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Chevrolet Volt – Beating Spirit Review

The 235mpg Chevrolet Volt is an Extended-Range Electric Vehicle, meaning that it’s an electric vehicle at all times, but its petrol range-extender generator means there’s none of the range anxiety of a pure EV.

Chevrolet Volt review

Basic Specifications of Chevrolet Volt

Model/Engine size: Volt with Nav

Fuel: Extended-Range Electric Vehicle

Fuel economy combined: 235.4mpg

Beating Spirit rating: 10/10

We’ve driven the Vauxhall Ampera extensively, but we’ve never done an official review of the Chevrolet Volt, which is essentially the same car as the Ampera, but with a different badge. So we thought it was time to reacquaint ourselves with the car, this time with a Chevrolet badge.

The Chevrolet Volt is an extended-range electric vehicle

The Chevrolet Volt is often referred to as a hybrid, but this isn’t technically correct. A hybrid, such as a Toyota Prius, is primarily a petrol-engined car (or a diesel-engined car in the case of a diesel-electric hybrid), with an additional small battery and electric motor. The Chevrolet Volt is instead an Extended-Range Electric Vehicle, which means that it is an electric car at all times, with assistance from a petrol engine when the battery becomes depleted. Although the petrol engine is a 1.4-litre unit from a Vauxhall Astra, it doesn’t power the wheels (or the battery); it’s used as a generator to provide energy to the electric motor.

The idea is that you plug the Volt into your electricity supply overnight (preferably using a dedicated charger, which the UK government now pays 75% towards) and recharge the battery. You then have an official range of up to 50 miles on the battery, without needing any petrol. If you used all the energy stored in the battery, then the car would swap to its petrol generator.

Both technologies combine to offer a total range of over 300 miles. If you want to drive further then you just fill up with petrol, assuming you don’t have time for a 4 hour recharge of the battery. For most people this makes it a much more useful car than a pure EV with a finite range, such as a Nissan LEAF.

You can also select a mode called ‘Hold’. This makes the car run on its petrol generator rather than staying in its electric default mode . It’s best to do this if you’re driving down the motorway into an urban area, as it would make sense to use the zero emission capability when you arrived in the city rather than on the motorway.

The battery sits in a ‘T-shape’ under the rear seats and up the centre of the car, where the transmission tunnel would normally be found. This results in the Volt being a strict four-seater. Another slightly unusual feature is the luggage compartment cover, which is nothing more than a flimsy piece of material stretched over the top of the boot.

Chevrolet Volt road test Chevrolet Volt

Driving the Chevrolet Volt

The Chevrolet Volt is a quiet, refined and comfortable car to drive. This is the case whether it’s using its battery or its petrol engine for propulsion (although you can hear the petrol generator revving away at times). Because it’s an electric car, it has 100% torque at any speed (with a maximum of 370 Nm) , so acceleration is strong and linear. There’s even a Sport button which gives you improved responses.

There are no gears or clutch , and this makes it easy to drive in cities, which is further helped by its light steering. The steering doesn’t have much feel, and the brake pedal takes a bit of getting used to compared to a more conventional car.

In situations such as when negotiating long sweeping motorway slip roads, the Volt handles well, remaining flat and stable, helped by its battery contributing to a low centre of gravity. The battery does contribute to a fairly hefty kerb weight of 1732 Kg.

There’s one thing that spoils the driving experience of the Volt and that’s the dashboard’s centre console. This is a tall plastic section of the interior which features a mass of buttons that all look the same and which don’t appear to be grouped in any logical arrangement. To make matters worse, they’re not conventional switches which click or which give you some other acknowledgement when you push them, instead the entire panel is comprised of touch-sensitive buttons. The trouble is, you never seem to quite get used to the right amount of pressure required to activate the buttons. The designers of the Volt dashboard should study the interior of a BMW 3 Series to learn how to put together the perfect driver’s interior environment from an ergonomics point of view, and they should learn about choice of materials from Audi.

The gear selector could also benefit from markings on the top to show you what gear you’re in (it does show you next to the lever and on the dash, but the top of the lever is a more intuitive place). Our winter test also showed that the heating takes a long time to warm up.

