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May 5, 2013

2013 Chevrolet Volt (plug-in electric)

by Mark Savage

Smooth, quiet, but Volt  packs power too

Chevrolet’s Volt is the leader of the hybrid pack when it comes to performance.1volt

It’s quick and handles almost like a sports sedan. I know what you’re thinking, “No Way it’s quick!” Ah, but you’d be wrong.

The difference between the plug-in electric hybrid Volt and a gas-powered sedan is that there’s no engine grumble to give you a sense of speed. With Volt, you simply press a button on the center stack and change from Normal to Sport mode.

Next time you press the accelerator (not a gas pedal, right?) this 3,781-lb. car rips away from a stoplight, quietly, but with smooth seamless acceleration. Most cars are still slipping from second to third gear as you streak away.

Handling is borderline sporty too. No, it’s not a BMW, but steering is pretty darned precise and quick, so you can zip around corners with authority. Plus, its low-slung battery packs keep the Volt well balanced, aiding its cornering.

Ride is on the sporty side too, but still is pleasant and well controlled, the Volt’s 105.7-inch wheelbase making this ride like a mid-size sport sedan. But, since it’s a hatch, it’s more useful for carrying things than a standard sedan.

Now let’s face it, if you’re a prospective Volt buyer, the last thing you probably were even thinking about was performance. But the cool thing here is that you get performance along with all those great hybrid characteristics you’re likely aiming for.

volt2Let’s get to those.

Because this is a plug-in hybrid it runs full-time on electric power via its Voltec electric drive system with 149 horsepower and a torque rating of 273. Chevy says Volt will do 0-60 mph in 8.8 seconds, not racer fast, but faster than a lot of cars, crossovers and utes. Top speed is 101 mph, in case you live somewhere that’s allowed.

But you’ll get great gas mileage because much of the time around town you’ll be running on an electric charge that your lithium-ion batteries got by being plugged into your 120v outlet in the garage. Overnight you get a full charge, but if you are lucky enough to have a 240v outlet, you can get a full charge in four hours.

When your battery charge wears off, then a 1.4-liter gas-powered motor serves as a generator to put more power back into those batteries. So you’ll always running on electric power.

Video link imageI got 125 mpg (you’re reading that right) in a week’s normal around town driving and a bit of time on the highway to get to suburbia. The car’s computer said I was getting 105 mpg, so for once a car’s trip computer underestimated the results. I put less than two gallons into the Volt, which has just a 9.3-gallon gas tank.

Not unlike filling a car's gas tank, you plug a pistol grip into the Volt to charge its lithium-ion batteries.

Not unlike filling a car’s gas tank, you plug a pistol grip into the Volt to charge its lithium-ion batteries.

Plugging it in is no problem. You press a cap release button on the door and then take the plug-in cord from the trunk and plug its pistol grip into the car. Plug the other end into your garage’s power outlet and wait overnight.Sadly, the temperature was in the 20s at night and 30s during the day during my test, so the Volt got considerably less charge than when I had the car a couple summers back.My top charge was 28 miles, compared with 43-48 miles in summer. Still, it got me to the office and back so long as I didn’t divert too far afield to a grocery store or go out for lunch. When I did, that little gas engine kicked in, almost unnoticed as I was driving home. Power feels the same, you just hear the muffled sounds of a generator motor running. And you can watch the various dash gauges show you the car’s mpg is shrinking.

A little side note here. Volt also has a Hold button that you can push to maintain your vehicle charge. You might consider doing this if you’re on the highway early in your commute, when using the gas engine for a battery charge could be more efficient. Then you might use the charge from your batteries when you get into city driving, when it is most efficient.

Another thing I like about the Volt, compared to some hybrids, the power doesn’t turn off when you stop at a stoplight. In some standard hybrids the gas engine turns off to save fuel when you stop temporarily, and the vehicle’s climate control system shuts off. In summer you get hot waiting to accelerate. In winter you get cold. To be honest, some hybrids have begun addressing that problem in newer models. Still, with Volt, all electric power remains and you stay comfy.

volt4I like the whisper quiet interior in Volt, which feels solid and well built.

