From £34,940
Volt lives up to the hype - despite issues with space and driving fun

Our Verdict

Chevrolet Volt
The handsome Volt uses a petrol engine to charge the car's battery once it is flat

The Chevrolet Volt is an extended-range vehicle with an electric motor and a 1.4-litre petrol engine, and it makes the electric car viable for the masses

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12 January 2010

What is it?

The revolutionary Chevrolet Volt, a mainstream electric car that goes on sale in the US later this year and hits the UK in late 2011.

Based on the Vauxhall Astra platform, the Volt is a four-seat hatch powered by lithium ion batteries that can be recharged by plugging into the mains, or on the go by a 1.4-litre petrol engine.

GM is confident the Volt will be capable of up to 40 miles' range on a single charge, although accepts that heavy usage - such as climbing or high-speed running - will reduce that.

Although unlike every other EV, fluctuations in range don’t really matter, because the Volt can fire up its petrol engine to ensure there’s always drive to the front-wheels.

The electric motor is rated at 110kW or 150bhp, and delivers a healthy 273lb ft of torque, about the same as a 2.0-litre diesel.

The lithium ion battery pack is water-cooled and heated. Cooling is particularly important, because excess heat can kill lithium ion cells. GM is promising the battery pack will last the life of the Volt, which is interpreted as 150,000 miles.

Given the battery capacity and the Volt’s range, the engineering spec allows for 6000 full charge or discharge cycles, events that eventually will reduce the battery’s storage capacity to 70 to 80 per cent of what it was capable of when new.

What’s it like?

The most significant point is that the Volt is just like a normal hatchback to drive, with the added significant benefit of being very quiet.

We had a short drive on a simple, flat test circuit and found that the Volt steers, rides and handles in a very similar manner to the Chevy Cruze saloon. That means it’s more comfort-oriented than the sportier Vauxhall Astra.

Driving the Volt is very simple. With the ignition on, press a starter button and the dashboard lights up and bings into life, just like a PC. In the centre console there’s a PRND selector exactly where the gear-shifter is on a regular car, and in the footwell are two pedals: accelerator and brake.

Slot the shifter into D and the Volt glides away with no hint of engine or motor noise.

Acceleration is similar to a 2.0-litre diesel-powered hatch, with the benefit of a linear power delivery, which builds speed very smoothly and is helped by the fact that there are no gearchanges to interrupt progress.

To boost performance, there’s a sport button on the dash that increases the flow of electrons out of the battery by 20 per cent. And the effect is noticeable; if you could turn the turbo on a combustion engine on and off, it would be a bit like this.

As the speed rises, the main driver feedback comes from the tyres and suspension. With no engine noise in the background, tyre roar and bump thump from the suspension take over.

Steering is linear and faithful and cornering is accompanied by body roll. The Volt is definitely focused on comfort, rather than sporty handling.

Less impressive is the cabin space. Although the car is based on the Astra platform, its rear legroom feels more like the Corsa's and the headroom is more like a coupe's than a saloon's.

Compared with the nearest competitor, the Toyota Prius, the Volt sits a full class size below.

This largely comes from the attention GM has paid to minimising losses from aerodynamic drag. The Volt has a lower roofline and to accommodate the battery pack, the rear seats are slightly raised compared with the Cruze.

Together these force a more stretched-out seating position, which eat into legroom. And because the battery is packaged down the central tunnel, the Volt is only a two-seater in the back.

Fuel economy on our short test was a bit tricky to assess, although the dashboard told us the battery drained a little and recharged as we braked. Because the battery wasn’t close to being drained, the petrol engine didn’t cut in.

In the context of the £5 gallon of petrol, the dashboard trip meter reading of 963mpg was more than just a bit encouraging.

Should I buy one?

Yes. On this brief drive, the Volt appears to live up to the hype. It drives smoothly and needs no special driving techniques. Even the most novice driver will be able to jump in and drive off.

Given the growing interest in fuel economy, there’s so much technology in the Volt to keep an enthusiast fully engaged. Although the straightforward driving manners won’t engage drivers looking for the most exciting driving experience.

 

Join the debate

Comments
34

13 January 2010

So your test was "We had a short drive on a simple, flat test circuit". It might be capable of 40 miles on its electric motor, as long as you don't want to go uphill or fast. It has no head room and the leg room of a Corsa and the price is to be announced. And your conclusion. should we buy one - yes. Someone normal might come to the conclusion that the answer should have been no. Limited range, no announced price but likely to high, poor passenger space

13 January 2010

Why did they have to develop a smaller, uglier, less spacious and more dated model? They could've put this technology in an Astra. Instead they built this ugly pile. Then again they could've also put this technology in a SAAB. But that would never do in the U.S. of A.

