Tuesday, May 15, 2012

2012 Chevrolet Volt test drive review. Today's car of the future

Do you ever look back at all the wild concept cars of the 1950s and ‘60s and imagine what it would be like to relive that excitement? The beautiful shapes and outrageous ideas often predicted a future that never came.

For example, in 1958, Ford offered the Nucleon Concept—a car that was supposed to be powered by a nuclear reactor. In 1953, General Motors offered Harley Earl’s radically styled Firebird I Concept, which looked like a jet airplane and ran off of a turbine engine. Chrysler really took the turbine thing to new levels with the 1963 Turbine Cars, which could run on tequila, among other things.

But none of these ideas really ever made it into the main stream. They were cool and all, but nothing has been able to replace cheap, plentiful, predictable gasoline as the fuel of choice on America’s highways.

Still, the more things change, the more things stay the same. In 2007, I was personally in the crowd of automotive media professionals when Bob Lutz presented the Chevrolet Volt concept car to the world. There was a lot of buzz about this sleek electric concept car that had lithium batteries that could be charged by an on-board gasoline engine.

Honestly, that’s all I really thought it was—buzz. Everything from Hydrogen to Ethanol was being knocked around at that time, and I just sort of figured it was another “amazing car of the future” story.

Obviously, history has proved my prediction incorrect, and today we have the revolutionary Chevrolet Volt production vehicle silently going about its business. I had the distinct opportunity to drive one of these cars for an entire week, and I have to admit, it was a lot more fun than I expected.

The Volt really is different than the gas/electric hybrids that we’ve become used to over the past few years. Normally, an electric motor in a hybrid powers the car at lower speeds and keeps things like the air conditioning running at stoplights. The gasoline engine only kicks in at certain higher speeds, or when the driver blasts off the line. That’s why a normal hybrid generally shows better gas mileage numbers for the city than the highway—the opposite of a gasoline-powered vehicle.

In the Volt, the gasoline engine never actually runs the car at all. In fact, if you take short commutes (about 30-miles) and plug your Volt into the wall outlet every night to recharge it, you could conceivably never use a drop of gasoline again. The car itself runs completely, 100-percent on electricity.

Where the 1.4-liter, four-cylinder gas engine in the Volt comes into play is when the battery runs out of juice. Then it will kick in to regenerate power in the battery. With all this going on, you theoretically should be able to travel 300-plus miles with the help of the gasoline engine.

The actual fuel economy of the Volt really depends on how you use it. If you just use the gasoline-generated power, you can get as much as 37-MPG. That’s not bad. But plug it in, run off the electricity, and kick over to the gasoline for half your trip, and you’ll be looking at 60-MPG. That’s even better. Or, charge it up and take it on a short trip where you’ll just use electricity, and you’re looking at 94-MPGe. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

Are those numbers totally realistic? Well, it wouldn’t be for me. Of course, the advertised 51-MPG in a Prius would be beyond my abilities as well. Like everything else, this is based on a number of factors, not the least of which is how daintily you handle the accelerator pedal.

One thing that continues to haunt the Volt is the price tag. My Silver Ice Metallic test vehicle clocked-in at $43,880. That’s almost double the cost of a Chevrolet Cruze Eco, the basic car on which the Volt is based. Of course, I've read stories about people paying double the price of a new Prius in California for used examples, just because they had carpool lane stickers that were no longer being made available by the state government. Never underestimate what people will pay for things like this.

Plus, your neighbor will pay for part of that for you. The Volt gets a government tax credit of $7,500 right off the top. And there may be other places to get a little more money back if you pay attention. For example, my wife’s office will give her an additional $5,000 if she buys one.

I’ll tell you one thing for sure about the Chevy Volt—for an environmental geek-mobile, it is darn good looking. I know it took a lot of flak for not being as radical as the concept, but honestly, how could it be? The large wheels fill out the wheel wells just right at the corners, the stance is very aggressive, and it is loaded with interesting details. It might be the same basic shape as an Insight or a Prius, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s no comparison in the way they come across. The Volt is leaps and bounds more attractive.

The Volt really hasn’t been a hot seller lately, which is somewhat of a surprise when you see the reaction it gets. I’ve never had a car that so many people show so much interest in. Neighbors, family members, co-workers, and strangers were all over the Volt everywhere I went. If you have one of these cars, you had better know how it works and what all the displays are doing, because you are going to be answering a bunch of questions.

And one thing I discovered is that people don’t really seem to understand it. They either think it’s a hybrid that works like the Prius, or they think it’s an electric-only vehicle. This car got a monstrous amount of press and attention, especially early in its production run, but somehow, people still don’t get what it is. Think of it as an electric car that has a gasoline back-up so you never have to worry about range anxiety. A guy delivered this one to me from Dallas. If you tried to do that in an all-electric Nissan Leaf, it would be an epic adventure equivalent to driving a Stanley Steamer in the Glidden Tour once you stopped to charge it up every 70 miles or so.

My experience with the Volt was fun, educational, and eye-opening. This truly is a car of the future whose time has come. It really is like a radical ‘50s dream car concept, but unlike most of the stillborn ideas of the past, this one actually made it. It’s no wonder this car keeps winning awards like the 2011 Motor Trend Car of the Year, the 2011 Automobile Magazine Automobile of the Year, and the 2011 North American Car of the Year. It doesn’t just predict the future. The future is now.

1 comment:

  1. The volt of this car is really nice and reliable compared to the previous version of it. I hope that when I already have the guts to buy my new chevy, I could find a great new york chevrolet dealers that could recommend me a nice car.