Living with the Chevy Volt: 1,000 miles, 11 gallons and a lot of fun
This is my Volt, picked up two weeks ago as one of the first available in my area. For 2012, Chevy made available the color "Summit White," also known as just plain old white. Since the Volt has lots of thick black accents, I went with the white thinking NASA, Space Shuttle and Saturn V. As it turns out, everyone who has seen the car has immediately mentioned Star Wars and Stormtroopers. That works, too. For the interior, I reversed the scheme of the outside, picking the bright white accents on black leather (a new combo for 2012). It's not exactly the most subtle car in the world, but I like it.
I traded in my much-beloved 2004 Toyota Prius for this latest bit of automotive kit, which I know is bound to raise some voices in protest. After all, the Prius had brought me more than 100,000 miles of 50+ mpg, worry-free driving, so trading it away doesn't represent a big (if any) net gain for the environment. However, it's not as if my Prius is about to become a paperweight. Someone else will take over driving that car, while I take advantage of the temporary government kickback to do just what such incentives are intended to do: support bringing new technology to the marketplace. According to GM, more than 10 percent of new Volt owners have traded in an existing hybrid, which is pretty much what you would expect. Few people currently driving Hummers are likely to think of the Volt as their obvious next purchase.
In my first 1,008 miles in the Volt, just over 600 have come via electricity. My daily commute is about 30 miles in each direction, and there's currently not one single charging station available to the public in downtown St. Louis. So, I haul myself to work on electrons each day, and come home with a lot of the miles being generated the old-fashioned way, burning something less than one gallon of premium gas in the process. I've had to fill the tank once since purchase.
Having lived with the Prius for seven years and given that puttering around a parking lot in the Prius was an all-electric affair, I thought I understood what it would be like to drive an EV. I was wrong. Not only does the Volt keep on zipping along silently right up to 70 miles per hour and beyond, the feeling between the pedal and the power is different than in the Prius. It seems much more direct, less mediated. It seems digital. Driving the Volt sometimes seems less like you're being propelled by something under the hood, and more like you're being pulled along by an unseen rope. Chevy may go on and on about how this car is so similar to any other, the truth is it's not. It's strange... and cool. Prius-switchers will also find that the car is a lot snappier off the line, and much more flingable in curves. It's a heavy car, but the low center of gravity keeps it planted.
Even when the internal combustion power kicks in, it's not what you'd expect. The engine's efforts to keep the battery charge level from dropping too steeply are often disconnected from what you're doing with your foot. It revs, slows, or stops with little regard to your input. As far as the car's behavior goes, it doesn't seem to act one whit differently when gas is being burned, but the audio cues from the engine can seem odd.
So far, performance seems to fall solidly within GM's predictions. I consistently get between 35 and 41 miles out of a charge. Warmer weather certainly helps, with the higher values coming on days where the temperature was around 70 and the shortest range falling on a rainy day in the low 40s. Driving along the highway at 70+ mph doesn't strain the car's ability to keep up, but it does drain the battery more quickly than moving on side roads at slower speed. Somewhere around 50 mph seems to be optimal. On those miles where the gas engine was running, I've seen right around 35 mpg. So far, I've burned right at 11 gallons, giving the car a lifetime mpge of 91 (which includes the electricity used). I hope to get it back above 100 mpge, even if no one builds me a charge point at the far end of my daily commute.
I'll be living with this Volt for years to come, so expect some updates on how it's aging, how I'm adapting, and hopefully how the Midwestern infrastructure is becoming more EV-friendly.
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