2011 Chevrolet Volt Long Term Road Test - Audio & Technology

2011 Chevrolet Volt Long Term Road Test

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: 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.

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: 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

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: 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?

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: 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

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Wasn't Trying, But Thanks

November 15, 2011

Volt-XM warning.jpg

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.

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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...

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2011 Chevy Volt: Where's The Hold Button?

October 26, 2011

Vauxhaul interior.jpg

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.

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: 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.

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2011 Chevy Volt: Redefines Driver Involvement

July 21, 2011

Chevy Volt at Track 16.jpg

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

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: 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 Edmunds.com 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 Audible.com 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

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: 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

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: 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 Edmunds.com. "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

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Searching For Consistency

March 22, 2011

Volt Phonebook.JPG

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.

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Five Things I Like

March 11, 2011

Volt getting gas.jpg

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

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2011 Chevy Volt: Eject Your iPod (Alternate Title: And Volt Makes 3)

February 14, 2011

ipod eject.jpg

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.

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