Let's face it, driving a Chevy Volt
brings one a lot of attention from those that recognize the car—along with commonly asked questions, "What's the mileage?" and "How does it drive?" One thing I've learned since being able to sample driving in plug-in vehicles such as the Prius Plug-In Hybrid
and now the Volt is that the numbers one can achieve in terms of miles per gallon are basically meaningless. Simply dividing the number of miles driven by gallons of gasoline used can vary greatly based on one's driving needs and, most importantly, the opportunity and time available to plug-in and charge the battery, which supplements "hybrid style" battery/engine efficiencies once that reserve is used up.
As for how the Volt drives, it is much like an internal combustion engine car in terms of handling and negotiating hills, but with great low-end torque pickup thanks to the characteristics of its electric motor propulsion (the gas engine charges the battery and "drives" the car as needed via an electric generator without a direct mechanical link).
But impressions of the Volt and its technology begin even before it is driven. When I drove the car home I wanted to start my time with a full tank and charge. I previously noted my troubles with the 110V chargers that came with the Prius Plug-in (above) and the all-electric Nissan Leaf
in falling out of the outlet in my decades-old detached garage. The Volt came with a similar unit for overnight charge ups in 10 hours or less (a Volt owner would likely opt to install the 220V charging station to cut that time by more than half). But where the Prius and Leaf chargers came in a bag, the Volt unit snaps neatly into a compartment below the trunk floor (the only problem would be getting it out if the one piece floor is loaded with cargo).
The charger itself has its power electronics not in a rectangular brick, a la the Prius and Leaf, but a rounded shape having a handy handle for carrying, with a molded lip that allows for wrapping the charging cord around, resulting in a non-tangling, compact package. Chevy also supplies a wall mounting plate that easily attaches with screws which the power pack simply snaps into—avoiding the weight of the pack pulling the cord from the socket. At the standard charging plug on the other end, the release lever that allows pushing the plug into the Volt's charging port also turns on an LED flashlight at the tip for better visibility when charging in the dark.
Upon plugging the charger into the garage outlet, the charging electronics ran through a fault-detection routine (and it also has a half-charge rate option), and informed me that charging could not be done because my outlet had a ground fault! Neither the Prius or Leaf chargers detected this and allowed charging. After a wiring attempt to ground the outlet, the result was still not good enough to allow charging—so some car position swapping permitted being able to charge from an adequately grounded outlet on our rear deck.
Volt charging can also be programmed to take advantage of any off-peak electric rate price differentials to save charging costs (Chevy says the electric use is roughly the equivalent of $1.50/gallon gasoline). Programming also allows pre-cooling the car while on the charger to reduce onboard power demands. Thus it is important to read the owners manual! (And there are features such as local weather reports that I found, as well as an "on screen" tutorial programmed into the car's displays.)
When starting the Volt by pushing a glowing blue button, the car comes to life with a whooshing sound
like something from Star Wars. I set the center console display to show the energy flow between the battery, electric motor, gas engine, and regenerative brakes. The driver's cluster display shows electric capacity left in battery-only operation, with another a small icon indicating range with the gas engine in operation. Once the EV only capacity runs out, the battery icon goes to zero and shrinks and the gauge indicating range with gas operation (shown as a fuel pump) becomes prominent.