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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.