I was impressed with the Chevrolet Volt after a recent drive from Cambridge to Milton Keynes in GM’s new range-extended electric vehicle. I say ‘drive’, but it was more of a game of ‘how many miles can you tease out of the battery?’.
Chevrolet claims anywhere between 25-50 miles is possible on electric power alone if you’re starting with a fully charged lithium-ion battery pack.
Our trip followed a 91-mile route on varied roads and included a quick stop for a cuppa and a driver swap. At the start of our journey we made serene, quiet progress using just the Volt’s electric power. To begin with, I tried to drive steadily. The gauge indicating the remaining battery charge decreased encouragingly slowly, with our consumption of power partly offset by the charge recovered by Chevy’s regenerative braking system.
After a few miles, however, I was curious about how rapidly the battery would drain if I drove more aggressively, plus it was great fun to boot the Volt’s accelerator and feel that satisfying surge of instant torque. No prizes for guessing that this kind of behaviour reduces battery life by a fair lick.
We ‘ran out’ of battery charge after 35 miles, at which point the range-extender 1.4-litre petrol engine kicked in to generate more electrical juice. I expected a large ‘boing’ or some kind of klaxon to indicate the activation of the engine. All that happens is that the dashboard graphic changes to indicate the switch to internal combustion engine, and there’s a little bit more noise.
When we reached our pit-stop, the Volt’s Driving Efficiency Gauge – the big screen in the centre of the dash – gave us some interesting information about our journey so far:
What this indicated is that having expended the battery’s charge after 35.5 miles, we drove the next 20.6 miles of the first leg using the 1.4-litre engine as a generator to create power for the electric drivetrain. In that 20.6-mile stretch using the generator we guzzled 0.58 of a gallon of petrol. Overall, our part-electric, part-petrol journey returned consumption of 99.4mpg.
Although we recharged our own batteries with a cup of tea, we didn’t have the opportunity to replenish the Volt’s power pack, so for the second portion of our trip we had to rely solely on the range-extender.
When we arrived at our destination in Milton Keynes, the Driving Efficiency Gauge summarised our whole journey thus:
You can read more about the dynamic and practical qualities of the Volt by checking out our road test team’s full appraisal of the Vauxhall-badged version, the Ampera.
I enjoyed the intelligent compromise offered by the blend of electric propulsion but occasional petrol power generation as a safety net. I tried to think of reasons why a vehicle such as the Volt wouldn’t make sense for my lifestyle. After all, I live close to London and my commute involves a distance I could easily cover under battery power alone.
The two deal-breakers would be the electric charging infrastructure – I live in a first-floor flat and park on a residential street that has no battery charging capabilities – and the price.
Of course, the latter is going to be the foremost practical consideration for anyone considering an electric vehicle, hybrid or range extender of any make or model. I’d expect some potential buyers would find it hard to justify a purchase such as the Chevrolet Volt when they’ll only get a fiver’s change from £30k.
Hopefully rapid battery and EV technology advances will help manufacturers produce clever, forward-thinking cars like the Volt for less in the near future.