoon snuggled up to it for warmth. In the words of Kurt Cobain, "just because you're paranoid doesn’t mean they're not after you." The skunks particularly like my house ;)

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor @ 13,356 miles

Fun With a Laser Thermometer

December 20, 2011

I'm not sure if hybris was serious when he asked for a laser thermometer reading of the seats on the highest heat setting of the Chevy Volt. But we aim to please, so I brought my thermometer to work today.

Click through to see a video of me measuring the temperature of the seat heaters in the Chevy Volt after I arrived at the office. At one point at a red light I took the temp and it was 110.5 degrees F. On this video the temp varies from 96 to 109 degrees at different points on the seat. I'll do this again in some of our other cars for comparison. This may not be the most scientific experiment, but at least it will let you see the differences.

Then we started measuring things around the office like our hands, our co-workers' heads, computer equipment. A weird side note: Mike's coffee was the exact same temperature as my mouth. Too much information? We found this disturbing.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Fan Speed Control Fail

December 21, 2011

Are you familiar with the climate control screen of the Chevy Volt? Yes? Good. Do you see what's broken here?

Well, if you read the title you already know what went wrong and in the image above you can see how it's supposed to look.

Here's what happened:

I was driving to work this morning when the windshield started to fog. I hit the button that does away with such things and then, once it was clear, attempted to turn it off. I was trying to make it over 35 miles on battery and that, with my driving style, requires careful modulation of the climate control. The trouble is, when I went to turn it off — you have to press the fan speed down until it the 'off' icon shows — there was no down button available. And the 'hard' button on the center console didn't work either. Oh, I could turn it up just fine, but I couldn't get it back down. Pressing the "auto" function set the fan speed back to the middle so it wasn't stuck on high anymore, but there was no way to get the fan speed to below the auto setting.

Everything else worked. Every single function of the HVAC system worked except the fan speed control.

As soon as was convenient, I pulled over, turned the car off, waited three seconds and turned it back on. Everything worked like new. I've never had that trouble with a fan-speed control knob.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor, Inside Line @ 13,441 miles


January 03, 2012

With holiday celebrations to attend (and gifts to schlep) across the Southland this season, I had plenty of opportunity to put the Volt's cargo area to the test. Size-wise, the cargo area served us pretty well, even during the couple of occasions when our kids' gift haul was on the large size. (We left our enormous stroller at home.)

But we quickly noticed one major flaw: that tiny light in the wall on the driver side is the only light for the cargo area. It's not nearly enough. Need to find something in a fairly packed trunk in the dark of night on Christmas Eve? You best have a flashlight handy, because the built-in light isn't nearly enough, even if it isn't mostly blocked by the cargo itself.

The hatch is nearly all glass, so I guess it's challenging to find a suitable place to tuck an overheard light into; that's the only excuse I can think of for such an inadequate cargo light.

What is the lighting like in your car's cargo area? I used to have a stripper Civic coupe without any cargo light at all. Ended up installing a stick-and-click light to get by.

Bryn MacKinnon, Senior Editor, @ 13,729 miles

December (And One Year) Fuel Economy Update

January 10, 2012

December represents our twelfth month with the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, and that makes this update a one year summary of our Volt's thirst and, well, whatever Bender calls it when he needs a jolt.

In the past 12 months our Volt has amassed just over 13,000 miles. That number could have been higher if we had encouraged more long road trips, but the number of long trips 20 people take in a year is far more than a single owner would take, and that would have skewed the results too far in the gasoline direction, which is most definitely not the Volt's sweet spot.

As it was our Volt was already being driven by staffers who live too far away to make best use of the EV part of its split personality (raises hand). Combine that with the handful of long trips it did make and you get our observed Utility Factor of just 43 percent. The Society of Automotive engineers reckons a plug-in hybrid with 35 miles of rated range should run on electricity 58 percent of the time in the hands of a typical consumer. We reckon they're right.

2011 Chevrolet Volt





Electricity (kWh/100 mi)





Electric Range (miles)





Gasoline (mpg)





Our average electric range (from fully charged to fully discharged) was 37.3 miles, and that was derived from 96 data points. Twice that many partial discharges can't be counted because the car was plugged in again before it ran out of juice — which we encouraged because that's what you'd do if you were trying to run on electrons as much as possible.

In perfect semi-traffic conditions I managed to smash through the 50-mile barrier twice — 54.6 and 54.3 miles on consecutive charges — though no one else did. In my case, perfect conditions meant nearly-clogged freeway traffic that rolled steadily at 35-50 mph without any stopping or sudden speed changes.

We also beat the EPA's estimate for average electricity consumption. Our average was 34.2 kilowatt-hours used every 100 miles instead of the rated 36 kWh/100 miles.

On the other hand, gasoline fuel consumption was worse than the EPA combined rating, 34.3 mpg actual versus 37 mpg rated. Before you say we didn't drive enough long-distance highway miles, please remember that hybrids do better in the city, where speeds are lower, regenerative braking is in effect and electric motors are more efficient. Note that our longest e-range occured at sub-freeway speeds. At regular freeway speeds the Volt's engine is doing two things at once, generating electricity on the one hand while assiting with direct mechanical propulsion with the other, which means it's working that much harder.

What all this points to is an EPA gasoline consumption rating method that is equally optimistic when this plug-in is burning gasoline as it is when certain brands of traditional gasoline-powered cars are on the dyno rollers. Maybe the EPA and NHTSA should take another look at their methodology. It's hard to see how we would beat electricity by 5 percent and miss gasoline by 8 percent, but we did.

