A Hybrid Opinion of Chevy’s Hybrid Gas/Electric Car
My family and I have had our eyes on the evolution of the electric car for a few years now. Unfortunately, it is not progressing as quickly as we’d hoped – there are few choices, and the infrastructure for charging stations, even in California, is lacking. While a fully electric vehicle may be an attractive consideration to use for errands around town, when it comes to longer-distance road trips, a hybrid is still the better option.
There Is a Lot to Love About the Chevy Volt
The ride is smooth, quiet and comfortable.
The interior is spacious and the seats are heavenly, especially when making use of the individual seat warmers. There is plenty of leg room even for (2 maximum) back seat passengers. Everyone who sat in the back seat loved it and commented on how comfortable it was. My daughter didn’t want to leave the car once she sat in that back seat and discovered the multi-purpose armrest to purpose all sorts of ways.
The actual mileage I got running only on gas (recommended for freeway driving) is impressive. It ranged from 40-46 miles per gallon, which is quite good for a car this size, definitely on par with my smaller Prius.
Plugging in the Volt and charging it up overnight at home was easy; by morning I had a fully charged electric battery with a range of 38 miles. I didn’t blow a fuse, I didn’t get a spike in my electric bill, I didn’t need to use an extension cord, and the charge kit neatly stores away in the back of the car.
I love the built-in Sirius XM Satellite Radio. There are a wide variety of music genres and stations, and I never once resorted to regular radio or iTunes during my road trip. The sound was also incredible. It would be nice to have a station changer on the steering wheel instead of having to reach over. But at least the volume turns down automatically when the phone is in use.
Respect on the Road
You get a lot of respect driving an electric, particularly an electric hybrid. The neighbors congratulated me on being the first in the ‘hood to have one. In California, you can get HOV stickers to drive a Volt in the carpool lane without passengers. Out here, that’s respectable…. and enviable.
Public Charging Stations Are FREE
For now, anyway. Probably not for long once the demand takes off. But for now, how great that you can charge free at a public park, gas station or restaurant while you use the restroom, have lunch or refill your water bottle (for free!).
Electric Cars Are Social Cars
Electric car drivers are a social group, and they love any opportunity to talk about their experience. Every time I returned to the Chevy Volt at a public station, there was always another electric car/driver waiting to plug in, or so I thought.
But the moment I showed up they would jump out of their vehicle and start talking – plugging in was the last thing on their mind. They wanted to know all about how I liked the Volt, and then they would go on and on about how long they’ve been driving electric and how few times they’ve filled the gas tank.
They shared what they loved, as well as what they didn’t, and were full of advice and happy to answer any questions I might have.
The Chevy Volt: Lots to Learn; Maybe Too Much?
While not many in number, there were a few things that were big in significance to me:
The dashboard and control panel was overwhelming. There were many buttons, menus and screens, and to really understand it all, it required reading and studying the manual, more often than I would do with any other car or computer. I found very little to be intuitive.
Many of the buttons, menus and displays exist for various readouts reflecting fuel consumption and efficiency. I know a few drivers who would love to geek out over calculating and refining their fuel vs. electrical use to maximum efficiency, but not me; I feel good just driving a hybrid.
I can see re-setting every measurement for every drive to determine down to the penny what each mile has cost in any possible scenario, but after the initial excitement, many of these dashboard menus likely won’t be used, at least not by a driver like me. It was a bit intimidating – as one of my passengers commented, “do you need a pilot’s license to operate this?”
Dashboard Delight: Connecting and Using My iPhone, Hands-Free
Some of my “control panel” frustration was eased when I learned I could plug in and connect my iPhone and speak commands with a simple button push on the steering wheel, using the Chevrolet My Link feature. The greatest immediate benefit of this was for navigation and directions. When I initially set out, the dashboard displayed my map and a voice gave me turn by turn directions. This was fabulous.
But at some point within the first 10 miles, the audio directions stopped, and I had to rely on visually checking the screen for my next direction. I pulled over and delved into the navigation and map menus, but after 30 minutes or more of searching, I gave up and never again had audio directions. While it should have, and very well may have been a simple fix, it was not something I could do while driving or find easily while I was parked.
On the positive, the hands-free voice command was great for making and receiving phone calls. Just as I might instruct Siri on my iPhone to “call home,” I could do this while driving the Volt. It was also great for changing stations on the radio hands-free.
The Cargo Hold
This space is commonly known as a “trunk” in most cars, and a place where you can put things like luggage and shopping bags out of sight. But the Volt’s hatchback style cargo hold is under the rear window, and it hides nothing. A translucent under-sized fabric is stretched over the hold and attaches to pegs, leaving gaps at all sides. This made me very nervous leaving the car, even fully locked, when there was no way to hide my belongings in it. It would still make me nervous just around town – groceries, school backpacks, anything you might quickly stash in the trunk before your next errand is going to be visible to passersby.
Stories From Other Volt Drivers
I met two other Volt owners during my road trip, and both shared disappointment in how quickly the battery charge drops and how long it takes to reach a full charge again. The time it takes to fully re-charge the battery at a public charging station can be longer than you will spend out of the car. This is more an issue of the technology and infrastructure than the particular car. To give you an idea: I parked and plugged in the Volt at a charging station in a public lot in Carmel, walked into town for dinner and an evening out, and returned to the car 4 hours later to find that the battery had not even reached 30% charge. Essentially, 4 hours of charging got me about 13 miles. Compared to 5 minutes it takes to add a gallon of gas and get another 40 miles, it’s just not a big impact. I understand they are starting to put in “quick charging” stations that promise a full charge in only 45 minutes… but for now, the technology has a way to go. At least, for the time being, it is free.
My overall driving satisfaction with the Chevy Volt was still pretty outstanding.
Gas or electric, the Volt’s mileage was excellent no matter how you slice it. I felt comfortable, safe, and happy driving, and the OnStar system was a great reassurance. I’m not ready to run out and buy an electric car just yet as I think another year or two will bring about more significant advances in the technology and infrastructure… and maybe even simplified dashboards. But when that time comes, I believe Chevy’s hybrid Volt will be a serious contender. It is the perfect combination of an electric car for around town, and a comfortable hybrid car for long distances.
What We Loved
- The ride
- Satellite radio
- Gas mileage of 40-46 mpg
- Free public charging stations
- Respect for the Electric Trek
- Tax rebates are offered in many states for Volt buyers
What You Need To Know
- Overwhelming dashboard and control panel
- Transparent cargo hold
- Battery charge only lasts 38 miles
- Starting price, $26,000; fully loaded, about $38,000
Disclosure: Chevy loaned us the Volt for our test drive; opinions expressed here are all my own.
Kymri Wilt is a Cardiff by the Sea, California-based freelance travel photographer, writer, travel director, and passionate world explorer. Follow her adventures on Twitter @Kymri, on her blog, http://miraterratravels.