Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 17, 2017
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Commuting: unplugged

Will Chevrolet's super-charged electric car be a game changer?

Seldom has a car launch generated as much electricity from an advance PR perspective than the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. After all, the Volt is one of those automobiles that — if you indeed believe the hype — promises to be a “game changer.”

Alas, almost a decade ago, the “sport activity vehicle” that was the Pontiac Aztek was meant to be a “game changer” too, and we all know how well that particular game went.

At time of writing, the Volt was just being rolled out to Chevrolet dealerships in select US cities; it will be available at Canadian Chevy dealerships by the summer. But certainly, the Volt isn’t just another de rigueur new car launch. The real excitement has everything to do with its electric powerplant which delivers 16 kilowatt-hours of lithium-ion battery power.

Better yet, there’s no need to worry about the Volt turning into an oversized paperweight in the middle of Parts Unknown should you run out of those precious electrons. That’s because the Volt’s onboard 1.4-L Ecotec gas engine will power a generator that feeds a 111-kilowatt traction motor. It is this conventional backup gasoline-power that differentiates the Volt from its EV competition such as the Mini E, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the Nissan LEAF and other electronic wonders that will debut in the months to come.

Does the Volt live up to expectations? Here's the nitty gritty.

THE GOOD

RANGE
The worst thing any marketer can do in any product category is to over-promise and under-deliver. Thankfully, this doesn’t appear to be the case with the Volt. Indeed, at a press launch in Michigan in October, one tester wanted to see just how much juice was in the Volt’s considerable battery pack. He engaged in full-throttle acceleration from stoplights with the air conditioning at full blast with the heated seats activated and the stereo blaring.

And yet, even with all these demands on the battery, the tester was able to eke out 67 kilometres in pure electric mode. That’s actually a tad more than the 64 kilometres GM has been promising since the car's inception and certainly more than the rumoured 48 kilometres of electrical range some naysayers have been claiming.

Bottom line: this particular test indicates the Volt will consume no gasoline during regular use — like a “true” electric vehicle should — during an average commute.

DESIGN
Design-wise, the Volt is a very conventional looking car. Guess what? That’s a plus. You see, when it comes to cars embracing new technology, the automakers seem to think they need to give the vehicle a space-age appearance. Witness the first hybrid cars, the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight, which, while trying to look futuristic, actually ended up resembling oversized eggs.

Such is not the case with the Volt, which has a Chevrolet Malibu-look to it from certain angles. And how’s this for an added bonus: the Volt is GM’s most aerodynamic car ever, featuring a drag co-efficient of 0.28. That’s lower than the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight hybrids.

DRIVING EXPERIENCE
The Volt certainly feels and responds like an EV should. The electric motor is almost completely noise-free and, of course, there’s no exhaust roar. And despite being tied into the electric propulsion system, the brakes feel completely conventional. Typically, the sort of regenerative braking systems found in hybrids and EVs cause a lurching effect, but such is not the case with the Volt.

“People expect it to drive like a science project, but it’s kind of overwhelmingly normal,” says Dan Mepham, GM’s product manager for Volt.

POWER
The Volt generates 149 horsepower, which is neither Ferrari-esque nor anaemic for a car of this magnitude. But a big advantage of an electric motor is its remarkable low-end torque. The Volt features a torque value of 37.7 metres/kilogram (273 lb. ft). That translates into quite the kick when you floor the accelerator. Indeed, the Volt can do 0 to 95 kilometres per hour in less than 9 seconds, making the Volt feel like it has a mid-range V6 under the hood rather than a four-cylinder. Better yet, an overnight charge — depending on your jurisdiction — will cost somewhere between 50 cents to $1.

THE BAD

PEDIGREE
Is the Volt a bona fide electric vehicle (EV)? Some critics say no. For example, earlier this year, Edmunds.com proclaimed, “GM Lied: Chevy Volt Is Not a True EV.” Essentially, the nub of the argument came down to the following: in certain instances (i.e., driving at more than 110 kilometres per hour, after the car’s battery has run down) the Volt’s onboard 1.4-litre range-extending engine can directly drive a generator that does drive the wheels. Thus, in theory, for the EV purist, the Volt is something of a hybrid.

But to be fair, such a conventional “assist” hardly seems the stuff of scandal. And this won’t be a deal-breaker for the majority of Volt buyers.

INTERIOR
GM has long struggled with its interiors. While notable advances have been made in the last five years, the interior trim bits and pieces and the plastic used on the inside rear doors don’t look like they belong on a car costing much as the Volt does.

THE UGLY

KA-CHING!
Holy sticker shock! Simply put, if you want Chevy’s whiz-bang new-age electronic technology, you’re going to pay big time to be a trailblazer. (Remember how much VCRs cost back in the late ’70s?)

GM Canada hasn’t officially announced prices yet, but south of the border, the base MRSP of the Volt is a gasp-inducing US$41,000. To put that into perspective, consider that the similarly-sized Chevrolet Cruze is $14,995. Do the math: the price differential between the two cars is more than $26,000 (taxes in). And $26,000 sure buys a lot of gasoline over the lifetime of a car.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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