With the usual Toronto traffic hell made worse recently by the Pan Am Games and the resulting temporary HOV lanes, and me, finding myself commuting daily from Oakville to the Royal Alex Theatre for the Mirvish production of Kinky Boots, it seemed like a pretty good time to book a 2015 Chevy Volt for a week of electric car nirvana.
Nirvana, in this case, meant silently cruising the HOV lanes courtesy of the Volt’s Green Car status. With an electric range of about 60 kilometres, I could cover most of my commute sans emissions before the Volt’s range-extender 1.4L four-cylinder gas engine fired up. According to GM, Volts cover about two-thirds of distance driven on grid electricity, so this experiment plunked me square into Volt poster-boy territory.
Clean, congestion-free running with the promise of minuscule gasoline bills? What’s not to like? In this scenario, membership has its privileges.
The Chevrolet Volt leapt onto the automotive stage in 2011 to much fanfare. It was a bold move for GM, building a mid-size hatchback electric sedan that carried around a four-cylinder engine whose primary function was not to power the front wheels when the 16 kWh lithium-ion battery ran dry, but to spin a generator to make the juice to power the electric-drive motor.
While this technology is nothing new (locomotives have been doing it for decades), it was pretty fresh thinking for a car. Once all the hoopla died down, Volt sales flattened and remained there. It’s hard to sell a pricey green vehicle when gas is cheap. And especially when the car only seats four — the large T-shaped battery pack sticks up between the rear seats.
The Volt’s ace in the hole is its ability to about double the EV range of a typical plug-in hybrid. Conversely, it won’t return the mileage of, say, a Toyota Pruis when the battery is depleted.
Coming in 2016 is a new Volt that promises to be less expensive, more efficient, have better EV range and seat five. It will also be cheaper to build, which should help GM’s cause, as the automaker still loses money on every Volt sold.
In the meantime, this 2015 model with a base price of $37,195 (before the $8,500 Ontario green car rebate) is what we have. Just over $5,000 in options brings a host of kit to the table — navigation, leather, Bose audio, rearview camera, park assist, forward-collision alert, lane-departure warning, and iridescent pearl tricoat paint.
As I don’t have a 240v charger at my house, the Volt will take about 11 hours to fully charge on a 110v plug (four hours, otherwise). Nonetheless, I’m not alone in this — about half of Volt owners make do with regular household current. How do they know this? The standard three years of free OnStar lets Big Brother … er, GM, in on your every Volt move.
The Volt’s interior is futuristic but a bit tacky, with the white plastic overkill, and the touchscreen interface, along with all the touch-sensitive points on the console, are fussy and unintuitive. The back seats are comfortable, but headroom is limited. However, the hatchback configuration offers decent utility.
As with all electrically powered vehicles, the Volt is a smooth and silent operator. The electric motor puts out 149 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, and while the Volt is not crazy fast like the Tesla, its acceleration is adequate for normal driving. And with no transmission and 100 per cent of the torque from zero r.p.m., motivation is a seamless process.
Merging onto the QEW in Oakville, the display tells me I have 62 km of electric range. That will get me downtown and about halfway home before the 83-hp, 1.4L gas engine springs to life. I work my way over to the temporary HOV lane and tuck in, expecting all kinds of accusing stares from the poor sods trundling along beside me. After all, save for its green plate, the Volt looks pretty much like any other mid-size sedan. My initial trepidation and slight feelings of guilt melt away much faster than the Volt’s projected EV range that, surprise, proves to be very accurate, even cruising along at over 100 km/h.
Being so aerodynamic, there is very little wind noise. The narrow low rolling resistant tires don’t do much for road holding, and they provide a slightly brittle ride. The steering is somewhat vague, too, but I doubt anyone is buying this car for its sporting nature. Overall, the Volt is a satisfying drive, and in this situation, highly efficient.
Just as predicted, the display indicates the gas engine has come on board at around 60 km into my commute. It’s largely unobtrusive — you barely know its running when at highway speeds. There are Normal, Hold, Sport and Mountain modes designed to maximize the powertrain’s performance and efficiency in different situations.
After a week of commuting, and only a few dirty looks from the non-HOV crowd, the trip computer reads 535.9 kms driven, 14.8 litres of fuel consumed for an average of 2.7 L/100 km.
So, I’ve found the sweet spot for Chevrolet’s unique plug-in hybrid. We can expect more from the second-generation 2016 model.
2015 Chevrolet Volt
BASE PRICE/AS TESTED: $37,195/$33,850 (with an $8,500 Ontario rebate)
ADD-ONS: Destination charge $1,600; taxes $4,500.50
TYPE: Mid-size sedan
PROPULSION: Front-wheel-drive, electric drive
CARGO: 300 L
TOW RATING: Not advised
ENGINE: 111 kW drive motor, 83 hp range-extender, 1.4L gas four
TRANSMISSION: Direct drive
POWER/TORQUE: 149 hp, 273 lb-ft
FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100 km: All-Electric equivalent: 2.3 city, 2.5 hwy.; Gas-only: 6.7 city, 5.9 hwy.; premium-grade fuel
BRAKES: Four-wheel disc
TIRES: Goodyear Fuel Max P215/55R17
STANDARD FEATURES: 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, heated front seats, keyless ignition and entry, remote ignition, automatic climate control, cruise, cloth upholstery, leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, OnStar, in-car Wi-Fi, a 7-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Chevy’s MyLink system, six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, auxiliary audio jack, USB interface.
ACCESSIBILITY: Fine for all four seats
COMPETITION: Ford C-Max Plug-in Hybrid, Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid
WHAT’S BEST: Up to 60 km of EV range
WHAT’S WORST: Only seats four
WHAT’S INTERESTING: Gas engine will partially power the front wheels under certain circumstances
MANUFACTURER’S WEBSITE: www.gm.ca
SIDEBAR OR POP-UPS
LOOKS: The Volt doesn’t advertise its green cred and ultra high-tech innards. For those not in the know, it’s just another mid-size sedan
INTERIOR: Comfy for four but a little heavy on the “space-age” décor. The seven-inch touchscreen and touch-sensitive console panel will not be winning any ergonomic awards.
PERFORMANCE: A rewarding car to drive. Smooth, silent running combined with plenty of low-end torque and decent handling.
TECHNOLOGY: Standard Chevy MyLink with Gracenote music database and Stitcher Smart Radio Compatibility. Three years of OnStar and 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot capability
WHAT YOU’LL LIKE ABOUT THIS CAR: If it fits your lifestyle, the Volt can be very cheap to run. And with the $8,500 Ontario rebate, not too expensive to buy
WHAT YOU WON’T LIKE ABOUT THIS CAR: Weird interior, requires premium fuel
SCORE: 8 out of 10