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As part of their sponsorship of Maker Faire, Chevy offered to loan us a Volt for a week leading up to the Faire. When I heard about this, I jumped at the opportunity to review it. So, here’s the first MAKE car review.

Hybrid

Chevy doesn’t bill the Volt as a hybrid, but rather, an “extended-range electric vehicle” or E-REV. What this means is that you can plug in the car, and 4–8 hours later, you have around 35 miles of range strictly on battery power. This is great range, as most commutes are typically less then 35 miles. The car will charge on 110 or 220 volts. A lot of homes have 220 in the garage for a dryer, or a fuse box nearby where you could bring a 220-volt line over near your car. If this is the case, the charge time cuts in half, and you can go from a completely empty to a full charge in about 3–4 hours. At work, as an example where you might not have the liberty of running a 220-volt line to your parking space, you can charge over 110 with a normal outlet.

Economy

Since the car can be run entirely on the battery, you can get some pretty amazing gas mileage. I started out my week of test driving with normal trips to work (about 15 miles roundtrip), the store, and around town. The first three days of driving, I only used 0.3 gallons of gas. The onboard computer was telling me that I was averaging over 250+ miles per gallon. After three light days, I stretched out with some longer drives, once to the coast to go rock climbing, once for a camping trip with my son, and then down to the Oakland Airport to pick up my brother.

All in all, with the single tank of gas that Chevy provided for testing, I drove over 450 miles in a week, and only used five gallons of gas. Undeniably, 90 miles per gallon is pretty amazing in real-world driving.

Performance

I had no idea what to expect as far as performance goes, and to say that I was surprised would be an understatement. The car sports aggresive style and it doesn’t let you down when you put the pedal to the floor. One caveat here: I think that the Chevy engineers were thinking that the end user would always be thinking about conserving energy, and there are checks in the car to help reinforce that notion. During normal driving, when you plant the pedal, the car gives a slight bit of hesitation, enough for a gut check, and then takes off. Every time, it made me think about what pushing the pedal down was doing. I had the conscience thought about how I wanted to be driving, and how that would impact energy/fuel consumption. At first, this was frustrating, but I grew to like it. That slight hesitation made me a more, dare I say, eco-conscious driver.

Now, you may not always want to be eco-conscious. Sometimes you want to drive fast. Sometimes you want to lean your neck into the headrest and lay down some rubber on the road. Is the Volt the car for you? Well, perhaps. The Volt offers a sport mode, which removes any hesitation from that powerful electric engine and releases all of the electric power that the car can offer. While maybe not neck-snapping, it’s certainly quick. What surprised me the most while driving was how smooth acceleration was. This could be due to the single planetary gearset that the car has. In no time flat, you can be doing 70, all in the same gear, and just as smooth as can be.

One other quick note regarding performance: to turn the traction control off, you press a button that is on the ceiling. Every time I did, I felt like Han Solo making the jump into hyperdrive.

We’re losing a deflector shield. Go strap yourselves in. I’m going to make the jump to light speed.

Looks

My boy playing with stickers in the back seat of the Chevy Volt.

As for looks, I think this car wins in the hybrid/electric wars. It’s not a Tesla, but not trying to be one either. It looks similar to the Chevrolet Cruze, and for a four-door sedan, sits pretty nicely in any driveway. The loaner that I got was “Silver Ice” and had a great black leather interior. The instrument cluster was all digital, and in addition to speed/distance readings has options to bring in GPS directions, tire pressure readings, and a tutorial for how to use the car. One highlight for me was a gauge that measured acceleration and deceleration. As I mentioned above, everything is built to maximize efficiency, so keeping everything as smooth as possible was important.