This one was a bright metallic red ($495 extra) and featured a brown over tan interior with tan heated leather seats, part of a $1,395 premium package that also included a removable rear armrest and leather-wrapped steering wheel. A fancy MyLink radio and navigation system and Bose speakers add another $1,390 and polished aluminum wheels $595.

Those seats are well formed and comfortable and manually adjusted, just like the tilt/telescope steering wheel. There are only four seats too, as the back seat is divided by a big console. That’s removable, but taking it out doesn’t add to the seating. Volt still only seats four adults. I had a six-footer sit in back though, and he was comfortable.

Volt’s subtle flat metallic gold plastic center stack (same trim in doors) not only looks good, but all the soft-touch controls are easy to read and understand. Plus, they work the first time you touch them, unlike many touch-screens that are indeed touchy and can take several tries to engage. However, when wearing gloves, even these touch-buttons do not always work. I took my gloves off often to adjust heat and the radio. I felt the dash plastic looks a little cheap here, considering the car’s price.

But gauges are modern, simple and attractive with blue and green the prominent colors. Volt has push-button start.

Rear seats fold down to increase cargo space in the hatchback Volt.

Rear seats fold down to increase cargo space in the hatchback Volt. Note there is only seating for four as there’s a big center console in the rear seat.

From a usefulness standpoint, there is a big hatch in back to allow you to pile in the boxes, groceries, etc. Volt has 15 cubic feet of cargo room and you can easily fold down the two rear seats to create long flat space to haul larger items.Cost? The 2013 Volt lists at $39,145, so you pay a premium for all the electric power technology. You don’t buy Volt to be frugal, you buy it to save fuel. But be aware that it would take you several years to pay for the car’s extra cost via the money you save on buying less gas. The more you drive and the higher gas prices become, the quicker you’d get to breaking even financially.Note too that there is still a $7,500 federal tax credit on the Volt, and other plug-in hybrids. You apply for it on your federal income tax forms. It will phase out after 200,000 units have been sold, and we’re not at that level yet. Again, you’re probably not buying the Volt to save money, but the credit helps bring its cost down to early consumers.

That said, nearly two years ago I tested the Volt and was so impressed I gave it my Zoomie Car of the Year award. I felt like I was driving the future. Volt is still a darned impressive drive, but you need to know that in our climate, your winter driving range on a charge will be reduced. If you have a heated garage and a commute that’s less than 25 miles roundtrip though, you’ll be just fine.

FAST Stats: 2013 Chevrolet Volt

Hits: Gas mileage, ease of use, styling outside and inside. Volt handles well, is well balanced, delivers a sporty ride and has generous acceleration. Overall quality feel and look with super quiet interior, comfortable seats (all 4) and it’s a hatch, so extremely adaptable and useful.

Misses: Pricey and it only seats 4. Cold weather limits battery charge. Dash plastic looks a little cheap.

Made in: Detroit, Mich.

Engine: Voltec electric drive & 1.4-liter I4, 149 hp

Transmission: 1-speed automatic

Weight: 3,781 lbs.

Wheelbase: 105.7 in.

Cargo: 15.0 cu.ft.  (max.)

MPG: 98 (elect.)/37 (gas)

Base Price: $39,145

Dealer’s Price: $37,579

Major Options:

Premium Trim Pkg. (leather seats, heated front seats, leather wrap steering wheel, rear seat removable armrest), $1,395

MyLink radio w/nav, $895

Polished aluminum wheels, $595

Crystal Red paint, $495

Bose speakers, $495

Delivery: $850

Test vehicle: $43,870

Sources: Chevrolet, www.autos.yahoo.com

Photos: Courtesy of Chevrolet

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