Test Drive: 2011 Chevrolet Volt

??An innovative Eco-friendly and sporty sedan??

After nearly three years of promising hype and hoopla, General Motors electrification of the auto is finally upon us in the form of the elusive four-door, four-passenger hatchback sedan, Chevrolet Volt? well, almost. The actual on sale date hasn?t been officially announced yet, but it will bow as a 2011 model. Production is slated to begin in earnest in November, 2010, with early models being shipped to select dealers within the same month. Actual sales will launch before the end of 2010. GM invested more than $700 million in eight Michigan plants for the Volt?s development and production ? a process that has taken 29 months from inception to fruition.

The Volt has been touted as representing the ?electrification of the automobile? within the ranks of the General. Initially represented as an electric vehicle, it isn?t in the strictest sense of the ?E? word, it?s actually much more than that. Is it a hybrid?? From a technical perspective yes, but it is not really your typical run-of-the-mill hybrid either. That having been said, what exactly is the Volt from the Bow-Tie clan? Perhaps the best way to describe it is that it is an Extended Range Electric Vehicle, or an EREV.

Essentially, the Chevy Volt is an electric vehicle that?s capable of serving as one?s primary vehicle. The Volt above all, is a fully developed real world automobile that is capable of operating on electric power exclusively, with a range of anywhere from 25 miles to 50 miles depending upon several relative factors such as load, speed, terrain, driving style, temperature and on board accessory usage. Volt provides a new found motoring freedom with the ability to drive whenever and wherever one desires, with the freedom to recharge at home for roughly $1.50 per day, depending upon rates charged for electrical service in the area of operation.

The Chevy Volt eliminates the traditional anxiety normally associated with operating a plug-in electric vehicle, thanks to its Voltec Electric Drive System, which delivers motive force to the front wheels via half shaft drive wheel units. The Voltec System consists of an on axis electric drive, two electric motors, one planetary gear set, a geared final drive, three clutches and of course a long-life, 16-kW lithium-Ion battery that comes with an eight-year / 100,000 mile warranty. The battery pack is 5.5 feet in length and weighs 435 pounds and consists of 288 prismatic cells in a T-shaped glass-filled polyester structural composite with an?aluminum thermal radiation shield.? Recharging the battery takes roughly 10-12 hours when plugged into an ordinary 120 V household outlet, and approximately 4 hours when utilizing a 240 V outlet. The advanced 111-kW, 149 horsepower high-torque electric drive unit generates the launch feel equivalent to a 250 horsepower V-6 sedan. Regenerative braking and coasting also serves to recharge the battery pack.

The Volt comes with a 20-foot, 120 V charging cord, while a 240 V charging cord is available with the installation of a $490. dedicated, smart? 240 V unit. When the vehicle is plugged in, recharging may be controlled remotely, utilizing an exclusive OnStar Mylink Mobile App for certain smart phones such as iPhone, Motorola?s Droid, as well as other android-based phones. MyVolt.com for computers is also available for charging control.

By now, you?ve probably come to the conclusion that the potential electric range isn?t such a big deal, and that it could leave you ?out of juice? and stranded somewhere. But hold on ? there?s another integral part of the Voltec Drive System ? an Austrian manufactured, 1.4-liter, 84 horsepower, naturally aspirated, four-cylinder gasoline fueled engine that fires up seamlessly when a minimum buffer zone of remaining potential electrical power is reached, extending the range up to another 310 miles. Volt is the world?s first mass-produced electric vehicle with extended range, delivering a total mileage range of up to 350 miles. Three driving modes are available from which to choose: Normal, Sport and Mountain. Top speed capability is 100 mph, operating in either the electric or extended range mode.

In terms of styling and design, the Chevrolet Volt is a cut above its competitors, capable of turning heads with its sleek, sport sedan persona. It displays a well-planted, aggressive stance, a distinctive sculpted shoulder line that gives the impression of fluid motion even when stationary. The frontal image leaves no doubt that Volt belongs to the Chevrolet family. The rounded, flush front fascia, tapered corners and closed, dual-port grille enhance It is the most aerodynamic vehicle in Chevrolet?s history. The slippery design theme continues through the Volt?s rear end, featuring high-tech LED taillamps, and a gloss black rear liftgate appliqu?, translucent panel, carefully designed spoiler, centered bowtie logo and Volt insignia. Volt rides on low-rolling resistance tires specially designed by Goodyear, mounted on 17-inch, 5-spoke, forged aluminum wheels available in either a painted or polished finish. Volt comes in three standard exterior hues: Silver Ice Metallic, Black and Cyber Gray Metallic. Three premium exterior colors are also available: Crystal Red Metallic Tintcoat, White Diamond Tricoat and Viridian Joule Tricoat. There is only one trim level for Volt.

Moving to the inside, the Volt literally screams futuristic high-tech. Standard upholstery is cloth while leather is optionally available in the Premium Trim Package. The door panels feature available design graphic inserts, and the center stack contains a 7-inch, reconfigurable function display that provides graphic energy information, with another 7-inch vehicle information panel just ahead of the steering wheel. The center stack comes with a standard Navigation System with a 60-GB hard disc drive (30 GB for music storage) AM/FM/DVD-ROM/MP3 playback capability, voice recognition, RDS, Bluetooth and pause-and-play functions, and innovative touch-control vehicle function switches. Also included in the standard equipment and feature fare are: XM Satellite Radio with XM NavTraffic/Weather; premium energy-saving Bose sound system with six speakers and subwoofer; and five years of OnStar with Directions and Connections service. Only two option packages are available for the well-appointed Volt: a Rear Camera and Park Assist Package and the Premium Trim Package. Premium paint finishes and the polished wheels incur extra cost as well. Seating is set up in a 2+2 configuration due to the space required for the battery pack, but the rear seats, which come in a 40/40 split fold flat for added versatility and functionality.

?My test Chevrolet Volt sported a Premium Viridian Joule Metallic exterior finish and Black leather interior and came with the polished wheels, Rear Camera and Park Assist. The base price was set at $40,280 while the extras and Destination charge brought the final sticker price to $44,680.? Volt is eligible for a U.S. federal tax credit of $7,500 and may be leased for 36 months at $350 per month, with $2,500 due at signing in addition to a security deposit. Other tax credits may be available as well, depending upon local residency offerings.

SUMMARY: The 2011 Chevrolet Volt is truly a breakthrough vehicle, designed and engineered to fill a niche that was non-existent before. It both looks and behaves like a conventional automobile, while satisfying a need for sustainable energy. It is extremely attractive and appealing in its styling, and is fun and intuitive to drive.

The Volt accelerates rapidly when required to do so, while operating with an uncanny quiet. Road and wind noise become more apparent with the lack of mechanical sounds. The ride quality is most compliant and pleasant and the handling characteristics lean to the sporty side with a planted and stable feel.

The Volt operates in electric mode until such time as the buffer battery level is reached, when the gasoline engine seamlessly comes on line to provide power. The transition is virtually unnoticeable. The gasoline motor will not run without a?minimum level of battery power available, Commute trips within the electric range?limit can conceivably eliminate the need for the gasoline engine altogether, provided that recharging is accomplished. The steel gas tank is pressurized to preserve fuel quality during non-use, but the engine should be run occasionally to maintain the integrity of lubricants and seals, etc.

The main point and purpose of the Volt and its operation, is that it functions as a conventional vehicle would, but with many added economical and ecological advantages. ?It appears that the seemingly long wait for the Volt?s arrival was well worth it. Volt will be sold initially in seven U.S. markets by 650 authorized dealers, and is currently slated to become available in Canada with the 2012 model.

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