As with all other GM products, except SAAB, I won't be buying one.

13 January 2010

[quote pdmc]Why did they have to develop a smaller, uglier, less spacious and more dated model? They could've put this technology in an Astra. Instead they built this ugly pile. Then again they could've also put this technology in a SAAB.[/quote]

Read tha article - the shape comes about after extensive wind tunnel testing to be as aerodynamic as possible + needs to be a saloon type shape to fit all the batteries in. It has been designed as a hybrid not a car adapted to a hybrid which dont work as well. Has to be reasonably small to keep weight down.

This technology cost a fortune to develop thats why it needs to put into a manufacturer that sells a lot of vehicles which isnt saab - no-one buys them. Hence Chevy in the US and Vauxhall over here.

I actually think it looks pretty good as far as hybrids go - far better than the ugly Prius + the Honda Insight.

13 January 2010

Is it that difficult to build an electric car? The trick is not building a car that works, it is getting it to the market at a price the market will pay. We dont know prices, but seriously doubt they can be sold at a remotely sensible price. Take a Prius as an example. It has all the same stuff in it (even if the principal is different) but a much smaller electric motor, and most importantly, a hugely smaller battery pack. And its those batteries that are the real cost. And yet it starts at nearly £20,000. With all those added costs a Volt would need to be nearer £30,000, and that as has been stated is for a car a size smaller on the outside and 2 sizes smaller inside. We know toyota subsidised the Prius at least to start with, but they are a hugely rich company. GM cant subsidise the Volt, as they dont have any money

Add to this that in the UK any large scale take up of 'charge at home' electric cars would put a huge dent the the tax take, and that would have to come from somewhere else, like road charging.

I think it is interesting technology, but for now until batteries get much much cheaper i think this is an answer to a question no one will be able to afford.

13 January 2010

Interesting to finally read a little more technical detail about it. 6000 charge cycles is a significant achievement: Apple make a big noise about their latest laptop battery being good for 1000 charge cycles. At one charge a day, or 40 miles per charge, that translates to a battery life of 16 years or 240,000 miles.

A shame though that it's a strict 4 seater and a size smaller than a Prius - that pretty much rules it out as being of interest to us as our main car, and I suspect it's going to be too expensive for a second car.

13 January 2010

[quote crashbangwallop] It might be capable of 40 miles on its electric motor, as long as you don't want to go uphill or fast. It has no head room and the leg room of a Corsa and the price is to be announced. And your conclusion. should we buy one - yes. Someone normal might come to the conclusion that the answer should have been no. Limited range, no announced price but likely to high, poor passenger space[/quote] I think the range will probably do for most people's daily commutes - the other engine can come into play should you need a longer journey. But it seems a bit daft to only have four seats - not exactly practical. The price will most probably be too expensive for most people, too. However, once the price of the batteries come down, the electric car could well be the way forward. We'll see when Renault introduce their models, along with Peugeot's BB1 and everything else that seems to be 'on the horizon'.

"The creative adult is the child who survived."

13 January 2010

[quote Autocar]Based on the Vauxhall Astra platform, the Volt is a four-seat hatch powered by lithium ion batteries that can be recharged by plugging into the mains, or on the go by a 1.4-litre petrol engine.[/quote]

I'll just say hello all as this is my first post here.

If I understand it properly from the limited first report, it only uses the engine to charge the on-board batteries...so why is it necessary to use a relatively large 1.4L petrol engine only to charge batteries?

Wouldn't a smaller petrol engine be more efficient or even a smaller diesel?

13 January 2010

GM desparately needs the Volt to be a huge success, otherwise it could be curtains for the company. And by the looks of things the car deserves to do well. I hope GM pulls it off.

14 January 2010

A GM spokesperson was quoted last week, "...Chevrolet Volt may cost less than the expected $40,000 price tag..."

Giving them the benefit of the doubt, say $37.5k; which in the normal run of things would translate to a GBP35k OTR price.

Hollywood "green" celebs, and the usual must-have early-adopters only

14 January 2010

[quote ACCobra427]

I'll just say hello all as this is my first post here.

[/quote]Welcome Cobra! Reason for my reply? I was thinking exactly the same thing! Surely the 150cc 7 hp motor out of my Honda mower would do? Anyone know the answer? HyundaiSmoke? TopKat?

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