The center console has a great, big display that toggles between satellite navigation, music options, efficiency screens, and a little favorite, the current weather. In addition to an AM/FM/CD player, the car has XM radio, an auxiliary port and a USB port where an iPod/iPhone can be plugged in. You can browse your albums, artists, and playlists all from the built-in console. This worked great with both my iPhone and my iPod Nano. If I owned this car long-term, I could see plugging in an old iPod and just leaving it in the center console. The dash can also play DVDs while parked and media from a HD.

The car has seating for four. Rather then having three in the backseat, the batteries are in the place of the middle seat, so sliding across the seat isn’t possible, but there is a nice area with a cupholder and 12-volt hookups. The backseat is actually split, so if you’re loaded up in the trunk, you can spread longer items, like camping chairs, through when more room is needed.

My only complaint is the lack of a wiper on the back window. I know that not all cars have a back wiper, but this car, with the large sloping back window, got really dirty after being rained on in a sandy campground, and was almost impossible to see out of when driving home.

Cost

So, is it worth it? The car retails at $31,645, but that’s after $7500 in tax rebates. A well-specced Impala is $30,300, and about $5000 less for a Camaro, but neither car can go 35 miles without gas, or average over 90 mpg when running around town. If you have the money, and gas mileage is important, then this car could be worth it for you. For some, the cost of gas that is recovered makes all the difference.

For me, this car would be a serious contender in my book of new cars. The combination of smart looks, great economy, and plenty of sport under the hood makes it a standout. At Maker Faire this year, Chevy will be in the south lot doing test rides, and I urge everyone to check it out. It’s a great car, and I recommend it.

Jake Spurlock

Web Developer at MAKE. I’m an Engineer. That means I solve problems.

Also, a geek, designer, HTML/CSS/PHP lover. Taker of photos, and sometimes skiing and biking…


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Comments

  1. As a Volt owner myself, they’re awesome cars! I’m getting 400MPG so far, and I haven’t seen a gas station since I bought the car!

  2. Interesting. Does this support extend to the one landing here in September? Oh and are you aware that Han did like to tinker and the Falcon will make Point Five factors past Lightspeed?

  3. rocketguy1701 says:

    I test drove one last year, and it must have been in sport mode because I didn’t note any hesitation at all, which is what sold me on the car(vs a Prius which hesitates no matter what you do). As soon as I figure out a way to get a charger in front of my house, we’re getting one.

  4. Dave Z. says:

    What does MPG really mean for a car that plugs in to the electrical grid?

    90 mpg (or 400 mpg) is awesome – is that taking into consideration just gasoline usage or also the electricity from the charger?

    1. David says:

      They have a formula for converting energy used by electric (and hybrid) vehicles to an equivalent amount of petrol. I don’t know the details, but I assume it factors the typical energy content of petrol and works backwards. Probably as hybrid car become more common you’ll start seeing vehicle energy efficiency expressed both as mpg and kWhr/mile (or perhaps miles/kWhr, depending on what looks better :)

      1. pkio3 says:

        The EPA estimates that the Volt gets the equivalent of 93 miles per gal when in all electric mode. That’s taking the energy used to go a mile and a dividing by the estimated energy in a gallon of gas. I’ve been driving my Volt around Houston for 7 months now. Averaging 43 miles per charge. I’m using about 26KwH/100 miles. This is roughly the equivalent energy usage of driving a conventional gas burner that gets ~120Mpg. I drive mostly all electric and have gone 5400 miles on 5.2 gallons of gas. I’m still working on the original tank of gas that it came with. Luv my car.

        1. Barks says:

          Don’t forget that modern gasoline goes ‘off’ rather quickly.

          1. takato says:

            fuel stabilizer ought to solve that problem for at least 6 months

        2. redfive1976 says:

          I think you’d better check for typos, pkio3. 5400 miles on 5.2 gallons => over 1000 miles per gallon! Did you perhaps mean 540 miles? That results in a much more reasonable 104mpg.

