After a seven-month wait, we finally took delivery of our Chevrolet Volt. Just in time for the holidays, I picked it up on a freezing late-December afternoon at a big New York City Chevrolet dealer. Since our Volt was the first one that dealer had received, we had to pay $5,000 over the $43,700 sticker. We live in the land of opportunity, and car dealers are master opportunists.
For that premium, one would expect the dealership staff to be up to speed with the Volt's requirements, but, alas, no. Although the car came with a full gas tank, its lithium-ion battery was only partially charged. Thus, I had only eight miles of EV driving (out of the 15 predicted by the on-board computer) before the gasoline engine took over. The Volt was a delight on Manhattan's streets, though, taking off from stop lights briskly and quietly and turning quite a few heads in the process. The suspension absorbed Manhattan's moonscape pavement without a murmur, but the brake pedal took some getting used to since the regenerative braking system gives the pedal an odd feel. Once out on the West Side Highway, handling felt relatively taut and responsive. The steering is a little vague on center, but otherwise feels well-weighted.
We're getting fewer miles per charge than we got from a loaner, but that may be due to the extended cold snap (20-30 degrees F typically, though sometimes closer to zero) that we've been experiencing here in New England. Our EV range has been averaging only 25 miles—the low end of what GM claims. That means the battery is giving us about the range you'd expect from one gallon of gas in a four-cylinder compact sedan. Charge time using 220 volts takes about five hours, and we're pumping in almost 13 kilowatt/hours each session.
In terms of the car's gasoline consumption, on the other hand, our staffers' commuting has been averaging 53 miles per gallon so far. The folks who live within 30 miles of our track have been getting between 60 and 70 mpg per round trip, while our more far-flung staffers, those who reside 60 and 70 miles away, have been averaging 37 mpg.
Note that fuel-economy calculations are slippery because average miles-per-gallon entirely depends on how many miles you drive, if any, after the main battery is depleted and before you have a chance to recharge it. The longer you drive between charges, the worse your fuel economy will look. In pure gasoline mode, we're still getting 30 mpg.
To keep a tally on energy consumption, we're doing all the charging at our facility, starting when the Volt arrives each morning, and the car doesn't leave again until it's fully charged up. In our neck of the woods, which in our case really is out in the woods, electricity is pricey by national standards, and the 13 kWh/25-mile range we've been getting while running in EV mode costs about $2.40.
As a matter of interest, the battery has been providing about 2 miles per kilowatt/hour on EV mode. Most pure EVs—generally smaller, lighter cars than the Volt—are said to be getting around 3 miles/kWh. While in electric mode, the dash display shows 250 mpg, which is a little misleading because in that mode the car isn't using any gasoline. It's a like reporting a kid's perfect grade-point average on the first day of school.
Driving the Volt continues to be fun. The abundant electric power provides a satisfying thrust while taking off or climbing a hill. What's not fun in January in Connecticut is that the heater is rather puny. It warms reluctantly and then merely exhales a tepid breath at your feet. The electric seat heaters are a godsend, but only partly compensate. Neither is the Volt a great family car. The two rear seats are tight and the sloping roofline makes it easy to bang your head when getting in.
As our formal testing progresses in earnest, we'll keep you posted.