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First Drive: 2011 Chevrolet Volt

Is it a hybrid or electric vehicle? Does it really matter?

by on Oct.19, 2010

Call it a plug-in hybrid or extended-range electric vehicle, either way, a thumbs up for the 2011 Chevrolet Volt.

The formal launch of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, earlier this month, was ill-timed to occur the same day a controversy began to brew over the vehicle’s underlying technology.  Is Chevy’s long-awaited 4-seater a plug-in hybrid or, as General Motors prefers, an “extended-range electric vehicle”?  Then again, does that even matter?

As set out to get its first, two-day drive of the Chevy Volt we certainly wanted to get a better understanding of the complex propulsion system GM engineers have come up with, but the real question is whether the vehicle lives up to its lofty expectations – and justifies a rather steep price premium when compared to more conventional, if otherwise similar vehicles, such as Chevy’s own new Cruze.

Charged Up!

The simple answer to that first question is that Volt is, technically, a hybrid, but one designed to operate exclusively on battery power the vast majority of the time.  And for those green-minded buyers who might have relatively short commutes but occasionally need more range than a pure battery car could provide, the Volt is, in fact, a compelling product.

But, like the offering it’s most often being compared to, Nissan’s pure battery-electric vehicle, the 2011 Leaf, Volt does have some limitations and caveats we’ll try to address.

Chevy originally promised 40 miles battery range but now rate's Volt at 25 to 50 miles.


First Drive: 2011 Chevrolet Volt

Getting charged up by GM’s new battery car.

by on Jan.20, 2010 Publisher Paul Eisenstein gets a drive of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt.

Few automobiles have ever received the hype and hoopla of the Chevrolet Volt, but now, almost exactly three years after it first rolled onto the stage at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show, the critical question is whether the production version will live up to expectations.

Most folks will have to wait until later this year to find out; the 2011 Chevy Volt won’t officially reach showrooms until sometime during the fourth quarter of this year.  But after doing some pleading and offering up our first-born male child, finally landed the opportunity to drive a near-ready Volt prototype on a recent, bitterly cold Detroit morning.

We met Andy Farah, the project’s chief engineer, out at the Vehicle Engineering Center, or VEC, a towering blue facility that provides a commanding view of the sprawling General Motors Technical Center, in the Detroit suburb of Warren.  After sipping some tea and getting a quick “pre-flight” briefing, we eagerly jumped into the driver’s seat of the Volt prototype.

Hybrids and Plug-ins!

A little background is probably useful.  Volt is, at its heart, a gasoline-electric vehicle.  But it has some distinct differences from other hybrids, like Toyota’s popular Prius.  The Japanese model has a very small nickel-metal hydride battery pack that is primarily used to recapture energy lost during braking and coasting, power then reused during acceleration. Prius – ad other conventional hybrids — can only drive for short distances and low speeds on battery power alone.