AT A GLANCE
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
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.