Volt is elec­tric

Chevro­let’s plug-in car has the an­swer to those long trips, writes Paul Gover in Detroit

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive -

THE car of the (near) fu­ture is up and run­ning in the US, and head­ing for Aus­tralian show­rooms early in 2012. The Chevro­let Volt is the world’s first work­able elec­tric car, and one that ends the new-age fear of ‘‘range anx­i­ety’’ with a hy­brid sys­tem that turns the Prius world up­side down.

The Volt runs on bat­tery power but has an on­board petrol en­gine that works as a generator, pro­vid­ing a po­ten­tial range of more than 600km and end­ing the fear of run­ning ‘‘dry’’ be­yond a plug-in socket.

Holden is an early adopter and plans to have the Volt in its range as soon as pos­si­ble, though a price tag es­ti­mated in the $60,000 range means it will not be for ev­ery­one.

But ‘‘range ex­ten­der’’ technology could be a wide­spread hit, pro­vid­ing plug-in city driv­ing and the chance for long-dis­tance trips us­ing gaso­line top-ups along the way.

‘‘The Volt can be your one car, your only car,’’ says Mark Reuss, for­mer head of Holden and now lead­ing Chevro­let in the US.

The Volt is a Corolla-sized, four-seater small car, but it is packed with technology and GM’s en­gi­neers have even done an im­pres­sive job on driv­ing dy­nam­ics.

It’s not a sports car but it’s not as dull as a Prius.

The Volt has gone from a great idea to a po­ten­tial game-changer car in less than 18 months, with the first pro­duc­tion cars about to be de­liv­ered in the US.

Value

IT IS im­pos­si­ble to rate the Volt with­out a show­room sticker. The price is likely to be about $60,000 in Aus­tralia and that will be costly by any mea­sure.

But more and more peo­ple are turn­ing to green power and an elec­tric car that can also take a Syd­ney-to-Mel­bourne run makes a solid case, with the Prius now priced from $39,990.

The Volt comes with a bun­dle of value-added stuff in the US, which in­cludes road­side as­sis­tance and satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion, as well as a 160,000km, eight-year war­ranty on its lithi­u­mion bat­tery pack.

Technology

THERE is a vast amount of technology in the Volt, but its foun­da­tions are all Cruze. The GM com­pact car pro­vides the foun­da­tion and the en­gi­neers and fu­tur­ists do the rest.

The heart of the Volt is its heated-and-cooled, 198kg bat­tery pack. It’s so big that it’s shaped in a tee and steals space be­tween and around the cramped back seat.

There is also a 1.4-litre petrol en­gine in the nose that’s re­spon­si­ble for charg­ing du­ties any time the bat­tery gets se­verely de­pleted, or when there is a need for sus­tained heavy pulling power.

GM orig­i­nally de­nied that the car ran on any­thing but elec­tric power but now con­cedes there is one sit­u­a­tion — over­tak­ing un­der full power be­yond 110km/h — when petrol power can briefly turn one wheel.

A lot of work has gone into tiny de­tails in the Volt, from its light­weight en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem to a horn that gives a po­lite ‘‘toot-toot’’ if you nudge the in­di­ca­tor stalk. It is in­tended for warn­ing work in car parks and should be fit­ted to ev­ery car.

The out­come is sim­ple: GM says the Volt can reach 160km/ h and has a 0-100km/ h sprint time of less than 9 sec­onds, while hap­pily run­ning with a sim­i­lar range to a petrolpow­ered car.

De­sign

The Volt is a Corolla-sized, four-seater small car, but it is packed with technology, and GM’s en­gi­neers have even done an im­pres­sive job on driv­ing dy­nam­ics

THE Volt is de­signed for min­i­mum drag and that means a rel­a­tively sharp-edged body that’s not un­like a Prius. Stylists have tried to dress the shape but it’s still no beauty.

The in­te­rior is semi-fu­tur­ist with a range of dig­i­tal dash dis­plays, in­clud­ing one that shows how you’re driv­ing on an ef­fi­ciency scale, but with a con­ven­tional T-bar shifter to se­lect for­wards and re­verse.

The cabin also has some bright colour trim pieces and leather trim is avail­able, but it is very cramped in the back seat and the hatch­back roof glass needs a lot of sun pro­tec­tion to shield peo­ple in the rear.

GM has two frontal treat­ments for the Volt— the Chevro­let cor­po­rate look and a much more ad­ven­tur­ous de­sign for the Volts sold as an Am­pera in Europe — but oth­er­wise it is fairly bland and sen­si­ble.

Safety

THE Volt comes with the usual stuff, in­clud­ing eight airbags, ABS brakes and sta­bil­ity con­trol.

GM says the lo­ca­tion of the bat­tery pack pro­vides the best pos­si­ble pro­tec­tion in a col­li­sion, with sys­tems to pre­vent any­thing nasty es­cap­ing or caus­ing a prob­lem in a crash.

In the US the car is also pro­tected by OnS­tar, which uses a back-to-base alarm sys­tem in the event of a crash, al­though this is not cur­rently avail­able through Holden in Aus­tralia.

Driv­ing

MY FIRST drive in the Volt was ex­actly a year ago, and it was ef­fec­tively a lap of the block at GM’s tech­ni­cal cen­tre in Detroit.

This time there is more than 90 min­utes of driv­ing, on free­ways and city streets, with a much bet­ter chance to know the car.

The Volt fires up eas­ily and, de­spite an icy win­ter chill in Detroit, the cabin is soon warm with­out steal­ing much bat­tery power. Heated seats help.

Pulling into traf­fic the re­sponse is seam­less and ac­cel­er­a­tion is good. The car eas­ily matches or bet­ters other cars in city con­di­tions and pulls out swiftly to merge on to a free­way.

Cruis­ing at 110km/h is easy and the car is quiet and re­laxed. But the lack of en­gine and driv­e­line noise means you hear other things, like squeak­ing trim pieces and some thump­ing and crash­ing from the rear sus­pen­sion.

The Volt rides as you would ex­pect for a car in the Mazda3-Corolla class, though it takes time to ad­just to the ar­ti­fi­cial brake feel and the steer­ing is a bit over-keen at times.

Gen­er­ally the car matches ex­pec­ta­tions or does a bit bet­ter.

There are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent driv­ing modes and switch­ing to ‘‘sport’’ sharp­ens things, as well as pro­vid­ing more re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing, so you only have to lift the ac­cel­er­a­tor to get a sig­nif­i­cant slow­ing.

To check the cut-in for the petrol generator en­gine I de­lib­er­ately drain the bat­tery by flick­ing to the ‘‘moun­tain’’ mode, which boosts bat­tery re­serves. The cut-in is no­tice­able but the small four is quiet and there is far less noise than a nor­mal car.

All in all, the Volt makes a strong sec­ond im­pres­sion. It drives nicely, delivers on its elec­tric prom­ises and is far more than just a sci­ence ex­per­i­ment.

When Holden gets the Volt it is go­ing to change the hy­brid game and make life very, very dif­fi­cult for Toy­ota with its Prius and Camry.

It also prom­ises the sort of range and peace of mind that elec­tric car shop­pers al­ready crave.

Ver­dict

A HY­BRID hero that’s sur­pris­ingly good to drive.

Game-changer: Paul Gover at the wheel of a Volt in the US and (right) its charg­ing in­let.

Fu­ture at a price: the Volt is al­most dou­ble the cost of the Toy­ota Prius.

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