Mr. Green Car: Mr. Green Car test drives the Chevy Volt, gives two thumbs up

2012 Chevy Volt (Photo by Allen Penticoff

By Allen Penticoff
Free-lance Writer

The future has arrived. We have waited for this moment for several years now. Chevrolet, and indeed the U.S. government, have touted this vehicle as the future of not only driving — but a new economy and a new way of life. It’s here, and you can go drive one.

A good friend of mine, Dan Medler, is a G.M. Mr. Goodwrench who works at Bocker Chevrolet in Freeport. Dan was recently trained to be their only Volt technician, so when the dealer had two new Volts arrive, he let me in on it. Ironically, he has yet to drive one. But I have.

With the assistance of sales representative Curt Baumann, I got a firsthand look at the new Volt — Chevrolet’s innovative electric car. He showed me all its bells and whistles, of which there are plenty. Then, we took it out for a brief test drive. First thing you notice is the utter quiet. It is so quiet that a special pedestrian-friendly horn honks at speeds under 40 mph, and the backup light is big and bright to let people know you’re moving in reverse.

2012 Chevy Volt (Photo by Allen Penticoff)

The ride is solid. I’d call it sporty, but not harsh. The electric power steering is light, but not too light, with good feedback. Delightful is how I would describe the steering. With all the battery weight down low, it should hug any curvy roads you come upon. The overall feel is of lightness, but not in a tiny, skimpy way — more like you know this vehicle was engineered to be light and stiff, which is exactly what it is.

There is a systems screen in front of the steering wheel that gives you many options to see what is going on with the Volt, as well as the sound/climate/navigation screen in the dash center. These can be modified to choose what information you want. The speed digits are very clear and prominent, as is the battery symbol with countdown of driving miles remaining on a charge. If it is using fuel, the fuel tank display will similarly show how far you can go on a tank (combined electric and fuel is 375 miles). A driving style indicator is a rotating green ball that moves up a bar while accelerating and down while decelerating. Your goal for most efficient driving is to keep the ball in the middle.

2012 Chevy Volt (Photo by Allen Penticoff)

Power is controlled by three mode choices: Normal, Sport and Mountain. Normal will be your everyday driving mode, and power is delivered in a most efficient manner. Sport allows you to draw more juice quickly for stronger acceleration (it has great acceleration in normal mode), while according to the slick and informative brochure, Mountain “makes sure that the battery has a bigger energy reserve to drive up mountainous inclines.”

On average, you can expect to go 35 miles on the batteries only. You can silently go 100 mph on the batteries, but don’t expect to go too far. The EPA estimates that you’ll get 95 MPGe on electricity only. When the juice is gone, the premium gasoline-powered onboard generator will start to provide power. When running on gas, EPA estimates 35 MPG city and 40 MPG highway. Remember, this is no tiny Honda Insight, this is a roomy four-door sedan — so fuel economy is pretty good for a vehicle of this size. In a city like Freeport, for the average person, you could easily do all your driving on electricity (average $1.50 per day), and only when heading well out of town expect to burn any fuel.

A systems screen in front of the steering wheel gives you options to see what is going on with the Volt. (Photo by Allen Penticoff)

The car I drove was a pretty metallic red. I found the interior size and comfort to be nearly identical to a new-model Prius. There are options available to sweeten up the car, and this one had it all — bringing the sticker price to $43,000. While you could almost get two Priuses for the price of the Volt, I think they are going to be a new status vehicle, and I hope they will be. Showing off your wealth in a gas-hog Escalade is no longer cool; driving the world’s top-of-the-line electric car is. Bocker had already sold one to a local airline pilot — that’s the kind of early adopter who will seek out the Volt, someone who enjoys owning the latest in technology. And there is much more new technology and features than I can go into here.

Mr. Green Car gives the new Chevy Volt two thumbs up for being an efficient, stylish, good-handling, well- thought-out and built automobile. Go check it out.

From the Oct. 19-25, 2011, issue

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