The Chevrolet Volt represents a voyage into uncharted waters for both General Motors and automakers in general. A so-called plug-in hybrid, the front-wheel-drive Volt is a four-door, four-seat hatchback that's motivated primarily by an electric motor good for about 40 miles of range. That's enough to get most people to work and back. Should you need to go farther, a gasoline-powered engine is aboard (it acts as a generator) to extend the car's range by as much as 300 miles and essentially turn the Volt into a regular hybrid.
Truly, the Volt represents a glimpse into the future of automotive propulsion. For those with a short commute, the concept makes a lot of sense, while the car's gasoline-powered engine gives it a notable range advantage over all-electric cars like Nissan's Leaf. Moreover, with potentially hefty government tax rebates plus a $5,000 price cut for 2014, a new Volt is more attainable than ever, with used values likely to drop accordingly. We encourage early adopters to give the innovative Volt a chance.
Current Chevrolet Volt
The Chevrolet Volt is essentially a plug-in hybrid, meaning it has the ability to run much faster and farther under electric power alone than a normal hybrid. In the Volt's case, this means up to 100 mph and anywhere from 25-50 miles without using a drop of gasoline.
Once you run out of battery juice, the gasoline-powered inline-4 engine kicks in, producing electricity for the motor and actually powering the wheels in some circumstances, stretching the Volt's range by as much as an additional 300 miles. A "Hold" feature lets you choose when to bring gas power online, allowing all-electric mode to be saved for opportune stretches.
The electric motor is rated at 149 horsepower (111 kilowatts) and 273 pound-feet of torque. Drive force is sent to the front wheels through a specialized planetary gearset.
Standard feature highlights include keyless ignition/entry, automatic climate control, a split-folding rear seatback, a six-speaker sound system and GM's MyLink system that includes Bluetooth streaming audio, voice controls and enhanced smartphone integration. Major options include low-emissions equipment so it can qualify for HOV lane access (certain states only), a rearview camera, leather upholstery, heated front seats, lane departure warning, a navigation system and a Bose sound system. Volt owners can monitor the car's status and set charging times through an online Web portal or a mobile phone app.
In our reviews, we've found that the Chevrolet Volt has satisfying zip at low speeds thanks to its electric motor, which offers abundant torque. Although the Volt corners surprisingly well due to its low center of gravity, the overall driving experience is as bland as one would expect from a car designed to maximize energy efficiency. But the Volt certainly isn't a laggard, and overall performance is similar to what you'd get from a normal four-cylinder-equipped family sedan. Acceleration is the same whether or not the gas engine is in use, but there is a noticeable (though not really objectionable) increase in noise.
Inside, the Chevy Volt features a unique dashboard layout that's part spaceship, part iPod -- and pretty darn cool. There's a high-tech gauge readout behind the steering wheel and a swoopy center stack that looks like an oversized high-end electronic device. Unfortunately, the touch-activated "buttons" can be difficult to pick out at a glance, and sometimes don't respond on first press. This is definitely an instance of form over function.
The rear seat is adequate for two average-sized adults, but there's no middle seat thanks to the T-shaped battery pack, which occupies this slot as well as part of the trunk. Cargo capacity is limited due to the Volt's rakish roof line and that hefty battery pack, though the rear seatbacks do fold down.
Used Chevrolet Volt Models
The Chevrolet Volt debuted for 2011. In this first model year it came standard with navigation and the Bose sound system; they became options the following year. Note that these early Volts had a potential battery fire issue after a particularly severe side crash. As such, you'll want to make sure any early 2011 Volt has received the needed fix.
Changes have been mostly minor since, though the 2011 and '12 Volts lack the optional low-emissions equipment and lane departure and collision warning systems found on the current model. Likewise, the "Hold" mode wasn't introduced until 2013.