On the other hand, human nature could explain it. Think of the conversation in your head going like this: "I'm out of juice and am now burning gasoline. I have no more range to maximize. The videogame is over. I need no longer drive like Ed Begly Jr. Time to make up for lost time."

Comparing notes with others in the office, the Ed Begley Jr. effect seems to be a real thing.

2011 Chevrolet Volt





Utility Factor (% EV miles)





Apparent MPG (ignore electricity)





Cost per mile (US average prices)





(Cal. average prices)





Popular hybrids, for reference





2011 Toyota Prius (US average prices)





(Cal. avg prices)





2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid (US avg prices)





(Cal. avg prices)





I found a flaw in my October/November data, in which I left some electricity consumption out of the cost calculations. The gray boxed have been revised upwards, which, frankly, makes them make more sense.

In the end, the cost to operate our 2011 Chevrolet Volt in National Average terms worked out to 8.1 cents per mile. As it happens, a Toyota Prius would have cost a penny less per mile and a Ford Fusion a penny more, assuming both spent the year running at EPA combined. Any hybrid owner will tell you this is unlikely, indeed.

And that's at a yearlong Utility Factor of 43 percent. One column to the left, where December's average UF was 51 percent, the cost per mile was 7.2 cents. And if you can achieve the SAE's predicted 58 percent UF, the cost per mile drops into the 6-point-something cent range. And it'd be far less than that if you lived in Washington State, where they practically pay you to take electricity off their hands.

Bottom line: the cost to operate the Volt (and whether it makes economic sense to you or not) is entirely dependent on how far you drive every day between plug-ins, how much of that is wide-open freeway and what you pay for electricity.

Furthermore, the Volt's medium sized battery takes about 12 kWh to fill from empty on any given day, which is totally doable overnight (or during a standard 8-hours-plus-lunch workday)on standard 120V electricity from a regular outlet. Pure electric cars with larger batteries can't say that; they need the 240V charger.

Of course, you first have to swallow the price of the thing. Factor that in and the stronger gasoline hybrids may come out cheaper in the long run.

Yeah, there's math involved.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

What Do Car Guys Think of Its Grille?

January 13, 2012

Here's a close-up of our 2011 Chevrolet Volt's grille. Just curious, as car guys, what's your gut reaction?

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

Changing Battery Performance Over Time

January 13, 2012

I found a few interesting tidbits while looking over our 2011 Chevrolet Volt's charging records.

On average, it took 12.2 kilowatt-hours (kWh) to fully charge the battery using the 240-volt charger in our Santa Monica parking garage. That figure rose to 13.0 kWh when using the 120V home charge cord that comes in the Volt's trunk.

Why? Charging losses. Any laptop user can tell you that a certain amount of charging energy is wasted as heat. Charging losses are a fact of life with plug-in hybrid and EV recharging to the tune of about 10 to 20 percent. It seems the Volt's 120-volt charge cord resides closer to the high end of that range.

On-board vehicle systems continuously monitor the proceedings, throttling the charge rate and battery cooling systems throughout. Because 120V charges take about twice as long, these systems operate for far longer periods (albiet somewhat less energetically, we assume). Also, the Volt's 120V charge cord is notably skinnier and may impart more resistance.

Whatever the reason, the difference amounts to 6.6 percent more electricity purchased for a given recharge, which works out to $25 if we apply this offset to all the kilowatt-hours our Volt consumed this past year.

That's not nearly enough to cover the cost and hassle of installing a fancy-pants 240V home charger. The only reason to buy one of those is reduced charge time. For the Volt, at least, that wasn't really an issue for us.

But wait, there's more...

Our 240V charger dispensed an average of 12.3 kWh to fill our Volt in the first two months we had it, but that fell to 11.9 kWh in the last two months — a drop of 3.5 percent.

Huh? Is our Volt's battery losing it? Is this a sign of battery degradation?

In a word, no. It's seasonal temperature variation. That became very clear when we compared our charging records to Santa Monica's mean daily temperature.

The overall trend line matches up, but it even tracks at the detail level.

A spike in charge amounts in May corresponds to a period of warmer weather. One particularly high data point in October that looks like an outlier actually occured on a specific day that was 10 degrees warmer than those before and after it.

So there's nothing wrong with our Volt's battery.

This data does suggest that charging your Volt, Nissan Leaf or other plug-in when the temperature is lower reduces charging losses and saves you money. The fact that we can see this effect here in Santa Monica, where temperture swings are of the kiddie variety, means that battery charge sensitivity to ambient temperature is rather high.

However, this probably means that 120-volt charging is even more inefficient than we observed because almost all of our 120V charging was done at home overnight, when temperatures were at their lowest. If we saw an average of 13.0 kWh then, this data suggests even higher 120V charge amounts in the warm part of the day.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

Can A Car Be Too Quiet?

January 17, 2012

Not usually. But in this case, following a barely-muffled v-twin cruiser pop-pop-popping all the way across Santiago Canyon Road with the Volt humming along in whisper-quiet electric mode, maybe yes.

I was wishing I had an engine to at least somewhat drown out the obnoxious clatter coming from this guy's hog (there's good loud and bad loud, and this was the latter). So I did the only thing I could do: I cranked up the radio.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 14,072 miles.

A Federal Case?

January 18, 2012

Here's an incendiary name for a congressional hearing: "Volt Vehicle Fire: What did NHTSA know and when did they know it?"

That's the topic on the docket for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Jan. 25. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif) also has grilled NHTSA over CAFE standards and Toyota's unintended acceleration incidents.

