This week, in an uncommon move, General Motors invited members of the media to tag along to a major dealer event, the GM Fleet Product Preview. As the name suggests, it’s a sampler of the manufacturer’s 2012 fleet. Many vehicles on hand were early versions not yet blessed for final production, and the journos had to promise not to share our impressions of them. Fortunately, that embargo didn’t include our impressions of the much-anticipated Chevrolet Volt.
An evolution in hybrid technology several years in the making, the Volt could finally take the electric vehicle from grandpa’s golf course novelty or lotto winner’s plaything to mass-produced daily utility. Meaning?
It’s gasoline-powered only if you’re out of electricity.
Current ‘parallel’ hybrids switch to the gas engine once you accelerate beyond low speeds. They continually switch back and forth. Hence the parallel. The Volt is a series hybrid, exclusively using the electric engine first. That matters, because now you can be a heavy-footed environmentalist.
Depending on how and where you drive, the Volt covers between 40 and 80 km on a fully charged battery. If you commute 35 clicks to the office driving like a gentleman (or 20 driving like a jerk) then recharge it every night, you could conceivably commute to work for the entire life of the car without once gassing up.
If you want to drive more than 80 km?
Unlike purely electric cars, the Volt doesn’t stop dead once the charge is depleted. At this point, the gas engine burns to “allow the car to be driven an additional 344 miles on a full tank (9.3 gallons) of gas.” That’s a quote from GM USA – I drove it only about 5 km.
What’s also interesting is that the gasoline is actually powering a generator to recharge the battery. Clever idea, considering how much cheaper electricity is by volume.
Driving the Volt was a shock, so to speak.
Volts in assorted colours were on hand to test. At first we weren’t allowed to take any off a small course GM had set up because most of the vehicles, so new, weren’t yet licensed. That was OK with me because the course, though smaller than most go cart go-kart tracks, was blessed with some quite tight curves. You wouldn’t want to push it hard because there were dozens of GM 2012s all around, not to mention people, protected by nothing but orange pylons.
Hmm, what if I pushed it just a little?
The tires clung in the bends despite the soaking conditions of a summer gale. I had completed the circuit four times when one of GM’s officials asked if I’d like to take the sole licensed Volt out on the real roads.
But of course!
The Volt has 3 driving modes including sport, which delivers more power to the pedal. Despite plenty of headroom (56.6″ ground to roof) you’re close enough to the ground that you can really enjoy the sensation of almost silent acceleration, à la Han Solo. Acceleration, you wonder, in a hybrid? It’s an impressive 0 – 90 km/h in less than 9 seconds. Without wasting a drop of gas!
Bottom line: It’s about time that someone made being virtuous, fun.
2012 Chevrolet Volt
Starts at: $41,545
As driven: $47,015
Note: There is an $8,230 rebate in Ontario and $7,769 rebate in Quebec.
More info available at GM Canada’s Volt microsite.
Image courtesy of Steven Bochenek.