2011 Chevrolet Volt: 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