In this case, Issa says that politics were involved when NHTSA didn't publicly disclose until Nov. 12 that a Chevrolet Volt caught fire while it was stored in a garage at a NHTSA testing center. The fire broke out three weeks after a side-impact crash test in May. GM has made adjustments to the Volt's battery, but NHTSA says its investigation is ongoing.

In an interview with Fox Business Tuesday, Issa called the Volt a "fiery failure" that GM was "coerced" into building because it was a recipient of a federal bailout. He said GM CEO Daniel F. Akerson will testify at the hearing next week.

"Here is one of the big points. This may have been a bridge too far, too quick for General Motors," Issa said in the interview. "If you push a company to make a show car, and you push them from Washington, you're almost inviting these problems and then if in fact you ignore the problems, you invite fires and disasters."

Issa says his committee wants GM — and all automakers — to put safety first.

Take a look at the 4-minute Fox Business interview and let us know what you think — were politics built into the Volt?

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor

Weekend Ramblings

January 18, 2012

I had the Volt last weekend, and tried to treat it the way a Volt owner would. Meaning, plugging it in to re-charge in my garage after even just short trips. The goal here is to remain on battery power as much as possible without tapping into the gasoline reserves.

Since I live 65 miles from work, I obviously ran it out of juice on the way home as well as when I drove back to the office after the weekend was over. I also took it to go hiking on the San Juan Trail off the Ortega Highway (74), about a 40-minute drive each way, so I clearly ran out of battery power that day too.

But that was about it. I plugged it in six times over the weekend, charging it even if the battery wasn't empty. It charges quickly.

In general, the Volt is easy to live with, and it's kinda fun that it's such a rarity out on the road (although I did see one other Volter while I was out electrifying around — she ignored me). People are definitely intrigued by it. Acceleration, something I care about, is adequate from a stop.

I still get annoyed by the Volt's super-low front airdam (flexible as it may be), which scrapes dramatically every time I pull in and out of my garage, over speed bumps, business entrances, well, pretty much everything. The road to the San Juan trailhead has about a quarter-mile-long marginally rough dirt section, and even though I drove extra slowly, the silly airdam still touched down several times on the way in and out.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 14,289 miles.

The Elusive Gas Door Release

January 19, 2012

Not sure why this catches my eye every time I drive the Volt. Is it the fact that it uses an extra little arrow to point out the somewhat hidden location of the gas door release? Or maybe it's the fact that the gas door release is hidden while the plug-door button gets more prominent placement? Conspiracy theories abound I'm sure.

Then again, if the Volt was a German car the engineers would have said, "Forget the little icon, let them figure out where the button is on their own." Either way, it's one of the odd little quirks about the Volt that reminds you that this is no ordinary car. I'm guessing most owners don't mind being reminded of that every now and again.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Inside Line

No Carpool Access For 2012s Until March

January 20, 2012

Pictured is a 2012 Chevy Volt and not our long term one. You can tell this because a) it's parked at the Detroit Auto Show and b) it has small buttons on the door handles that let you lock/unlock the car without having to touch the key.

Item B is one of my favorite things about the 2012 model. There are few things as annoying as a car with keyless start but no proximity entry. You've already had to take the key out of your pocket, what are you supposed to do with it once you're in the car?!

Anyway, that's not the point here. For most Californians, the point of the 2012 is not the excellent access, but the car's ability to travel in the HOV lanes. For that, a car needs to be AT-PZEV. And the 2012 Volt is, if you get the Low Emissions Package. We've covered this before.

Here's the rub, when Chevy made the announcement back in November, they stated that the low emissions package would be standard on California cars. More recently they've clarified this to note that 2012 AT-PZEV cars will be shipping to California until late Feb and will be arriving at dealers in March. GM has limited non-AT-PZEV 2012 Volt deliveries to California over the last three months, but there are 2012 Volts which are not carpool lane friendly on dealer lots as we speak.

If the carpool lane (or the $1,500 California rebate — not the fed tax credit) doesn't matter to you (carpool lane access wouldn't help my life in the slightest) then any 2012 you find will be just fine. If, however, you're looking for that AT-PZEV rating and the stickers, shop carefully and know what you're looking for.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor, Inside Line

Hard Boiled Broken Shifter

January 23, 2012

The Volt's shifter has had a crack in its plastic shifter casing since at least September, and its only gotten worse since I reported it back in October. Well, it got really bad on Friday.

I pulled the shifter back, rubbed my fingers across the rough, raised crack (oh dear, this is just asking for jokes). It felt worse than before, and admittedly, I picked at it slightly. With less force than you'd use to removed the shell from a hard-boiled egg, this was the result. A huge chunk is just clinging to dear life on the left side like a broken nail. And like a broken nail, it was hard not to play with it and no doubt rip it clean off. Although really, the only solution is to get it replaced.

I no longer think this is the result of someone dropping something on the shifter as I've heard other Volts have suffered from this problem. Recall that this is not the original shifter design for the Volt. It originally had this guy, which spanned the entire space in the center stack. However, I imagine someone realized that this design could potentially lead to fingers getting stuck between shifter and center stack space. That would probably be worse than a huge chunk breaking off, but neither situation is ideal.

This is what it looked like in September.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 14,489 miles

I'm Number 1!

January 24, 2012

The Volt's DTE gauge is saying 47 miles. I know I'm definitely not traveling 47 miles, although I'll be in the ballpark. Still, I decide to go for it. Eventually, the low fuel warning comes on around 38 miles to go, but the DTE countdown continues. Then in GM tradition, the countdown stops with about 25 miles left leaving me with the above LOW FUEL warning. I do the math and I should still make it, though as I discover, you can still feel range anxiety in the Volt — it's just the old-fashioned kind.

