The Chevrolet Volt
is one of the most-hyped cars expected to debut this year, with all-new drivetrain technology that General Motors has termed EREV, translated as "extended-range electric vehicle."
Yesterday, the company brought two examples up to our test track, along with several engineers to explain the car, point out its new features, and allow the staff to get behind the wheel. GM drove the two cars to our Connecticut Auto Test Center from Milford, Michigan—a trip of about 750 miles.
What we learned:
- The Volt's electric drive motor is rated at 110 kW, equivalent to about 150 hp. It uses another motor/generator—GM engineers call this an "electric machine"—connected to the gas engine rated at 50 kW. This is used to start the engine and also provides electrical power to drive the vehicle when the battery is depleted. The gas engine is a 1.4-liter four cylinder similar to the Chevrolet Cruze base engine, though configured for this unique application.
- The Volt uses about half the capacity of its 16 kWh lithium-ion battery. This ensures good durability of the battery pack and provides extra boost than can be delivered from the engine-driven generator so the driver sees/feels no difference between EV mode and gas engine. To maximize the battery's life expectancy, the battery is never allowed to run completely down, nor is it ever allowed to take a maximum charge.
- On long up hills, such as what you might experience climbing the Rocky Mountains, if that battery reserve is used up, the car's power may be reduced to what's available from the generator. GM engineers say there are only seven or eight such grades in the United States, and they have designed the car to be able to maintain the speed limit on these roads. The car has a "mountain mode," which will increase the size of the battery reserve to assure there is enough power to maintain speed even on the longest, steepest hills. The trade off is reduced range.
- GM has said before that the car will have a 300-mile overall range (including 40 miles on pure electric), but they have never before disclosed the capacity of the gasoline fuel tank. It will likely hold about nine gallons, in which case the range based on these figures would be well above 300 miles. The tank will be pressurized, so it will take a few seconds for the fuel door to pop open.
- The Volt comes with a 20-foot, 110-volt charge cord. When plugged in, the car's on-board charger tests the circuit to ensure that the house system is safe to connect to. A yellow light shows on top of the dashboard while the circuit is being tested. Once it passes, the car-horn chirps briefly, and the light turns green. If it fails the test, the light stays yellow, and the charger unit indicator lights show a fault.
- Volt owners will receive OnStar for free for an extended period. Dedicated OnStar agents will be able to answer a wide range of questions about using an electric car. In addition, OnStar will automatically work with any Volt buyer to help arrange installation of an appropriate 240-volt electrical outlet for home charging.
- GM is also building an app for iPhone and Android smartphones that will interface with the Volt to control and set up charging. It will also be able to interact with OnStar. Perhaps most significantly, Volt customers will be able to download their electric utility rates, and the software in the car will automatically set the car to charge when energy rates are lowest. The car can then notify a phone when the charge is complete.
- GM says it will take four hours to fully charge a Volt from a 220-volt designated charger, which will need to be professionally installed at your house (at an extra cost), or about 10 hours on a standard 20-amp, 110-volt outlet.
- The four-passenger Volt has individual seats in the rear that fold down, as the large "T" shaped battery takes up the space between the back seats.
- The white, iPod-like center stack will also be available in gray and nearly all the switches are touch sensitive like an iPod and have a click sound associated with them.
The most common reaction to driving the Volt is that it is quiet and the linear power delivery provides good acceleration, but the sedan feels heavy in the corners. It weighs about 3,800 pounds, making it porky for a car of this size.
The Volt will initially be sold in Los Angeles; Washington, DC; and Michigan in November. Within about a year, GM plans to have them available at select dealers nationwide. Chevrolet is expected to announce the price this summer.
Overall, it's an impressive piece of technology, but the proof will be how it performs in the real world. We look forward to buying our own Volt and putting it through our full test regimen once it goes on sale.
Visit our guide to alternative fuels and guide to fuel economy.
— Eric Evarts