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Driven: 2011 Chevrolet Volt

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Fans of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt have followed its development closely, and now that the car is in its final year of development the first near-complete prototypes are doing the rounds and we managed to get some seat time--one whole hour in fact--behind the wheel of one. Most readers will already know the final specs for the Volt by heart but here's a quick refresher just in case.

The vehicle uses an electric motor rated at 150 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque and running on an array of lithium-ion batteries for its drive system. These batteries can carry the Volt up to a distance of 40 miles and after this a small 1.4-liter gasoline engine kicks in and starts charging the batteries. In this fashion the Volt can drive more than 300 miles in total, however, as the Volt is still in development its specifications could easily change before its expected sales release in late 2010.

The big question remains, what is the 2011 Chevrolet Volt like to drive?

Well, we're pleased to confirm that the Volt is a car your mother could drive, and she might never even know it's electric. In full electric mode, it accelerates remarkably quietly and the acceleration from 0-30 mph is deceptively quick. Under heavy load, with the gasoline engine churning away, things can start to get noisy but this is one of the main issues that engineers are trying to nail.

Some rough road surfaces demonstrated that it absorbs bumps fairly well, aided by the 450 extra pounds of batteries it carries compared to the same-size 2011 Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan.

Because we couldn't run our test Volt at sustained high speeds, we can't comment on its ride on freeways with regular expansion joints or rough pavement. Given its extra weight, we'd expect it to be slightly better than other cars of similar size.

Now the final test--what kind of fuel economy will 2011 Chevrolet Volt drivers get? The answer is that it depends entirely on how they use the car.

While Chevrolet touted the Volt's predicted city mileage as 230 mpg, that's a meaningless figure, since it makes assumptions about usage.

If you drive less than 40 miles a day and recharge every night, your gasoline engine might never switch on. On the other hand, if you run 140 miles every day, you'll spend more time on gasoline power than electric--and Chevrolet hasn't yet quoted fuel economy figures for engine use.

Stay tuned on this one, but take every figure you see with a grain of salt. Plug-in vehicles with both battery packs and gasoline engines use energy, whether it's stored as gasoline or battery charge. Miles per gallon depends entirely on the mix of the two, and that varies for each driver.

As chief engineer Andrew Farah stressed, our car was 90% of the way to the production version--our headlights and taillights were placeholders, for instance--but they're still tweaking a few items. Still, what we drove was very close to what you can buy in November--just don't ask anyone the price. If you need a number, the price is rumored to be $40,000 before any federal tax credits.

Head over to TheCarConnection.com and check out  John Voelcker's much more detailed drive report on the upcoming 2011 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid.

[TheCarConnection]

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Comments (6)
  1. I can already anticipate the complaints about the estimated price. Folks lambaste car companies for not offering viable electric cars sooner, but when it comes down to paying for them, they will balk. They likely seem to think the companies should sell them at a loss.
     
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  2. Good point NC. Not sure what the solution may be? More government incentices? On another point though I would like to know how well these electric motors and batteries might perform in more extreme weather, like Alaska or even Chicago in January? Would I be able to find one of these, as a used car, in reasonable running condition in 10 or 15 years? The idea/concept is great though.
     
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  3. When I read about the Volt and its specs for the first time, I decided to buy one the first day I could find one in the dealers. The rumored 250mpg made sense to me (a physicist) at the time when I learned that the Chevy would operate like diesel-electric locomotives do. I was even ready to go for the Chevy at the alleged 40-grand sticker price, a figure all news sources have always been in agreement with. Unfortunately, my excitement ended when I read this pretty well documented article at "Edmunds" (with calculations a regular secondary student could handle) about real life specs for the Volt. The number came out to be 38mpg (not even 40mpg) for an average city-highway driving. With the new specs and price, I understood that the Volt would never be able to compete with the Prius and the hybrid Hondas. Since that day, I switched to the Ford Fiesta; and at 40 grand, I may even be able to afford one car for me and another one for my wife. Sorry GM!
     
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  4. The government can't afford more incentives. New technology is expensive, it wasn't that long ago that flat screen TVs were $5K and Blue Ray players were more than a thousand.
    My suspicion is that the range and gas mileage for the Volt and similar cars is going to be all over the map and there will be buyers who are very disappointed. Me? I'll someone else be the early adopter and consider my first PEV in maybe 10 years.
     
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  5. Talk about a false economy: batteries add weight. In this case 450 lb of extra weight. More weight requires more work. More work consumes more energy. END OF STORY.
    Everything else is sleight of hand. Yes, less energy will be wasted during braking as friction.
    I'll wait for a more sensible solution to filter down from motorsports (lightweight carbon fiber construction, turbos, KERS). Meanwhile I'll continue to drive my 2000 lb car from 2002 that's safe enough for me, without weighing as much as a WWI tank.
    If the US is really concerned about wasting energy, we need to re-think stupid things like tollbooths every five miles on congested highways, excessive numbers of non-staggered stoplights, poor public transit systems, etc. I'd really prefer to see the govt put the hybrid car incentives into public transit systems or 'cash for clunker' type programs than stimulating industries that are well-established in other countries...
     
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  6. It looks really good. Better than the concept.Still hate the tiny side windows and fake style bar that makes them look better. Hello? I would prefer bigger windows with styling to make them looks smaller. I like resting my arm on the door sill. I like an expansive view out.
     
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