As the above photo is not of the Volt parked on the side of the Ronald Reagan Freeway, you can guess that I did indeed make it. Actually, I could've made it a lot further as it turns out. I pumped 8.249 gallons of premium into the Volt's 9.3-gallon tank, which is still the most gas anyone has every pumped into the Volt. So there, I'm number 1!

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 14,545 miles

Thoughts from the Curb

January 25, 2012

At the risk of being punny, the Chevy Volt is a lightning rod — for conversation, for controversy, for confusion and for grand-standing wind bags. From its concept's unveiling at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show to today, no car has come remotely close to garnering as much attention, especially outside the little car world in which we inhabit.

This past Saturday I went to a friend's backyard barbecue, where my car for the weekend certainly did not go unnoticed (I mean, look where I parked it). The usual questions and misconceptions we've encountered over the course of the year popped up, plus a few new ones. I was only too happy to oblige with my usual scattered helping of thoughts.

"Gas engine? Wait, I thought it was electric." No, it's better than electric. If it was electric, I wouldn't have been able to drive it here, or I would be trying to bum electricity as we speak. There's something so chintzy and undignified about that.

"So what do you think about it?" I like it a lot, there's a reason I've driven it so much this year. There's something really cool about an electric motor — it's quiet, there's no vibration and it's all torque, so it really plants you in your seat. It feels so very effortless. But I also like how it drives beyond that. It feels really substantial. It's more expensive than a Prius (I add once the guy with the Prius leaves the room), but it should be, it's better in about every possible way.

"How expensive is it?" Yeah, so that's definitely a problem. That one out there tops $44,000, which is about $10,000 more than the all-electric Nissan Leaf. I think the Volt should be more expensive — it's nicer inside, I can actually drive it down here to Orange County — but not 10 grand more. Now, the company did get a $7,500 government tax rebate for buying it, which brings the price down to what it probably should be. But the Leaf can get the same rebate, and besides, I don't think the government should be handing out money to people to buy any car. There are a lot of cars out there — especially luxury ones — that aren't worth their high prices. BMW doesn't ask the government to help move Z4s. Either you make a product people are willing to pay for or you don't. I think GM has, it's just that it apparently can't make the Volt cheap enough yet. Really, the high price is the reason people aren't buying it.

"So it's not selling well?" No, it's not, but I'm not really surprised by that. (As Edmunds Vice-Chairman Jeremy Anwyl wrote yesterday), the Volt was not intended to be some profit-making, volume product. It wasn't supposed to be another Malibu. Let's not forget that no one thought the Prius would blow up as it did; no one anticipated it becoming trendy. I mean, remember the original Prius? Of course you don't, you don't know anyone who lives in a yurt and wears clothing exclusively made out of hemp.

Where was I? Oh yeah, why they built the Volt. It was to be a test bed for new technology, not unlike a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or some other high-end car with a silly price that inspires future innovation within the company and provides good PR for a company that "killed the electric car" and that was watching Toyota getting all the glory with the Prius. The Volt isn't really about the Volt. It's about a powertrain concept that can trickle down to the next next Malibu, or other cars (or even copied by other manufacturers). It's a concept that will be refined in the next Volt and the next Volt after that. If those future cars have a tiny two-person back seat, only get 30-something mpg from their gas engine, and cost grossly too much, I'd be shocked.

"Wait, are you guys talking about the Volt? Aren't they catching on fire? Should I be worried about my lawn?" Sure, if I were to crash the Volt into your light pole out there then flip it 360 degrees, then park it in your garage for three weeks, yes, the battery might burst into flames. That scenario happens all the time, but yes, it cought on fire. Chevy's fixed the problem and the government has closed the case. There's a lot of grand-standing going on, with wind bags in Congress saying NHTSA covered it up because of the government's stake in GM and then going so far as saying the Volt was built because the government told them to do it. This is obviously crap given the Volt was first shown back in 2007, and no doubt thought up long before that. Damn those facts. The delay does seem odd, but really, god forbid an agency take time to do a thorough investigation before pressing the panic button on something that wasn't experienced in the real world. This wasn't a Ford Pinto situation we're talking about.

"Dude, I want a drag race between the Volt and his Prius." Sure, but the Volt would wipe the floor with it.

"Damn, he's throwing it down."

I'm not, I just know their 0-60 times (9 seconds versus 10.1). The Volt's quicker.

(Not) Sadly, that particular event was shelved when the girls started playing Just Dance 3 on Wii. The Chevy Volt may get more attention than any other car over the past 5 years, but it simply can't compete with women jumping up and down.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 14,545 miles

Long-Distance Sipper

January 26, 2012

Here's a number that maybe doesn't get enough attention. It makes sense that we'd find it in the Volt's instrument display: gallons used. We've used just less than three gallons to travel 180 miles. Forget for a second that our electric bill, and the real dollars that pay it, helped us travel that distance.

What matters is that gallons used is a number that I can see and relate to. I see them add up every time I stop at the pump. There's a psychological sleight of hand here: the digits rise fast in the pump meter's LCD, yet they tick off much slower here in the Volt. And I tell myself, hey, isn't that nice? I won't have to visit the Shell as often.

It's one of those numbers that sounds pretty fantastic out of context. And like range estimates, who knows really how accurate it is? But GM should call more attention to it. Highlight it. Have some OnStar overlady like Siri whisper it from the headliner every time you park it for the evening.