  5. tspnews says:

    Forget GM. No matter what they come up with now they still spent a decade jamming Hummers down the throat of the country only to bankrupt themselves and get bailed out by the citizens. If they weren’t such a greedy careless company I could respect this car more. Just because someone says they are sorry and gives you a toy doesn’t mean they didn’t spend yesterday kicking you in the nuts.

    1. clipless03 says:

      Did GM force anybody to buy Hummers? Or did people buy them of their own free will?

      1. tspnews says:

        Force? Not the right word. Coerce? Closer to the word. What do you call paying millions to lobby the government to give tax credits to people buying high profit margin gas gusslers and take credits away from low margin hybrids? Lifting gas guzzler taxes from “utility” vehicals? People can be led to poorer choices then they would normally make when money is involved.

        1. glenn says:

          I agree with most of what you say but the fact is the car company’s needed loans and the banks weren’t offering so the only option was the government. There paying the loans back with interest, would you have rather seen them go straight up bankrupt and let 10 million in car company and related jobs just go poof.

          1. tspnews says:

            I don’t think the losses would have been that bad. Kept in mind that other companies … Ford for example survived without bailout funds. Which isnt to say they didnt mess up as well but as with evolution so goes free market. Ford would have picked up a good chunk of the customer base. Yes there may have been permanent loss to other countries but conversations of globalization are well beyond a forum post.
            I just don’t want people to forget what really happened. Even if it means titling this article “the car us citizens made happen” or “company that screwed us over is at least trying” . Perhaps a side not about if they hadnnt destroyed the electric fleet 10years ago this car would probably ccost $20k this year not $39k

            Also keep in mind. They may be paying the bailout back but a $7500 rebate is code for a subsidy. Which we will never be repaid.that’s $7500 less to spend on teachers because GM still cantmake an affordable car so we have to pitch in.

            One indirect aspect though is the US population is sponsoring the maker fair. Money from taxes bails out GM. GM sponsors maker fair. :-) … So thats nice

  6. timmay says:

    Plug it in at work? If your boss is stupid enough to let you do that you won’t have a job long. In which case you won’t need a car.

    1. Why would your boss be stupid to let you plug your car in? Assuming your boss is a reasonable person, it would cost at the most a dollar or so worth of electricity. About the same as powering a TV, or anything else. The AC in the building is costing more then your car would…

    2. allan says:

      Especially if i use the car for company drives he really, really would be stupid. Why let me charge when he just could pay the petrol… yeah, right… stupid.

  7. Of interest to those of you here in Canada or the Northern States, EV range does drop significantly with temperature. Now that we’re up above 20C (68F) I’m sitting at around 75km (46 miles) on a full, single charge.

    When the temperature was around 4C (39F) I could just make my 50km (31 miles) commute in EV-only mode; if the temperature was below that the gas range extension would kick in for the final leg.

    At temperatures below -4C (24.8F) the generator does a warm-up run periodically; at -8C (17.6F) it’s often enough I can do the 50km commute without the battery draining completely.

    Barring change of plans, I’m hoping to make a road-trip out of my travels down to NYC for OH Summit and MF in September. :-)

    1. That’d be great to see you in New York!

  8. This will be me next vehicle purchase unless Toyota comes out with a decent looking electric car before then.

  9. xenophod says:

    How long will the battery bank last? 3 to 5 years? How expensive will it be to replace the battery bank? What kind of tune ups will the electric engine require and the costs associated with them be? I’m all for an electric car, but at $33K USD, and only a 35 mile range (My average commute is 46 miles, one way, at the least) and a multitude of unknown future costs for maintenance, I’ll be waiting….

    1. Dunno what the Li-Ion pack lifetime will be like, but the warranty is for 8yrs/160K km here in Canada. We just had the NiMH pack in our ’03 Honda Civic Hybrid replaced after nine years and 176K km (109K miles) for just the cost of labour (~$200), so other manufacturers are setting the lifetime service bar high.

  10. [...] response to My Week with the Chevy Volt, pkio3 says: The EPA estimates that the Volt gets the equivalent of 93 miles per gal when in all [...]

