We had an opportunity to take the Chevy Volt for a quick spin last year and it left a good impression. A week with the car did nothing to change our view. Purists can argue that the Volt, which should arrive in Florida by year's end, isn't a pure electric, but with a charging infrastructure still limited, the Volt seems like a good alternative.
Appearance: The Volt strikes a good balance between aesthetics and aerodynamics. Unlike other hybrids, the four-door Volt manages to look hip, resembling the new Chevy Cruze with which it shares platforms. Up front, the Volt has upswept headlights and a closed grille that reduces drag and improves efficiency. The glossy black trim under the side windows matches the rear angular hatch, which has slim, wraparound taillights.
Performance: The front-wheel-drive four-seater has a 35-mile-plus range on battery power alone and can go more than 300 miles when its 1-4-liter, four-cylinder gas generator kicks in to power its electric motors. For many commuters, all you'll need is battery power. You can drive it to work, run errands and then plug it in to charge when you get home. (About 10 hours with a standard 120-volt outlet and about four with a 240-volt outlet.) You can even program the car to charge during nonpeak hours when rates are cheaper. You won't have any problems merging into or keeping up with highway traffic with its high-torque electric motor. And when the battery charge is depleted, the Volt seamlessly shifts to its gas generator. The Volt also uses regenerative braking, which takes getting used to, but it isn't as touchy as other electric or hybrid cars we've driven. Overall, the Volt is quiet. Peter noticed some engine noise when the gas motor was being used and the car was under hard acceleration. The handling is nimble for the 3,781-pounder. The Volt has three driving modes: normal (most efficient), sport and mountain (for more reserve power for going uphill). The charger is easy to connect, but Lyra found the wrapping and unwrapping of the cord cumbersome. Couldn't they have used retractable cords — like the ones on vacuum cleaners?
Interior: Most prominent are the two crisp LCD screens — one to monitor your driving, the other primarily for climate, navigation and media. We liked the detailed driver gauge, which shows your speed with a digital readout, how much range you have left — in battery or gas mode — and how efficiently you are driving. The smooth-finish futuristic center console has smooth backlit touch-sensitive "buttons." The seats are comfortable, if a bit on the firm side, and adjust manually. The rear head- and legroom is somewhat constrained by the sloping rear hatch.
Our 3 favorites
Displays: The informative LCD screens enhance the driving experience.
Handling: Surprisingly agile and planted.
Sounds: I like the little fanfare that greets you on the displays when you get in the car with the remote key fob.
Exterior: It sets itself apart from other cars with sharp and aerodynamic lines.
Energy usage: Only 1 1/2 gallons of gas for a 100-mile ride? Super!
Center console: Sleek buttonless, touch-sensitive backlit panels.
The bottom line: You'll pay a premium price for being an early adopter as the Volt isn't cheap, even with the tax credit. But the technology is impressive, the driving experience enjoyable and many drivers can skip the pump.