Or maybe an audio clip of a congressman indignant that GM executives allowed the president to sit in a potentially flammable protoptype wunderwagen. You can take solace knowing you used less fuel over several hundred miles than those gasbags emit in a single day's investigative hearing (Hey Darrell Issa, how about a refund for that lame Viper alarm that never worked in my Integra?)

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

Chevy Gets Their Detroit Pride on With New Volt Ad: Morning in Hamtramck

January 26, 2012

"This isn't just the car we wanted to build; it's the car America had to build. The extended-range electric Chevy Volt, from the heart of Detroit to the health of the country, Chevy runs deep."

The car America had to build? According to whom? Watch the thankfully-not-a-Super Bowl-ad after the jump and let us know if this one hits the mark or is a misguided attempt to convince a free market to buy a car they don't really want. (Though it is a car I personally want.)

Revenge of the Electric Car

January 30, 2012

The Chevrolet Volt has been caught in the crossfire recently, as representatives in the government began to question the car's safety and technology. But it wasn't that long ago, that the Volt represented a new direction for General Motors. I watched "Revenge of the Electric Car" this weekend. This documentary is a sequel to "Who Killed the Electric Car?" and gives a lot of background on the creation of the Chevrolet Volt, the Tesla Roadster and the Nissan Leaf. In the film, you get to see the approach and unique challenges that each automaker faced when trying to create an electric vehicle.

Chris Paine, the writer and director of the film, was given unprecedented access to backroom meetings with GM's Bob Lutz, Nissan's Carlos Ghosn and Tesla's Elon Musk. He was also allowed to film on GM's proving grounds. One particular image that stuck with me was seeing a previous generation Chevy Malibu with Volt parts underneath being used as a test mule.

Overall, I really enjoyed the documentary, but I don’t think the title is that descriptive of what actually happens. Much like "Revenge of the Jedi," was renamed "Return of the Jedi" because George Lucas felt that it was out of character for a Jedi to take revenge, "Revenge of the Electric Car" would have been better named "Return of the Electric Car." EVs aren’t really taking revenge on gas cars or anyone else, but rather have returned to the market in different forms that give the consumer more choices.

"Revenge of the Electric Car" is out on video now and is also available on Netflix instant streaming. Take a look at the trailer below. Let us know if you've seen it or plan on watching it.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 14,805 miles

Cracked Shifter Fixed and Software Update

February 02, 2012

Last week, we took our long term 2011 Chevrolet Volt to fix its cracked shifter. There isn't a Chevrolet dealership in Santa Monica and the Infiniti dealer we usually go to (which used to be a Chevy dealer but still works on the cars) cannot perform warranty work. Our next option was to take it to a nearby Cadillac/GMC dealer that works on all GM models.

Our Volt was probably one of the first they had seen. I got a few "What's this car doing here?" looks from some of the employees and customers. While the service advisor was writing the repair order, he checked with his manager to verify if the cracked shifter would qualify for a warranty claim. The manager signed off on the repairs and the advisor said they would overnight the part.

It took a bit longer than expected because we dropped it off on a Thursday afternoon past the cutoff point for overnight orders. The part arrived on Monday, but it was damaged and another one had to be ordered. The second part arrived the following day.

In addition to the shifter, the Volt needed a software update as part of "Recall Campaign 11137." Our service advisor didn’t know what this was beyond the name "Customer Satisfaction Program."

I took a quick look at the Volt forums and found this out:

From WVhybrid: "Bulletin No. 11137, called the 'Customer Satisfaction program.' This is a software update that changes operation of the HVAC blower motor, fixes "intermittent navigation radio issues", and addresses "reduced fuel economy under certain conditions," It also added a new label to the fuse box in the back driver's side compartment. A total of 7 modules were reprogrammed."

The repairs were performed at no cost to us, and the Volt was back in the fleet on Thursday.

Total Cost: $0
Days out of Service: 3

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 14,847 Miles

Carmax Appraisal, Take Two

February 03, 2012

The last time we took our 2011 Chevrolet Volt for an appraisal at CarMax, the used-car superstore offered us $32,000. It was a solid price, but at the time we just wanted to get an idea of what the car was worth. That was about two months ago and we've put 2,000 more miles on it since. Now we are going to move forward with selling the car and this quote will serve as a reference point for our listing price.

This is the first time that we’ve taken a car for a second appraisal at Carmax and we weren't sure what to expect. Would it drop in price? Would it keep its value? Would the price go up?

"I'm going to have to do some research on this one," the Carmax appraiser said. "This is only the second Volt I've done."

"That other one was ours," I responded. "We brought it a couple of months ago."

My guess was $31,000 and I was right on the money — for about five minutes. The $31K was the price on screen when the Carmax representative showed me the offer. But when he brought back the printout, he said the appraiser had made a mistake, and that the actual offer was $32,000.

The Volt held its value despite the added miles and recent negative publicity. But I wonder if this had more to do with the lack of a sample size of comparable vehicles than the retained value.

We're going to see if we can improve on the $32K and we have seven days to do so.

What would you do? Take the $32K or sell it on your own?

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 14,860 Miles

A Look Underneath

February 03, 2012

We're trying to sell our 2011 Chevy Volt. But before it goes to a new home we wanted to put it up on our 2-post Rotary Lift . Go to the next page to get a detailed look at its bottom.

More pictures after the jump.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

For Sale on eBayMotors

February 03, 2012

Our 2011 Chevrolet Volt is up for sale now and we decided it would make a great car to offer on eBayMotors. It's only a five-day auction, ending next Tuesday night, so get your bid in quickly. Here's a link to the auction page.

Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 14,900 miles

The Importance of Stop-Gap Technology

February 06, 2012

The Chevrolet Volt, and to a greater extent, plug-in hybrids, remind me of the combo VHS/DVD players from over a decade ago. Back then, many people were invested in their VHS tape collection and were hesitant to embrace the better, but more expensive DVD technology. The electronics companies noted this slow adoption rate, and released these VHS/DVD hybrids as a stop-gap measure. They offered the best of both worlds.

One day, we'll look back on plug-in hybrids as the automotive equivalent of the combo media player. We'll tell our grandkids, that back in the day, some people were afraid that their electric car would leave them stranded, so they bought cars with a back-up gas engine to extend the range.

Some people are quick to dismiss the Volt for not being more a pure EV. But the truth is that not everyone is willing to go all-electric. I wonder if having a gas station on every corner is the equivalent of having a big VHS collection — it reinforces a fear of taking a risk on a new format.

We need stop-gap technology like the Volt to bridge the gap until we have a more extensive charging infrastructure — or until more people can get past their range anxiety.

What are your thoughts on the future of plug-in hybrids and EVs?

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate

Hello 15,000 Miles

February 07, 2012

We've had two electric cars in our fleet, a Mini E and a Nissan Leaf. Accumulating miles on the two plug-ins was difficult due to their limited range. Neither could venture very far from home. After 12-months we had only driven the Mini 7,683 miles and the Leaf only covered 3,551 miles during its 6-month stay with us.

Our Chevy Volt, however, has proven itself to be much more useful. Much more of a real car than those pure electrics. Despite very few "road trips" (I think the furthest it has traveled from our Santa Monica office is San Francisco) the plug-in hybrid has covered 15,002 miles since we bought it 13-months ago.

Heck, just yesterday I drove our Volt 140 miles from Santa Monica to Oxnard, CA and back on the picturesque Pacific Coast Highway. A trip both the Mini E and the Leaf are incapable of making without a very long stop for charging.

In the Volt, the first 39.7 miles of the trip were on pure electric, then I was burning the black gold.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

Reserve Not Met

February 08, 2012

The eBay auction on our 2011 Chevrolet Volt ended last night and while we got eight bids, none were high enough to meet the reserve. We started the bidding at $27,500 and after a few days it had gone up to $30,001.99. With about a day left in the auction, we slightly lowered the reserve and the "buy it now," price, hoping it would generate some last- minute bidding.

The top bidder had e-mailed us to ask what our reserve price was. This was like asking someone to show their hand in poker. That's not information you reveal to your opponent in cards, or in this case, a potential buyer in an auction.

The top bidder told us he had wanted a Volt ever since it was announced back in 2007, and added that his Prius was getting old. But the bids never moved from $30K. That seemed to be the most that he — and other bidders — were willing to pay for our Volt.

It's a shame we couldn't sell the car to this guy. He wanted the car so bad that he was willing to put $10K on a credit card, $10K in cash, and pay the rest via wire transfer. Much like giving away a pet you care about, you want your car to go to a new owner who will appreciate it and take good care of it. But that three-pronged payment would have been a big hassle for us. And, more to the point, there's a check waiting for us at Carmax for $2,000 more.

If eBay bidders are only willing to pay $30K for a 2011 Volt with 15,000 miles, Carmax is going to have a tough time selling it. My guess is that Carmax probably will list it for $35,000. I'll head to Carmax later today to finalize the transaction.

I'm really going to miss the Volt. Unlike many of my colleagues, I'm more of a green-car enthusiast than a performance enthusiast, so the Volt was right up my alley. It was my favorite long-term car and it helped me change my outlook on EVs and PHEVs.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 15,063 miles

Geneva Auto Show's European Car of the Year

March 07, 2012

It's been a mixed bag for Volt lovers in recent days. The good news is that our former long-term greenmobile (which is sold in Europe as the Opel Ampera) was named "European Car of the Year" earlier this week at the Geneva Auto Show. The voting committee called the Volt/Ampera "a mature product, after years of development and perfectioning [sic] by General Motors, and the first example of an electric vehicle with extended range." Okay, then — thanks.

The not-so-good news concerns GM's announcement last week that it plans to halt Volt production for five weeks. GM has attributed the temporary suspension to inventory concerns.

Can't win 'em all, apparently.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor


May 11, 2012

What We Bought
As the first factory-built plug-in hybrid ever, a 2011 Chevrolet Volt was a natural choice for the long-term fleet. The promise of 35 miles of EV operation, combined with the ability to continue on under gasoline power to our heart's content (or our bladder's discontent, whichever came first) made the Volt unlike any hybrid before it. We wanted to see how that promise panned out in real-world driving.

Being the earliest of early adopters meant we'd probably have to pay a pretty penny, but in the end we found a dealer that was willing to sell us our 2011 Chevy Volt for the sticker price. That figure was substantial, as the Volt's base price was a cool $41,000, including $720 for the inevitable destination charge. The Volt's 16 kWh battery qualified it for a $7,500 federal tax credit, but that has to be applied later and doesn't reduce the amount of the original purchase price.

But our full amount wasn't simply $41,000. There were options, of course, and so it was with our Volt. It came with premium trim ($1,395), consisting of leather seats, front seat heaters and upgraded door trim. It was painted with special Viridian Joule Tricoat paint ($995) and came with polished versions of the standard 17-inch forged alloy wheels ($595.) Front and rear parking sensors and a back-up camera added another $695, and because our state requires a front license plate we had to pay $15 for the required bracket.

All told, we paid $44,695 not including sales tax and license fees, two items that vary greatly from state to state.

