Woodward 2011: Dallas to Detroit in a Chevrolet Volt

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author photo by David Boldt August 2011

With delivery mileage from a North Dallas 'burb, there were but five miles left on the Chevy Volt's battery. But then, with a scheduled drive from Dallas to Detroit for the Woodward Dream Cruise, the Volt's battery wouldn't be playing a major role in this exercise, anyway. To burn the balance of the juice, we enlisted our neighbor, Don While, whose enthusiasm for things Chevy dates back to at least the mid-sixties, when he began a lifelong relationship with a Corvair convertible. Notably, the Volt may be the most radical entry from the folks at Chevrolet since the Corvair.

On taking his first street-level look, Don's impressed with the design statement, while wishing the production car had retained the Volt concept's roofline. Admittedly, in its transition from concept to production the Volt did lose a few style points, but this remains a distinctive product in a sea of relative blandness. And as innovative as the Corvair was in its time, it ran in the shadow of its iconic forebear, the Volkswagen Beetle. Today, with an all-electric range of some 40 miles - and a gas-generated range of some 300 miles - the Volt seems to sit between the more established Prius and Nissan's all-electric Leaf in consumers' range of recognition.

With the battery gone, and little interest in the forty (or so) gasoline-free miles it could deliver with a recharge, we departed - on gas - from our Dallas suburb in the pre-dawn on Tuesday, August 16th, bound for Detroit's Dream get-together via Nashville, Louisville and Toledo. In truck-lovin' Texas the Volt would seem to be an aberration, but there are enough people doing longish commutes for fuel efficiency to be of growing interest. And even in gas-only mode, the Volt hums. The gas engine is a highly refined - and highly muffled - four-cylinder driving a generator. The generator feeds the batteries, and the batteries supply energy to the motor - which propels the car. The Volt isn't appliance-like; it IS an appliance. And as an appliance it conveys one thing to the enthusiast of alternative solutions, and suggests quite another for those preferring some boom to their economic bust.

With the residual of battery propulsion for the Volt's first 40 miles, the Chevy covers a total of 108 miles before consuming two gallons of gas. As the odometer passes 200, the Volt's fuel gauge indicates an average of 43.8 miles per gallon.

Three hours after departing Dallas, we make our first gas stop, adding 5.4 gallons at a cost of $18.50. That's 244 miles on the odometer, and a 42.2 miles per gallon average. It also returns us to an indicated 300 miles of range.

Interstate 30 takes us into Little Rock; Interstate 40 takes us out. No time for a visit to the Clinton Museum - we've been there, and it's well worth the stop if you haven't - but there is time to enjoy the Little Rock skyline and the Arkansas River. From the Arkansas it's on to Mississippi.

At 400 miles we've consumed just over 10 gallons of fuel, dropping our overall average to just under 40 miles per gallon. At the Tennessee state line, with 520 miles of driving (480 of which is on gasoline) we have consumed 13.3 gallons, for an average of just over 39 miles to the gallon. And as we pass through midday - and over half of the day's planned 850 miles - we're very impressed by the Volt's over-the-road demeanor. For a car capable of 40+ miles per gallon - and roughly 40 miles of all-electric running on a single charge - this is one very competent platform. The over-the-road ride is composed, the steering seemingly well connected, and your driver isn't suffering from aches of staying seated for too long, despite the relatively few number of stops.

We enter Tennessee in Memphis, and in that it's August 16th, the date of Elvis' passing (or birthday - there's been some confusion on that point) the entire city seems to be taking part in the commemoration/celebration. We tune in details of same on the Volt's XM/Sirius radio, stop at the Tourist Info facility dedicated to Elvis the King and his musical kin, B.B. the King, and try to see Mud Island without buying a gondola ticket.

Tennessee packs more action than we have time to take in. Be it the Natchez Trace Parkway, connecting some 10,000 years of North American history to Nashville, or Loretta Lynn's Kitchen, which can get you all the way to Kentucky on just one fillup, the state - like a quilt - is one of many colors. Add Nashville's Music Row and the Opryland Hotel to your motoring mix and you have a long weekend full of both excursions and diversions. And that's not even remembering the Corvette Museum just up the road in Bowling Green, Kentucky - where plastic fantasy meets Middle America in a head-on collision.

Our overnight in downtown Louisville allows for little more than shuteye. The Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali complex is worth seeing, as are those venues in Louisville devoted to the promotion of distilled spirits. We, however, are into the spirit of alternative propulsion, and the Volt is more than living up to its potential as we begin our second day of driving.

After the rain-deprived plains of Texas and - to a lesser extent - Arkansas, the lushness of Northern Kentucky and Southern Ohio is nothing short of amazing. Downtown Cincinnati hugs the Ohio River as if it's intending to take a swim, and just past Cincinnati is Dayton - home of Orville and Wilbur Wright. The Aviation Trail has some thirteen destinations in and around Dayton which commemorate flight - and this area's intimate connection to its invention and development.

We chose, however, the Wright Cycle Company, housed in an original building on its original West Dayton site used by the brothers between 1895 and 1897. A restoration, it serves as a reasonably authentic look at bicycle fabrication and sales in the middle of America's first bicycle boom. And for the aviation enthusiast, it connects the dots between the Wrights' day gig and their ongoing fascination with powered flight. Next door is the Aviation Trail Visitor Center, where the Air Corps can get their dose of Wright Brothers history as most biographers would have intended.

As the odometer passes through four digits, the Volt has consumed 26 gallons of gas, for an average of just over 38 miles per gallon. We've had the cruise control set at 73 for most of the drive, with occasional bursts to clean out the plugs. And in the second day, everything seems as good as the first; we enjoy a relaxing platform with solid build quality, reasonable handling and good outward visibility. We'd argue with the size of the C-Pillar, which can make parallel parking problematic, and the lack of a luggage cover, but in most other areas the Volt seems to be a triple, if not an out-of-the-park homerun. It may well be one of the best car GM currently builds, and bodes well of the General's on-deck product portfolio.

We enter Michigan in the early afternoon, passing the Flat Rock plant where they build Mustangs and Mazdas (for now), the Brownstown Township facility where the Volt's batteries are assembled into battery packs, and on past Hamtramck, where the Chevy Volt is assembled. With the rush hour upon us, we rush past downtown Detroit and on to Troy, the 'burb where we'll preview the Woodward Cruise from an area Marriott.

With just under 1200 miles of all-gas driving, we've consumed 33.5 gallons of fuel, for an overall average of just under 39 miles per gallon. This, of course, is Wednesday. On Thursday we meet Roger and Janice Kitten, arriving in Detroit from Lubbock, Texas in their new Volt. With a drawl you couldn't cut through with a machete, Roger tells of his 1,450 miles and 43 mile per gallon average.

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Woodward 2011: Dallas to Detroit in a Chevrolet Volt - Autotrader