May 11, 2012
Read the 2011 Chevy Volt introduction of this vehicle to our long-term fleet.
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.
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."
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.
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|
|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.