Our Volt came with a 120-volt charge cable, but the Edmunds garage also had a 240-volt Coulomb Charge Point ready and waiting for our new arrival. We used both during this test, charging with the former at home and the latter at work. We kept detailed logs in an attempt to parse and analyze electricity and gasoline consumption.

Our Impressions
We had our Volt for a total of 13 months and drove it a total of 15,063 miles. Here are some selected quotes that sum up how it went:

"There's something really cool about an electric motor — it's quiet, there's no vibration and it's all torque, so it really plants you in your seat. It feels so very effortless." — James Riswick

"Five days a week I'd be happy as can be with an electric car. Trouble is, when the weekend comes, I'm on the road two, three, 400 miles just to get out of the city. This car is the perfect hybrid for that." — Mike Magrath

"I drove our long-term 2011 Chevy Volt from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back. In two days I drove the Volt 916 miles." — Scott Oldham, describing something you could never attempt in a pure electric vehicle

"One thing I hadn't counted on is just how normal the car would feel in electric mode, and by that I mean it's not like a regular hybrid where the combustion engine interrupts your all-electric zen 15 seconds into the driving experience, and it's not like our Mini E or Nissan Leaf where you have to map out your itinerary every time you leave the house. The Volt comes across as the logical middle ground." — Erin Riches

"On the road, the Volt feels substantial, heavy even. Not overweight really, just meaty. A distinct difference from a Prius or Insight. You feel it when you give it some steering input, but it suppresses roll pretty well. A sporting chassis obviously isn't the priority here, but you can tell that the suspension team didn't just phone it in." — Dan Frio

"Parking it was trickier than expected, though, due to the touchy brakes, limited visibility and somewhat wide turning circle." — Brent Romans

"I was a little surprised to find that our $44,695 Chevy Volt doesn't have power front seats. Not even the driver seat." — Mike Monticello

"I get that the Volt designers were going for something new for their super-advanced family sedan. But at the end of the day, design has to be functional and these buttons just plain suck." — Ed Hellwig, referring to the widely disliked touch-sensitive center stack

"I managed to smash through the 50-mile barrier twice — 54.6 and 54.3 miles — on consecutive charges, though no one else ever did. In my case, perfect conditions meant nearly clogged freeway traffic that rolled steadily at 35-50 mph without any stopping or sudden speed changes." — Dan Edmunds. Our Volt averaged 37.2 miles of electric driving per charge, slightly above the EPA's 35-mile rating.

"For some reason the designers decided to bury it in the center console. Every time I put it in gear it feels awkward." — Ed Hellwig, on the shift lever

James Riswick was more blunt. "I smash my knuckles on the damn thing when I try to put the car into Park or when I reach into 'the cave' to get it out of Park." Later on, that shifter cracked apart for unknown reasons and had to be replaced under warranty.

"The deal-breaker is the rear bucket seats. With only room for four she says no to the Volt." — Scott Oldham, on his wife's assessment

"So far this past week I've gotten along just fine using the 120-volt charger that comes with the car. So now I'm wondering: is the $2,000 home charger aspect overplayed? I don't think very many people are going to need a 240-volt home charging station for a Volt." — Brent Romans on why the Volt's status as a plug-in hybrid with a medium-size battery is an advantage over pure EVs with larger ones

On the other hand, the 120V charge cord supplied with our Volt suffered a broken strain relief that resulted in a short that melted and scorched the socket it was plugged into. "The standard 120V charging rig is far from robust enough to last the life of the car. Our melted Kill-A-Watt suggests that fire is a possible outcome. This is nothing to fool around with. Time for the 'R' word." — Dan Edmunds

"I design strain reliefs for a living. That thing is crap." — reader "gslippy" upon seeing pictures we posted of the failed part

A design change was implemented shortly after our early-production Volt was built. We were never notified of this, but a new-style replacement was provided under warranty after we visited a dealer. The new 120V charger didn't look substantially different to our eyes, though.

"The Chevy Volt's spoiler drags on everything. Speed bumps? Ssccrrraaape. Driveways? Ssccrrraaape. It's shallow enough that every intersection with a lateral gutter of any depth becomes the Rubicon Trail. Volt drivers must swallow their pride and simply tolerate the scrape sound and the inevitable ratty appearance of their front airdam." — Dan Edmunds

"I really enjoy driving the Volt. When I suppress thoughts about the unrealistic price I can really enjoy driving nearly 40 miles on $1.95 of electricity. But given the lower entry cost of the Leaf, the ability to hold an extra passenger and access to the carpool lanes, the Leaf offers advantages that are impossible to ignore." — Phil Reed, expressing oft-heard comparisons to the 2011 Nissan Leaf

"The cost to operate the Volt (and whether it makes economic sense to you or not) is entirely dependent on how far you'd drive every day between plug-ins and what you pay for electricity." — Dan Edmunds on how the case for the Volt depends greatly on individual circumstances

"I'm convinced that it's a fantastic model for future cars. The price will go down over time, battery capacity will go up and there theoretically will be a wider variety of vehicle body types available for those who find its packaging limited. My week in the Volt points to the way of the future." — James Riswick sees the bigger picture

"Fact is, I like driving the Volt. Another fact is that I don't like driving a Prius. And another is that I would never hem myself in with the limited driving range of a Leaf. Meanwhile, I drive just 9 miles to work each morning. And my wife spends most of her days well within the Volt's 40-mile electric range. For us, the Volt makes a lot of sense. It would be used as an electric vehicle most of the time. But my wife could also drive it to Grandma's house (either 75 miles or 135 miles away depending on which grandma) without breaking a sweat." — Scott Oldham, campaigning to be the ideal Volt candidate

Maintenance & Repairs

Regular Maintenance: 8,646 miles — Tire rotation and pressure check ($0) no charge, performed when the vehicle was brought in for an unrelated warranty diagnosis.

