Chevrolet Volt: First drive review

Think you've seen this car on Autoblog before? Well, you'd be right, as we've already driven an early European car to the Frankfurt Motor Show last year and more recently we've had the chance to drive the Volt's sister car, the Vauxhall Ampera on UK roads.

In fact, the Volt along with the Ampera, shares the coveted 2012 Car of The Year award. With these cars, we reckon that both of these brands of the GM empire must be hoping 2012 is the year of the petrol-electric hybrid.
On sale now, we headed to Cambridge for an early drive of a UK-specification car to see how it handles British roads.

The first question that must be asked is why buy a Volt over last year's Car of The Year winner, the all-electric Nissan Leaf? Well, whilst there's no doubt the Leaf is an accomplished drive, once its 80 mile range is done, you'll need to find the nearest charging station.

This is where the Volt scores, as on top of its Voltec 140bhp electric drive unit, the Chevrolet also has a range-extending, 86bhp 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. Thus, removing the anxiety associated with the range of electric cars. The engine also boosts performance and increases the range to more than 300 miles.

First thoughts are that overall the Volt is much better-looking than the Ampera. The slim headlights and latest version of the Chevrolet family grille look much smoother.

Like the Vauxhall, the other neat Volt styling features from the side include sculpted wing mirrors, distinctive thick black and chrome trim, that deceives you into thinking that the Volt has a much lower window line and the five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels.

The rear bumper treatment for the Volt might be less fussy than for the Ampera, but the rear styling in our view is still the least successful part of the design. The slim lights might look smart but we don't like the way they're mounted high up by the tailgate.

There are virtually no changes between the Chevrolet and Vauxhall inside. Certainly, there's nothing to scare Chevrolet owners inside the Volt, as the wraparound dashboard design, multi-function steering wheel and chunky switchgear are similar to those fitted to other models such as the Cruze.

However, what you won't find in any other Chevrolet models are the two large TFT displays, the button-heavy centre console (finished in pearl white on the Volt) and the large gear selector.

Like the Ampera, we were less keen on the Volt's twin rear seats and shallow boot. Both we think are the result of the electric drivetrain but spoil practicality. Also, whilst there might be plenty of space in the front and a fine driving position, anyone over 6ft tall is going to be uncomfortable in the back. Legroom and especially headroom is tight because of the curvy roofline.

Although the Volt feels like a high-quality product, we're not sure the Volt's interior quality or that the Chevrolet brand is strong enough against sub £30,000 rivals.

Still, where the Volt scores over the Ampera is that after the Goverment's plug-in electric car grant of £5,000, there's just one £29,995 model rather than Vauxhall's two versions.

This Chevrolet has everything fitted as standard, including, a DAB radio, 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system, alloy wheels, a bespoke Bose Energy Efficient Series sound system, DVD video player, 30GB hard-disc storage and voice control for the navigation, telephone and music systems.

In fact, the only option is whether you want the 17-inch alloy wheels chromed (like our black test car) or not.

Most important though, is how the Volt drives. Well, it might have a complicated petrol/electric powertrain, but it is very easy to drive. To get going, all you do is press the start button, select drive on the auto box, unclick the electric handbrake and the Chevrolet moves away in total silence. Just watch out for the thick roof pillars that compromise all-round vision.

Good to drive, with all 370Nm of torque from the electric motor available from standstill, the Volt feels hot-hatch quick. However, prolonged use of the accelerator will have a negative effect on the range of the electric motor.

It might weigh a rather hefty 1732kg, but the Chevrolet can still get to 60mph in 9.0 seconds and the 99mph top speed is believable.

There's a choice of three modes: Normal, Sport and Mountain. We spent most of the time in Normal mode, although we also tried the Sport mode, where the only noticeable change was that the accelerator pedal seemed much more responsive and although no quicker, acceleration felt much sharper.

We achieved 30 miles of electric power on the mixed test route. Then, when the battery ran out, the Volt moved almost seamlessly into extended range mode. This is basically where the 1.4-litre petrol engine powers the electric motor. Performance didn't seem to be affected and the Volt's interior remains a refined place to be. With just some vibrations and engine noise giving a clue that the petrol engine was being worked.

The Volt might be fitted with 17-inch wheels and the ride is taut, but bumps and potholes are well absorbed. Yes, there is some body roll in corners and you can feel the extra weight, but the grip is good and the steering responsive.

Interestingly, we wondered whether the Volt had lower suspension than the Vauxhall? It is just that the front spoiler seemed to catch on every speed bump.

Overall though, we think the Volt could be just the car for buyers who like the idea of a car such as the Nissan Leaf, but are put off by the restrictive range. The £29,995 list price means it won't be in the price range of every buyer, but if you're an urban commuter and can drive the Chevrolet purely on electric power, there's no doubt you'll be saving on fuel.

Chevrolet are mostly aiming at the retail market, but the Volt will attract company car buyers too, with a tax rate much lower than a conventional petrol model.

Chevrolet Volt: First drive review
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Chevrolet Volt: First drive review
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