AT A GLANCE

NT News - Motoring - - CARS GUIDE - PRICE: WAR­RANTY: SER­VICE IN­TER­VALS: ENGINE: TRANS­MIS­SION: DI­MEN­SIONS: WEIGHT: SPARE: THIRST:

BY now you prob­a­bly know the Volt is not your con­ven­tional hy­brid.

Nor is it like any other elec­tric car on the mar­ket.

It is some­thing else en­tirely — and it is ar­guably the best of both worlds.

Other elec­tric ve­hi­cles (EVs) are reliant on elec­tric­ity to power their bat­ter­ies. Con­ven­tional hy­brids use a petrol power plant en­hanced or backed up by elec­tric bat­ter­ies.

The Volt is a pure bat­tery pow­ered elec­tric ve­hi­cle. Yes, it has a petrol mo­tor, but this works as a back-up gen­er­a­tor to keep charg­ing the bat­tery when it has used its stored volt­age, ex­tend­ing its range from about 90km to 600km, hence the tag ‘‘ex­tended range hy­brid’’.

With­out a fir­ing mo­tor hooked to a driv­e­train, the ride is vi­bra­tion-free, silent, and qui­etly im­pres­sive.

It’s a shame you’re sim­ply swap­ping one fi­nite re­source for an­other to power the car but its power us­age is frugal enough to make a dif­fer­ence to the hip-pocket and the planet.

If only more peo­ple could af­ford it and had a place to charge it — be­cause pub­lic charg­ing sta­tions are con­tin­gent on gov­ern­ment at var­i­ous lev­els get­ting its act to­gether, the af­ford­abil­ity part of the equa­tion will oc­cur first. TECH­NOL­OGY Any­one who has spent some time in an elec­tric ve­hi­cle knows what it’s like to have ‘‘wattage worry’’ — the anx­i­ety of watch­ing the bat­tery bars go down with no recharge sta­tion or wall socket in sight.

The Volt gets around this by us­ing up the elec­tric­ity stored in the lithium-ion bat­tery pack (50km-90km) then the 1.4-litre Holden Cruze-sourced petrol mo­tor charges the bat­tery pack, keep­ing the car’s elec­tric mo­tors run­ning for an­other 500km-600km de­pend­ing on your driv­ing style and your se­lec­tion of Nor­mal or Sport set­tings.

A ‘‘hold’’ mode runs just the petrol engine on bat­tery sap­ping long trips or on free­ways.

The ride stays silky smooth and very silent — the whirr of the plan­e­tary gearset is the loud­est as­pect of the driv­e­train. VALUE Un­less you plan to keep it for 20 years, buy­ing a Volt will not pay off in petrol sav- ings. But that $28K pre­mium on Cruze, on which it is based, buys con­ve­nience and a clean con­science.

Frugal it is, claim­ing 1.2 litres/100km and clock­ing 3.1 litres on test af­ter 250km on the one charge. An av­er­age charge costs $2.50 in elec­tric­ity, while the petrol tank takes about 36 litres, or $55, to fill.

The Volt can be pro­grammed to recharge only dur­ing off-peak elec­tric­ity times, which takes five hours on full am­per­age, or 10 hours on a trickle charge. DE­SIGN The five-door hatch has four ded­i­cated seats, the back cen­tre seat sac­ri­ficed to make room for the bat­tery pack.

The rear is slop­ing with a huge glass rear win­dow, mak­ing en­try a duck-or­bump af­fair and a hot propo­si­tion un­der sum­mer sun.

But the boot has a large floor, and bulkier items that won’t fit un­der the hatch can be pushed into the from $59,990

Three years/100,000km, eight-year war­ranty

on bat­tery

Nine months/15,000km 111kW/370Nm (drive mo­tor); 55kW (gen­er­a­tor mo­tor), 1.4-litre petrol

Plan­e­tary gearset, front-wheel drive 4.5m (L), 1.79m (W), 1.44m (H) 1721kg In­fla­tion kit 1.2 litres/100km, 63g/km CO sec­ond row via split-fold­ing rear seats.

The charg­ing ca­ble re­sides un­der the boot floor, next to the nor­mal car bat­tery and a sad-look­ing in­flat­able tyre kit. The ca­ble hooks up eas­ily to the port un­der­neath the pas­sen­ger A-pil­lar, with a cra­dle that is easy to wrap and un­wrap with­out tan­gles.

The cabin fea­tures gloss­white and matte black plas­tic sur­faces and pin­striped leather seats.

The sat­nav, rear-view cam­era, cli­mate con­trol and car info is all dis­played on a huge cen­tre-mounted touch­screen, and be­low is a nerd­heaven touch-pad stack.

Choos­ing a song or chang­ing the cli­mate con­trol needs the light­est touch and feels like you’re oper­at­ing an iPhone in­stead of a car. SAFETY Five-star green cre­den­tials are matched to fives­tar safety, with the full com­ple­ment of airbags, ABS and ESP matched to in­tu­itive ac­tive alerts such as a for­ward col­li­sion warn­ing and a lanede­par­ture warn­ing. DRIV­ING On the road, the Volt feels more Euro hatch than Holden. While the frontheavy, front-drive lay­out and bat­tery pack push its weight up to 1700kg, it doesn’t feel heavy to drive.

In fact, the im­me­di­ate torque from the elec­tric mo­tors is eye­brow-rais­ing, though af­ter stomp­ing the go-pedal the gearset stretches out and the torque is more con­ser­va­tive.

The sus­pen­sion is well sorted with nicely neu­tral han­dling, though it’s a lit­tle firm over un­even lumps, and not helped by hard Miche­lin eco-tyres.

The brakes feel re­mote and weird — a typ­i­cal byprod­uct of re­gen­er­a­tive sys­tems. While good in ac­tu­a­tion, they of­fer lit­tle to no pedal feel, so edg­ing for­wards and par­tic­u­larly back­wards into a park­ing space can be cum­ber­some and hoppy.

A full ABS emer­gency stop of­fered zero vi­bra­tion through the pedal, though the wheels were lock­ing and re­leas­ing.

GM has ob­vi­ously gone to great lengths to damp the cabin, with only the odd bit of road noise and trans­mis­sion whirr fil­ter­ing through. Ev­ery other sound is am­pli­fied – the rub­ber skirt­ing un­der the split­ter, which drops low to the ground for aero­dy­nam­ics and to some­what pro­tect the un­der­body, scrapes on ev­ery­thing and sounds like a ship run­ning aground in such a quiet space. These crit­i­cisms are hardly deal break­ers — but it has one, and it’s a big­gie.

Liv­ing in an apart­ment block with a shared un­der­ground carpark, there is nowhere for this writer, nor the 80 or so peo­ple who live in the block, to ac­tu­ally charge an EV.

City dwellers are the prime mar­ket for this car, and with no real in­fra­struc­ture for the plug-ins yet — there are just five sta­tions around Sydney — the Volt’s bril­liant driv­e­train is also its great­est hur­dle. VER­DICT Solves the EV is­sue of re­ly­ing solely on bat­tery power while pro­vid­ing an eerily quiet but pleas­ant driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s not the an­swer but it’s eas­ily the best fuel al­ter­na­tive pro­duc­tion ve­hi­cle to date.

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