Chevrolet Volt Economy and Emissions   Chevrolet Volt plug-in car grant

Chevrolet Volt Economy and Emissions

The Chevrolet Volt has an official combined fuel economy of 235.4mpg. This equates to emissions of just 27g/km CO2. Will you enjoy 235.4mpg in real life? It depends on your driving pattern, but it’s probably impossible for most people. The figure of 235.4mpg is based on the NEDC test, which involves a low-load drive over a short distance. If your driving replicates the test (very unlikely), then you may see more than 200mpg. It is in fact possible to achieve 200mpg, but only if the car is fully charged every night, and less than than 50 miles are driven per day. Of course, the car can drive much further than 50 miles thanks to its petrol generator, but based on our experiences with the Volt and the Ampera, you would average around 46mpg if you used the petrol engine regularly. Therefore if you’re covering lots of motorway miles, you’d be better off buying an efficient diesel.

One issue that we found with the Volt was that when we came to it every morning after a full recharge it displayed a range of just 25 miles on the battery, and this prediction also seemed to be the case in actual driving. On the Ampera launch we achieved a range of 50 miles on the battery in real-life driving, so the range of our Volt seemed to have dropped from its official figure. The cold weather is likely to have been a factor in this.

During our week with the Volt we undertook a variety of journeys, ranging from the school run, where we averaged over 200mpg, to long motorway trips, where we averaged 46mpg. However a typical journey was one from Altrincham to the centre of Manchester and back, a 37.7 mile trip which returned 92.4mpg. This should have achieved over 200mpg if the battery was achieving a 50 mile rather than a 25 mile range.

You’ll see from the photograph of the ‘Energy Info’ screen that the lifetime fuel economy of this car is 45.2mpg. This probably reflects the fact that this car has been driven to journalists all over the UK on its petrol engine and so is likely to be untypical of most people’s use of the car.

Chevrolet Volt charger Chevrolet Volt dashboard

Price, Equipment and Model Range

The Chevrolet Volt costs from £29,995, after the £5,000 reduction for the government’s Plug-in Car Grant. Our test car cost £31,740 (it included a £1,745 satnav system). This is obviously expensive for a four-seater hatchback – albeit one that is packed with a very high-tech powertrain. This is the issue: to regularly achieve over 200mpg, together with its low emissions – which is why you would probably buy the car in the first place – you would need to cover less than 50 miles on most days. So this means that you’re paying a lot of money for a car that won’t cover many miles. This means a relatively long payback time.

Alternatively, if you do cover high mileages in the Volt, then you’ll probably be frequently using the petrol engine, and achieving mid-40’s mpg. There’s no point spending £30,000 on a car that is designed to achieve over 200mpg when you’re using it in a way that doesn’t achieve 50mpg.

Chevrolet Volt  luggage space Chevrolet Volt energy info screen

Beating Spirit Summary

Despite its flaws – the dashboard and the price being chief amongst them – the Chevrolet Volt is ideal for people who drive around 10-15 miles into London and then 10-15 miles back during the week, but who also occasionally need to do longer journeys. For such use, there’s a good chance that the Volt will run on electric-only power during the week, so saving money on petrol. However if you do need to drive beyond its electric-only range, then you can still do this thanks to the petrol generator. For this sort of usage, you’ll benefit from exemption from the Congestion Charge, and have the satisfaction of knowing that you’re helping to prevent air pollution in urban areas by driving a zero-emission vehicle. By saving on the Congestion Charge, the lifetime cost of the Volt starts to look more attractive. A 99g/km CO2 diesel may be exempt from the Congestion Charge now, but it won’t be for much longer, whereas the 27g/km Volt will be – even if you drive in London using its petrol generator.

So the Chevrolet Volt is ideal for motorists with certain driving habits. If you fit this bill then the Volt may make sense for you. Sales of the Volt (and Ampera) in the UK to date suggest that not that many people believe that it makes financial sense for them. However for filling this niche, offering the potential for super low emissions combined with very high economy, and bringing such innovative technology to market, the Chevrolet Volt deserves a Beating Spirit rating of 10 out of 10.

Car Facts and Figures – Chevrolet Volt data

Chevrolet Volt data

Fuel economy extra urban: 217.6 mpg

Fuel economy urban: 313.9 mpg

Test economy: 54.5 mpg

CO2 emissions: 27 g/km

Green rating: VED band A – £0 a year

Weight: 1732 Kg

Company car tax liability (2012/13): 5%

Price: £31,740 (after the £5000 Plug-in Car Grant)

Insurance group: 22E

Power: 151 PS equivalent

Max speed: 99 mph

0-60mph: 9 seconds

Paul Clarke

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