Introduced in 2011, the Chev Volt actually went into production in late 2010.
Officially classed as a hybrid vehicle, it was a breed apart from conventional hybrid and electrical vehicles.
A 1.4 litre gasoline engine supplemented the lithium-ion battery pack, which was located under the car’s firewall and along the centre console, in a T-shaped configuration. But unlike other hybrid cars – the Toyota Prius, for example – the Volt was designed to run on pure battery power alone for 60 kilometres before the auxiliary gas engine cut in. In other words, those first 60 klicks are emission-free, regardless of the conditions. City or highway driving, it made no difference, although the harder you drove it, the sooner the batteries discharged. When that happens, the gas engine comes into play and continuously recharges the battery pack while giving the car a total driving range of some 640 kilometres.
When it introduced the Volt, GM didn’t even describe the gas engine as such, but referred to it as an “on-board gasoline-powered generator”. It’s main purpose was – and is – to keep the batteries charged, as opposed to providing motivation.
The Volt was also distinguished by the fact that the batteries can be re-charged by plugging in to either a 110 or 240 volt outlet. The plug socket is located on the left front fender, and, with the battery pack fully discharged, it takes about eight hours with the former, and three with the latter to get it back up to snuff. When you plug in, the car’s on-board computer “shakes hands” with the electrical supply and performs a kind of mini-diagnostic. Any flaws or anomalies in the electrical supply – short circuit, low voltage, etc – are displayed and you can also communicate with it to check on its state of charge.
Like virtually all hybrids, the Volt had regenerative braking and when it decelerates, energy is “captured” and fed back into the batteries. There was also a “Sport” setting that gives the car an extra shot of performance when climbing hills or overtaking, for example. The Volt provided reasonable power and acceleration, but was definitely not a performance car in any way, shape, or form. Interestingly, it was one of the most streamlined cars GM ever put forward, with better aerodynamics than the Corvette, for example.
Just one safety recall from Transport Canada to report and it’s a fairly minor one. Apparently, with some vehicles, the daytime running lights can be manually switched off and a new ignition key re-programmed. Transport Canada seems to have its knickers in a twist about this, but it’s easily remedied by dealers.
The US National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, meanwhile, conducted a barrage of crash tests on the first Volts manufactured for the 2011 model year -14,735 in all – and found that in certain crash situations (side impact with a utility pole and vehicle rollover), a vehicle fire was possible. Quoting NHTSA: “coolant leakage, and subsequent rollover that saturates electronic components, were the only test conditions which resulted in a subject vehicle HV battery fire.” General Motors offered to remedy things somewhat by strengthening various body components and adding a battery coolant leak monitor. This was one of the most extensive investigations in NHTSA’s history, and, at the end of it all, the government agency concluded: “A defect trend has not been identified at this time, and further investigation does not appear to be warranted.”
Still, NHTSA has some 40 technical service bulletins on file for the Volt and they run the gamut; from “non-charging” issues, to problems with the engine starting itself up and running during a plug-in recharge, to a myriad of electrical and computer-related issues. Suffice to say, the Volt has been under a microscope since its introduction, and the reports are still coming in.
Consumer Reports seems to like the idea behind the Volt, but can’t bring themselves to fully endorse it. While praising its low operating costs and fundamentally sound design, C.R. criticizes its peripheral visibility and practicality. Still, it receives top marks in every category, and a “better than average” used car prediction. Says C.R. “We expect reliability of new models will be 36 per cent above average”. Doesn’t get the coveted “Best Bet” award, though. Some comments from owners: “Look Ma, no gas!”, “ pleasantly surprised at how much we liked the Volt”, “feels more German than U.S.”, “GM catapults from last to first in green technology”.
Marketing researcher, J.D. Power is a fan as well, and made the 2011 Volt a recipient of its performance award, with a top rating for overall performance and design and a “better than most” grade for overall quality. However, it’s only rated “about average” for predicted reliability by this organization.
From a base price of about $42,000 in 2011, the Volt has held up quite well. Prices seem to range from the mid-$20,000 to mid-$30,000 range.
2011 Chev Volt
Original Base Price: $41,545; Black Book: $32,750; Red Book: $25,450 (these prices are for 2102 models)
Engine: Twin electric motors w. supplemental 1.4 litre gas engine
Horsepower/Torque: 149 hp / 273 ft. lb
Transmission: Electric drive
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 6.7 city/5.9. Regular Gas
Alternatives: Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Mitsubishi i-Miev, Nissan Leaf, Honda Insight.