We never changed the oil in our 2011 Chevrolet Volt during its 15,000-mile stay, and it seemed likely that a typical Volt owner would reach the oil's two-year expiration date before it became necessary. Dan Edmunds noticed this at 6,489 miles, when the oil life monitor said the oil retained 78 percent of its life. "It's probably best to key off the oil life monitor because the Volt doesn't have a dedicated odometer that keeps track of engine-powered miles and we're guessing most Volt owners aren't geekily parsing electric miles and gasoline miles like we are."

Warranty Work: 8,646 miles — Replaced frayed 120V home charge cord ($0); 14,662 miles — Replaced broken shift lever ($0).

Service Campaigns: 14,662 miles — Software update per Bulletin 11137 ($0). We expressed no concerns, but this update was installed when our shifter was repaired. According to GM: "This software update will address several customer concerns, including the operation of the Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) blower motor after using the remote start feature, intermittent navigation radio issues, and reduced fuel economy under certain conditions. Dealers are to reprogram various modules with updated software and calibrations, and install a revised fuse location label."

Bodywork: None


Observed Fuel Economy: Gasoline — 35.0 mpg; Electricity — 34.1 kWh/100 miles; Electric Range — 37.2 miles; Utility Factor — 42 percent electricity

Those first three Edmunds Observed figures — gasoline fuel economy, electricity consumption and electric range — are solid numbers that any prospective Volt owner could find useful. But the fourth, the so-called Utility Factor (UF) or the percentage of miles run on electricity, will vary greatly depending on an individual's driving pattern, distance from work, plug-in habits and fondness for taking road trips.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) reckons that a plug-in hybrid with the Volt's 35-mile range rating should operate at a UF of 58 percent. That may well be statistically true, but some of our drivers live farther from work than a typical Volt owner might. We also took our Volt on long trips to San Francisco and Las Vegas, trips that became 100 percent gasoline runs after the initial 35-40 miles of electric range ran out.

The ability to make that sort of trip is what makes the 2011 Chevrolet Volt so brilliant, but doing that sort of thing often skews the Utility Factor away from electricity and toward gasoline. Our year-end UF was 42 percent, so our average operation cost of 8.1 cents per mile was tainted somewhat by the high cost of premium gasoline we burned 58 percent of the time. Volt owners who stay in electric mode more of the time could potentially spend far less, maybe even half.

Resale & Depreciation: $32,000 via CarMax Lack of other used Volt sales made it difficult to zero in on an asking price. Ultimately, CarMax had two people examine the Volt in order to come up with an offer. The lack of a tax credit for second owners was a main reason why the Volt appears to depreciate by a whopping $12,695, some 28.4 percent below the original price we paid.

However, as original owners we were eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit. If you look at the credit as a delayed rebate, this means we effectively paid $37,195 for our Volt. From this starting point the Volt depreciated $5,195, or 14 percent over the 13 months and 15,063 miles it spent with us.

Summing Up

Pros: Plug-in hybrid concept eliminates range anxiety; EV driving range is respectable; electric-motor in-town acceleration is quiet and sufficiently quick; charging with included 120V home charge cord is easily done overnight; chassis has heft and stability unseen in lightweight hybrids; comfortable front seats and seating position.

Cons: High purchase price; need for premium gasoline off-putting; brake feel too vague; confusing center stack touch buttons; tight backseat (and it only holds two); should have power seats; spoiler scrapes on everything.

Bottom Line: The 2011 Chevrolet Volt's medium-size battery gives it a decent amount of electric range, and you can use all of it every time because the gasoline engine allows the Volt to continue on like any normal car. Paradoxically, this is simultaneously the Volt's greatest strength and biggest weakness because the ability to manage this trick essentially requires two advanced drivetrains, with all the extra complexity, packaging difficulty and cost that implies. This of course, is the first vehicle of its kind, so these weaknesses are likely to disappear — especially since the concept has so much promise.

Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs: None (over 13 months)
Additional Maintenance Costs: None
Warranty Repairs: Replace frayed 120V home charge cord
Replace broken shift lever
Service Campaigns: Software update, Bulletin No. 11137
Non-Warranty Repairs: None
Scheduled Dealer Visits: None
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Days Out of Service: 3
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: 0
Best Electricity Consumption: 20.6 kWh/100 miles
Worst Electricity Consumption: 58.4 kWh/100 miles
Average Electricity Consumption: 34.1 kWh/100 miles
EPA Rated Electricity Comsumption: 36 kWh/100 miles
Best Electric Range: 54.6 miles
Worst Electric Range: 23.5 miles
Average Electric Range: 37.2 miles
EPA Rated Electric Range: 35.0 miles
Best Gasoline Fuel Economy: 42.4 mpg
Worst Gasoline Fuel Economy: 22.3 mpg
Average Gasoline Fuel Economy: 35.0 mpg
EPA Rated Gasoline Fuel Economy: 37.0 mpg
Initial Purchase Price: $44,695
Federal Tax Credit: $7,500
True Market Value at service end: $32,964
What it sold for: $32,000
Depreciation, ignoring tax credit: $12,695 (28.4% of original purchase price)
Depreciation, including tax credit: $5,195 (14.0% of price less tax credit)
Final Odometer Reading: 15,063 miles

Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.