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Road Trip! Green Getaway to South by Southwest: Catch a Chevy

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author photo by Autotrader March 2011

Let’s get one thing straight: South by Southwest is simply overwhelming. It stretches across two straight weeks and includes hundreds of different sessions from what is really three unique conferences – music, film and interactive – in more than 30 different venues around Austin. SXSW even has its own iPhone/iPad/Android/Blackberry/whatever application to help you manage your time there. Search, add, save and sync the events you think sound fun or relevant, and just hope that you can make it to the next venue before the session begins.

Enter Chevrolet and its “Catch a Chevy” program.

Local taxi drivers must have been fuming. The streets of downtown Austin were swarming with Chevrolet Cruzes willing to chauffer visitors between cross-town conferences, completely free of charge. Those interested in a more immersive experience needed only a clear breathalyzer test to get behind the wheel of a new Chevrolet Corvette, Camaro convertible, Volt or Cruze.

With everyone constantly hunched over their smartphones Facebooking, Tweeting FourSquaring and-everything-elsing, cell phone batteries drained pretty fast. Luckily Chevrolet supplied the Volt Recharging Lounge, where you could recharge your device while also recharging yourself between panels.

We were excited to be offered some alone time with the most buzzed-about car at the festival. On Monday morning, a silver Chevrolet Volt with 1/3rd of a charge and half a tank of gasoline found its way into our hands. Chevy’s local PR guy told us to that “the fun roads are northwest out toward Lake Travis,” which was all the convincing we needed.

The Volt is an interesting vehicle – part electric car, part gasoline generator, part computer. Though not necessarily a “fast” car, the Volt’s heavy torque and seamless acceleration are gratifying, and the car doesn’t struggle at highway speeds. We took the car into the canyon to test its handling. Limited body roll and tight steering make the car fun to drive, and we were impressed with how normal it felt. Our only complaint comes to stopping the car – the brakes are touchy and also quick to fade, in way that we’ve never experienced before. This is likely due to the Volt’s regenerative braking system, which captures energy generated during braking and uses it to recharge the battery. A light tap of the brake made the nose dip, followed by an immediate need to push the pedal to the floor to complete the stop.

The Volt lived up to its green hype. We drove it aggressively over hilly roads, and for the first 45 minutes the car ran solely on electricity without even a whisper from the gasoline engine. On our drive back into town, the gas engine finally kicked on to recharge the battery, and it was an effortless transition. The only change in the driving experience was the quiet whir of the generator in the background. Over our 45-mile drive we achieved an average fuel economy of 127 mpg and used only a.bout 1/3rd of a gallon of gas. And keep in mind the Volt was only partially charged when we started. On a full charge it could have driven almost the entire distance without consuming any gas.

The next day, we jumped into a Cruze Eco with one of the “Drive a Chevy” students. While the Volt gets most of the attention, the Cruze Eco is a pretty green machine in its own right. Through some clever engineering and improved aerodynamics it can squeeze out an impressive 42 mpg from its traditional gas engine. And it does it for about half the cost of the more technologically advanced Volt.

The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is the entry-level replacement for the Cobalt, which replaced the Cavalier, but it’s considerably nicer than either of its predecessors. That’s not to say that every material in the car is wrapped in leather and high-quality materials, but it is comfortable, sporty and handsome. After speaking with several of the SXSW attendees and Drive a Chevy drivers, it also seems to avoid the “cheap car” rap that dragged down the Cobalt and Cavalier.

Many of today’s small cars boast impressive fuel economy, but few are as spacious and practical as the Cruze Eco. For that reason, we consider it another win for GM, alongside the buzzworthy Volt.

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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.
Road Trip! Green Getaway to South by Southwest: Catch a Chevy - Autotrader