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2011 Chevrolet Volt - First Drive

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author photo by Autotrader August 2010

More Luxury EV than Eco-Friendly Hybrid


Here's the big question about the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. Is it a hybrid or not? Chevrolet says it's not, at least not in the typical sense. Technically they're right since the Volt uses only electricity to power the car. Now here's the tricky part; once the Volt's batteries are about 70 percent depleted, an on-board, gasoline engine kicks in to generate more electricity. Under normal circumstances, that gas powered generator does not store up energy in the batteries but rather provides enough electricity to keep the car running. However, gasoline never drives the wheels and therefore, Chevy calls the Volt an electric car, not a hybrid.

Electric or not, the Volt isn't cheap. The retail price is $41,000 or about the same price as a moderately equipped Cadillac CTS. However, the end cost of the Volt can be reduced for some buyers by utilizing federal tax credits. This is not cash back, it's a reduction of your IRS tax bill. The Volt can also be leased for $350 per month. Many people seem stuck on comparing the Volt to the Nissan Leaf but they're not really competitors, the Leaf feels more like a straightforward economy car, sort of like an electric Versa while the Volt uses more high-end materials inside and has a more striking look outside. In terms of price, features, look and feel, the 2011 Chevrolet Volt is more like the Lexus HS250h.

Inside, it's like the Apple Store

Inside, the Volt has a stunning center stack made of white, glossy hard plastic. It looks and feels like an iPod or Mac Book Pro and the controls are touch sensitive rather than hard buttons that click on and off. At the top of the stack is a seven inch LCD touch screen that helps the driver keep tabs on battery charge, fuel economy, climate controls and entertainment options. The instrument panel is also an LCD screen that can be customized. A glowing blue power button is how the Volt comes to life. Press it, and all the screens blink on accompanied by an animated graphic and a sort of futuristic swooshing sound. It's a little thing but shows that Chevrolet gets it when it comes to understanding who will want this car.

Cloth seats are standard, leather seats are optional. Those leather seats are reasonably comfortable with the right mix of support and cushioning. There's plenty of leg and head room too but the Volt seats only four people. At 10.6 cubic feet, the rear cargo area is just adequate although accessing it is easy thanks to the Volt's hatchback configuration.

Driving, it's Electrifying

On the road, the Volt delivers remarkably brisk acceleration. The electric motor that always powers the Volt makes the equivalent of 149 hp. Chevrolet says 0-60 should come up in about 8.5 seconds. When cruising along at 50 mph, the Volt still has plenty of power left for passing. Even at that speed, the Volt feels just as powerful as a decent V6 but the power comes on instantly. When the gas powered generator comes on, you can't tell. It adds only a faint sound that you really have to be listening for and there's no jerking or shuddering like in a typical hybrid.

The Volt's brakes are a little grabby during low speed driving, yet have a reassuring, linear feel when stopping from higher speeds. The Volt's suspension gives the car a somewhat soft ride although there's just enough firmness to make the Volt occasionally entertaining. The result is that the Volt feels more like a VW than a Chevrolet sedan. The steering is nicely weighted, it's neither too quick nor too slow and the cabin remains quiet even at highway speeds with very little wind or road noise.

There's no denying the 2011 Chevrolet Volt is an important car. But that's not enough, General Motors' EV-1 was important and many Saturn cars were groundbreaking too. Still, it wasn't enough to make them successful. The Chevy Volt is important alright but it has one other thing going for it – whether you call it a hybrid or not, it's a very good car. It feels well built, looks attractive and truly delivers when it comes to sipping fuel. Look for the 2011 Chevrolet Volt to go on sale in select states by the end of 2010.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2011 Chevrolet Volt - First Drive - Autotrader