  11. tille says:

    Do the shown mpg numbers include the efficiency of the power plants and the grid (and the efficiency of the battery)? probably not.
    That’s the question: does the electric car really need less energy than a fuel powered car when you consider the energy spent to get the electric energy that the car is charged with?
    Let’s say we use pretty good efficiencys: a modern coal power plant can reach about 60% efficiency, grid efficiency is about 85% and a good battery has about 90% efficiency. So 0.6*0.85*0.9=0.46 or 46% efficiency, which makes the electric drive only slightly more efficient than a good diesel engine, making the electric drive not much of an environmental improvement over fuel powered cars (especially not when considering that expensive raw materials are needed for battery and electric drive)
    If renewable energy is used for charging the battery, that’s a different story though…

    1. Jeff Jukes says:

      I have to agree with you, the headlines talk about the huge mpg you get from an electric car and forget that you had to burn a fuel somewhere to make the electricity to charge the battery! If you include that into the calculation the fuel economy is no better than for a conventional car it is worse because of the weight of the battery and electric motor. I also have problem over the batteries and how much energy is used to produce them. Don’t get me wrong, I love the electric car but it is not going to save the planet as long as the electricity it uses is generated from fossil fuels.

      1. Roddy says:

        Oh yeah way better to use oil from another country and dfactor that into the equation than to use electric from our natural gas or even coal. Geez. Lets see, drill for it halfway across the planet, ship it back here, refine it, then truck it to a gas station, or ….

  12. Tetrazene says:

    Great article.

    I’ll admit I read up until “frustarting” and then spent the time between that sentence and this comment imagining Imogen Heap prancing about with blueberry pie shoes.

    1. Mmmmmm….. Blueberry pie shoes.

  13. Drone says:

    What about the total carbon footprint of this car given it must be fueled by the carbon heavy electrical grid when on batteries? What about an analysis of the total carbon footprint vs. typical usage over its lifetime. What about how the rebate essentially re-distributes taxpayer wealth from those that cannot afford this car to those (one percenters)? What about an analysis of how sustainable the batteries are in terms of replacement cost and use of exotic materials? What about an analysis of how much taxpayer money in terms of government subsidies added to the cost of the development of this car? Surely there must be one or more link to a responsible analysis of this car that addresses one or more of these questions! Where are these links Make Editors?

    1. Good question Drone. My review of the car was based on facts that I would find interesting as a car buyer. How the car handled, the interior/design, and some basic economy. If you had some facts/figures, I’d be happy to post them.

      1. Cyrus says:

        Hi Jake,
        Can you comment on how much the 4 – 8 hours of charging costs to achieve 35 miles gas free? A smart meter would provide valuable data for this case. Also, if you charge, say every night would this be likely to bump you into a new electricity energy tier?

        It would be nice to have an account of electricity bill vs gas fill up tradeoff.

        1. Roddy says:

          There are 33.7 kwh of energy in a gallon of gas, so it is easy to calculate mpg. The car does this calculation for you for both gas and electric consumption.

  14. AMalepoet says:

    About the boss letting you plug in. Most of us have very little experience with bosses offering anything to us. Most of us are impressed on occasions when we can park close enough at work to see the employee enterance door clearly.

    To those with carbon questions my thoughts immediately go to ask you what color bike you chain to the wall at work. Such meaningless questions beg others to point the spot light on the asker of such questions. Stones and glass houses don’t you know. To date so few brands of computer, smart phone or tablet are even moderately enviromentally sound to not ask you more about your own choice of life style. Perfection in choices are hard we can only do what we can with what we have to work with.

  15. loveice but needmore says:

    stop rationally making excuses for the fear that surrounds you. if i could afford it i would buy one and take what i can from the experience.can you say tech puss. grab the chance to be more than a robot monkey to idiots that rule you without your own knowledge.

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