The 2012 Chevrolet Volt is a car that can be as familiar and simple or as complicated as you want it to be. The Volt allows you inside with keyless entry, provided you have the key on your person. Then all you have to do is press the brake pedal and push the blue “start” button on the center console.
The Volt welcomes you with a pleasant “boot up” sound and graphics on the dual LCD displays. The startup process is nearly instant and then it’s a just a matter of shifting the automatic into gear and you are off. A casual user will not notice anything unusual about the startup or the driving experience. The Volt acts just like any other car you are used to. It has all the features you would expect from a premium midsize sedan.
The things that give away the Volt’s electric drivetrain are it’s smooth acceleration and the silence with which it’s accomplished. Then there are the multitude of fun little informative graphics and somewhat confusing efficiency information screens on the digital gauge cluster and the touch screen atop the center console. Thankfully, there are several real paper manual books that describe everything from the intricacies of the infotainment system to the battery charging procedures. I found the “green ball” driving style coach particularly useful. The name of the game is to keep the green ball large and green and not to allow it to turn orange as it encourages gentle accelerations and gradual slow downs.
The ultra quite and smooth nature of the Volt encourages a relaxed driving style, but this car is capable of a spirited drive as well. The Volt hides its near 3,800 pound heft relatively well and the stability control nannies give the driver a long leash. You can go into a corner aggressively and you will receive decent steering feedback, moderate body roll and mild understeer. The regenerative brakes have a good feel and can be modulated. The engineers did a good job of making the regenerative brakes feel ordinary. The Volt is not a sports sedan, but it’s not a boring economy box either.
The Volt requires that you use all of the battery first before going into the generator mode. However, I found an interesting trick to alter Volt’s behavior. While stationary and in electric mode, pulling the hood release latch starts the generator. Then the generator turns off again as you start moving, and the car gives you plentiful warnings about an unlatched hood.
(Note: We do NOT recommend driving with an unlatched hood.)
Also noteworthy is that the transition from the all electric to gasoline generator mode is completely transparent and the driving experience feels unchanged. The hum of the generator is barely noticeable while under way. You would have to turn the stereo off and listen for it to even notice it.
The Volt is not without its quirks. First, there is a huge and obvious one – the charging process! I began my first charge in the evening. I plugged the 120V adapter into one of the outlets in my garage and then plugged the other end into the car. This is according to the charging procedure – you must plug into the wall first. The Volt gave a happy beep and a green light bulb lit up on top of the dash. However, about half an hour later the things turned for the worse.
The car started to angrily honk and the wall adapter was flashing red lights. This was all to let me know that my Volt refused the charge. I turned to the manual books and to searching the internet for the reason or the solution. Shortly, I found some information that a bad ground in my outlet may have been the cause of this. Thankfully, the Volt’s charging cord is around twenty feet long and I was able to reach the other outlet on the opposite side of the garage. Problem solved! The other outlet was satisfactory and my Volt was fully charged by morning, after about ten hours at the plug. However, now I have to call an electrician to investigate my outlet.
I also found that the Park Assist proximity warning system could stand an improvement. It’s not nearly as sophisticated as on some of the other luxury cars, and it was constantly beeping while I was pulling into and out of my single car garage space. The other quirk is the touch sensitive buttons on the center console. They control everything from the HVAC system to the DVD player.
The touch buttons worked as intended, however I found myself inadvertently changing stations or temperature settings just by resting my hand on the console. Another slightly annoying thing was that my front seat passenger could not manually enter a destination into the navigation system while we were moving. The navigation system entry is only active while stationary, and this is the only intrusive nanny that we found.
The seats are comfortable but are on the firm side. Also, do not expect to find power adjustable or massaging seats in the Volt. You will have to make do with heated front seats and good old manual adjustment handles and levers. A concession made in an effort to save weight. And while the Volt only seats four, there is sufficient leg and head room to fit two six foot plus guys one behind the other for a short trip.
Another noteworthy gripe is that the whole dash and top of the hood are relatively tall and this makes close quarters maneuvers somewhat difficult. I imagine this is an artifact of Volt’s streamlined aerodynamics. Another annoying artifact of aerodynamics is the low front chin spoiler that catches the driveway curb no matter how carefully you approach it.
My Volt had a Summit White exterior and Jet Black with White Ceramic accents interior. This interior is part of the Premium Trim package which adds $1,395. Then there were the Rear Camera and Park Assist package at $695.
The Polished Aluminum wheels added $595. The Audio media and Navigation system with energy efficient Bose Premium speakers add another $2,490. All together these options combine for an additional $5,175 on top of the base $39,995 MSRP and bring the final price to $45,170 before any tax incentives. This is considerably more than a competing Toyota Prius Plug-In or the all electric Nissan Leaf.
The Volt spends a lot of effort to provide a familiar driving experience and to ease the early adopters into the world of electric motoring. And the range extending generator helps to alleviate any anxiety of running out of battery juice.
On the TFLcar.com recommendation scale of:
- Buy it
- Lease it
- Rent it or
I give the new Chevy Volt a Lease it.
If you are a short range commuter, it may be weeks or months before you would have to stop at a gas station for fuel.
Andre Smirnov is a Software Engineer by trade and a life-long automotive enthusiast. On the weekends – you may find him at a car show, an auction, watching a race, or tinkering in the garage. When not working or spending time with the family – he often scours the internet and other media for various automotive, mechanical, and computer related information.