2012 Chevrolet Volt

NRCan Fuel Consumption Estimate: Gasoline only 6.7/5.9 L/100 km city/highway; Electric 2.5/2.5 Le/100 km or 22.3 kWh/100 km city/highway
US EPA Fuel Consumption Estimate: Gasoline only 6.7/5.9/6.4 L/100 km city/highway/combined; Electric 2.5 Le/100 km or 22.3 kWh/100 km combined
Observed Real-World’ Consumption: 0.8 L/100 km (exactly 400 km city/highway)

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2012 Chevrolet Volt. Click image to enlarge

The Volt.

This space isn’t nearly enough to really do the Volt justice. But first and foremost it is a good car. I would rather drive this car than any other vehicle in this test— except for the spritely Golf—just for the way it accelerates, turns, and stops. It also looks good, splitting the difference between the aerodynamic-at-all-costs Prius and an ordinary yet edgy sedan.

It picks up speed quickly with the mountains of torque from GM’s revolutionary “Voltec” electric drive unit that houses two electric motors, three clutches, a gear set, and a rainbow-powered unicorn. Well, everything except the rainbow-powered unicorn. The Voltec (it’s kind of fun to say, right? Too bad Voltron was already taken, though…) drive motor can generate 111 kW of motoring power, equivalent to 150 horsepower, plenty for a 1,715-kg car, almost 200 of that the battery. Anyhow, Voltec also pumps out an impressive 273 lb-ft of torque, which gets the Volt moving off the line with a peppy kick.

The Lithium-ion battery itself is described as a rechargeable energy storage system comprising multiple linked modules. Sounds fancy, right? Well, it is also cased in a “T-shaped glass-filled polyester structural composite with aluminum thermal radiation shield and steel.” That’s what keeps the Li-ion battery safe; a US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigation concluded that no defects exist and that it is not a safety concern, despite the inherent risks for Li-ion battery chemical instability that can lead to combustion. It’s safe. Move along folks, nothing to see here.

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2012 Chevrolet Volt. Click image to enlarge

Practically, it can cover between 40 and 80 kilometres using no gasoline in pure electric mode, while producing zero tailpipe emissions—the only emissions come from whatever powerplant supplies your home’s electricity, none if you run on wind, sunbeams, or universal good will. It has a 16 kWh charge capacity and takes about 10 to 12 hours to charge from empty at an ordinary 110V household outlet, or about 4 hours with a ‘Stage 2’ 240V charger.

Its ace in the hole is a 1.4L gasoline engine that kicks in as a generator to charge the battery on the fly when the battery is depleted. It extends the range of this ‘electric vehicle’ to a road-trip worthy 500 km or so. In our week with the Volt, we used a total of 3.2 L of gas, in exactly 400 km of city and highway driving, for an average of 0.8 L/100 km. Amazing, right? Well… yes, but I have to confess that we babied the Volt and sent other vehicles on any trips we knew would surpass its range, moreso to prove the point that if your round-trip commute to work is between 50 and 60 km, you could bring your gas bill practically down to dollars per month, with an estimated $50 increase in monthly electricity bill, as per the Energuide estimated annual electrical cost. Of course, rates may vary.

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2012 Chevrolet Volt. Click image to enlarge

However, you will pay rather dearly for this four-seat (yup, count ‘em, just 4) hatchback that cannot match most compact hatchbacks or crossovers for practicality. Starting price is $41,545, and with the Preferred Equipment Group 1SA (sexy package name, GM), Rear Vision Camera and Park Assist Package (gee I wonder what you get with that package?), plus destination and A/C tax, it is the most expensive in test at $45,585. Purchase rebates in Ontario ($8,231), BC ($5,000), and Quebec ($7,769 for 2012; $7,884 for 2013), also available proportionally for shorter term vehicle leases, bring the pricing closer to some of the fully loaded models in this test.

Will you ever make it back in fuel savings? Let’s hope not, because that would probably mean $4.00/L gasoline. As with any advanced technology, you are footing the bill for the research and indirectly investing in further development of alternative propulsion technologies, but you do at least come home with a gee-whiz amazing car.

It is well featured for that price, and I am a big fan of the two-tone white on black interior with glossy white plastic and smooth surface centre stack with touch sensitive points for climate, radio, and vehicle info. The graphics and sound effects for the vehicle interface were also sci-fi cool, and even the whirr of the electric motor under acceleration made for a futuristic soundtrack that reminded you, at every turn that you were driving the future. Just try to put a price on that…

Price: 2012 Chevrolet Volt
Base price: $41,545
Options: $2,490 (Preferred Equipment Group 1SA $1,695; Rear camera and Park assist $795)
Destination: $100
A/C Tax: $1,450
Price as tested: $45,585

Although we implied that there would be no winners, we lied. Though we could hand out participation awards like ‘Most Stylish’ for the Sonata or ‘Most Practical’ for the Mazda CX-5 or ‘Best Hybrid’ for the Prius, this isn’t a yearbook and there were two very clear-cut winners in the two criteria we set out to test.

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2012 Chevrolet Volt. Click image to enlarge

Being an automotive site, we have to recognize the Volkswagen Golf TDI as the best ‘driver’s car’ while still delivering excellent fuel economy—it is just plain fun to drive, though perhaps that is relative to the others in this Comparison Test. A Mazda3 SkyActiv-G with a manual transmission is another great option if fun ranks as highly as efficiency in your vehicle priorities.

And at the end of the day, this was an efficiency comparison, so the Volt wins, but not just because it is the most efficient and groundbreaking, but because it is a fine car to drive in its own right, with high-tech features and a great design to go along with its high-tech Voltec powertrain.

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