2013 Chevrolet Volt Driving Impressions

Driving the Volt is no different than driving a conventional compact or mid-size sedan. We found it more pleasant to drive than many. Thanks to instant torque from the electric motor, its pedal-to-the-floor acceleration is surprisingly satisfying, from a stop or from a rolling start, particularly in short bursts. It will hit 60 mph from a stop in a tick under nine seconds, and it wasn't that long ago that this level of acceleration was a benchmark for quick.

Put another way, the Volt is hardly a bore. Its steering is quite good: relatively quick, accurate and nicely weighted. The electro-hydraulic regenerative brake system captures energy to help recharge the battery every time you step on the brakes. We found the brakes work extremely well crawling through traffic or hauling the Volt down from highway speeds.

The Volt is also quite comfortable, but certainly not floaty and offers good transient response. The placement of its battery pack creates a lower center of gravity than that in most sedans, and the Volt is equipped with premium chassis features such as hydraulic suspension bushings. The suspension minimizes harshness and absorbs big bumps and potholes with ease, yet the ride stays taut and smooth The Volt keeps a nice, even keel, even in repeated, sharp, side-to-side maneuvers. Its hard eco tires, designed to minimize rolling resistance, are a bit noisier than some, but they provide more than enough grip for most drivers.

The Volt's safety package is more elaborate and complex than that in the typical compact sedan. Part of the complexity comes from special cooling circuits for the batteries. Most of the safety systems, such as airbags and the rest are tied into the power electronics so that they shut down after a severe impact, rollover or flood.

Like some of the more familiar hybrids, the Volt is always trying to help its driver achieve better battery performance, better overall efficiency and better fuel mileage through various graphics in the instrument panel. There's a tutorial on how to use these tools, and it's very easy to stay on top of all the information by scrolling through the menus as you drive, trying to keep the battery-stack icon as tall as possible.

Through the first two days of a recent test, we drove the Volt 176 miles, recharging for short periods during some stops (but not fully), and not being particularly conservative with our driving style, except to avoid blasting heat, seat heaters or stereo, or charging portable devices (all notable battery drains). Over those 176 miles, we used just 1.7 gallons of gasoline. According to our calculations, that gave us a 103.5 mpg equivalent (MPGe), even though the EPA rates the 2013 Chevrolet Volt at 98 MPGe.

An another occasion, we drove a Volt 50 miles on a single full charge, using Low range on the transmission in afternoon rush-hour traffic, lifting off the accelerator pedal to slow the car between stoplights and regenerating electricity in the process, and using the brake pedal sparingly (the conventional brakes also recapture some energy and help recharge the batteries, but not as much as when the Volt is coasting down).

Although we were able to beat estimates for both MPGe and all-electric range during those test drives, results vary according to driving style, temperature, and other factors. One of our stints in the Volt came late fall in the Midwest, and we noticed the Volt's EV range prediction was only 35 miles on a full charge on mornings when the temperature was above 40 degrees. When the temperature was below freezing, it showed as little as 30 miles of predicted range.

It took us 8-10 hours to fully charge the Volt's battery on a standard 120-volt household outlet. We'd recommend springing for the optional 240-volt charger, which reduces charging time to about four hours. Pricing for the 240v unit and installation may vary, depending on utility provider and location.

If you drive less than 30 miles a day, you may never have to fill the Volt up with gas. One thing drivers should be aware of is that gasoline goes bad and can degrade within a couple of months. Owners of classic cars add liquid fuel stabilizers to address this problem, but we haven't checked to see whether they are compatible with the Volt. But not to worry; the Volt has a system that senses when condensation has gotten into the fuel and tells the driver to go out for a drive to burn some gas.

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