While driving around looking for a close parking space at the mall so my girls wouldn't have to hike it through the cold and snow, I saw two large spots open, waiting for me. There were no handicap parking signs in place, so I thought I lucked out and found a great parking space right up front.
As I quickly turned the corner, even hopping the curb in my haste, heading in the opposite direction of the arrow painted on the lot hoping no one would beat me to the spots, I saw in large letters on the parking spot: For Electric Vehicles. There it was, right up front, two spaces for people to charge their electric cars.
Since my 16 mile per gallon S-U-V doesn't fit the bill of "eco-friendly" I wound up parking in what seemed a distant land only to walk past the empty spaces. Which were also empty an hour later on my way out.
Had I been driving the 2012 Chevy Volt, I would have been able to park there, plugged in and somewhat recharged for the drive home all while shopping.
Before I get into my thoughts on the Volt, we need to clear up concerns regarding the car catching on fire.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has closed its investigation into whether the Volt will catch on fire after an accident. GM's chairman and CEO said testing by government regulators resulted in fires "after putting the battery through lab conditions that no driver would experience in the real world." GM is adding steel to the plates to better protect the batteries, and hopes the fix will help people feel better about not catching on fire.
Feel better now? Good
The Volt is classified as an Electric Vehicle. But unlike a few other electric powered rides, the car also has a gas engine. Go all electric and you're cruising around 30 miles between recharges. Run her on gas and you're looking at 40 mpg on the highway and 35 in the city with about a 372 mile cruising range. So yes, a road trip is possible.
So when I picked up the Volt on West Lexington in Elkhart, it had 12 miles left on the charge. Not quite enough to get me to Mishawaka and do a little running around.. I cruised on electric, shifting over to gas power on the bypass. No problem, the onboard gas generator fires up. According to GM, this will produce electricity so you can put an extra 375 mile on the trip meter. That's plenty of miles to do what I need to do before I can get home and plug her in, granted, not the most economical way for an electric car to get around.
So when I was done using a total of half a gallon of gas, I plugged the Volt in using the standard household 110 cord. The little icon on the dash said it would take about 10 hours to get a full charge. We'll I had a little more running around to do in a few hours so that would have to do. Two hours gave me 7 miles of electric running around which got me where I needed to go and back. So I plugged in for the night to get a full charge. It's recommended you get a 240 volt charging station installed and I think it would be a good investment as you can reach a full charge in 4 hours instead of 10.
My next trek to work then back to the dealership was all electric. So after adding the half gallon of gas with electric miles, the final tally on my mpg, 92.3. Not too shabby is it? When you do need to put some gas in the tank, make sure you use premium. The reason, according to GM, is you'll get better mileage when running on fuel, and since gas could be sitting in the pressurized tank for a while, premium will not break down as rapidly.
So what else does the car offer beside great fuel economy? With the exception of the giant "Volt" decal on the side, the car offers up good looks, at least when it comes to uber-economy cars like the Prius and Leaf. I also like how GM has stepped up the quality of their interiors. I know I mentioned this with a few other GM cars I've driven, but it's worth mentioning again. The materials are nice fabrics, plastics and leather and are no longer gappy or rattle loose.
The seats are comfortable, and for the driver and passenger, a good amount of room. Getting 2 more passengers in the rear bucket seats means adjusting the front seats forward…manually by the way….to give them a livable amount of legroom.
The hatch opens up nice and wide and can swallow a good amount of cargo. Underneath it all is where you store the 110 plug so you can get a charge anywhere you have electricity.
You can get the Volt in a number of trim levels; I had a top of the line version offering up every gadget and goodie Chevy could cram in there including a thumping Bose stereo. I do think the center stack was very busy with an interesting concept when it comes to adjusting things such as your climate, radio, nav…etc… Instead of knobs or dials, there are these little bean shaped, touch sensitive buttons. It takes some practice and getting used to in order to use effectively. There are so many of these little buttons, you need to take your eyes off the road to find what you need. It's not my favorite way to control what you need, but you can also do everything on the large touch screen.
The ride is surprisingly quick, very quiet and nimble for this class of car. With 273 lb/ft of torque on tap in an instant, the car has some scoot to get up to speed and get you around slower moving, less economical vehicles.
The one thing that is not too economical about the Volt is the price. The car starts around 31 grand and by the time you load it up, like the one I was driving, came in just over 46K. But remember, you also get a $7500 tax credit. By contrast, the MSRP on the Nissan Leaf is 35K and the Prius starts around 23 thousand.
The car created a ton of buzz when it first came out, so how successful has the Volt been? General Motors says in 2011, 7671 Volts found owners. In January of this year, only 603 cars were sold. Both which are disappointing numbers for GM.
That's too bad because it is a good car with a lot of nice features. Yes, it's expensive and the same 46K gets you into an Audi A4, Mercedes C class, even a BMW 3 series. It all comes down to how you want to spend your money and where you want your carbon footprint to be.
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