Getting a full charge into an exhausted battery took eight to 10 hours using the 120-volt charging unit supplied with the car; a 220-volt charging dock installed at your home will shorten that time to about four hours.

Test Drive: 2012 Chevrolet Volt car test drives reviews green reviews greenreviews green future chevrolet
2012 Chevrolet Volt. Click image to enlarge

This is a four-seat, hatchback (or liftback) car, and with the rear seats folded, the Volt has excellent cargo capacity. We transported a car hood and other parts without issue.

The instrument panel (or really, display panel) consists of two displays that contain an abundance of information on the status of the car. In front of the driver is a digital speedometer, fuel and charge meters, along with other vehicle operating data. This display is customizable. The touch-screen display at the top of the centre stack moves through navigation, power flow, audio, climate, and communications at the press of a button.

Below the centre display is a sea of buttons and lights that duplicate most of the touch-screen items on the display. We found ourselves wishing that the touch-screen display had “sweep” technology like an Apple iPad, so you could just sweep through the various screens.

Test Drive: 2012 Chevrolet Volt car test drives reviews green reviews greenreviews green future chevrolet
2012 Chevrolet Volt. Click image to enlarge

Although this car was fully optioned, one thing that’s not available is a rear-view camera. It would seem an obvious feature to include as standard equipment, as outward visibility at the rear is compromised by the smallish rear window and the large frame of the liftback.

Otherwise, driving the Volt on a long trip was similar to driving most cars, albeit stylish and hi-tech ones.

The Volt, a compact car based on the Cruze, is no bargain, starting at $41,545. Add the $6,000 worth of options in our test car, including navigation, premium stereo, 17-inch wheels and upgraded paint ($1,135!), and you boost the price to $48,150. The all-electric Nissan Leaf costs $38,995 and includes navigation; the package that adds that option to the Volt costs $2,300 on its own. Comparing base prices, you’re paying about $2,500 for the Volt’s “range-extending” drivetrain but that cost is probably higher once you start factoring in what convenience items are standard in each car.

Consider, too, that for buyers fixated on value for the dollar, there’s a veritable fleet of small cars that cost less than half what the Volt does, come with nearly as much kit and whose real-world, highway fuel consumption figures rival those of the Volt once you’ve gone beyond where its battery can take you. For a certain buyer, the Volt, with all of its avant-garde technology, is worth whatever Chevrolet wants to charge for it. In absolute terms, though, it’s a terrible financial proposition, unless you do most of your driving in the city and rarely light up the gas engine. At that point, though, a bicycle for the summertime and a transit pass for the winter is a smarter financial proposition.

Test Drive: 2012 Chevrolet Volt car test drives reviews green reviews greenreviews green future chevrolet
2012 Chevrolet Volt. Click image to enlarge

The Volt’s fuel consumption is terrific, but don’t forget, if fuel economy is your primary concern, a 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI promises to use as little as 4.5 L/100 km on the same highway trip, and you can buy one of those for just over $27,000.

And then there’s the “plugging in” aspect of Volt ownership. You’ve got to be diligent with this; no getting home after a long day at work and putting off plugging in your Volt in favour of crashing on your couch. If plugging and unplugging your Volt starts to become a chore to avoid, you’ve kind of defeated the purpose of buying one.

In town, GM says the cost of electricity to power the Volt will be between one-quarter and one-sixth the cost of gasoline, so there will be real savings to be had locally. On the highway, if you’re in the Volt for a lot of longer trips, its fuel economy is excellent, but there are equivalent alternatives for less upfront cost.

We’re car guys, but these days, we’re more impressed by envelope-pushing cars like the Volt than by big horsepower and sticky handling. That stuff’s fun, but it’s been done to death. That said, though the Chevrolet Volt is an intriguing car, for some reason EVs and hybrids – even cool ones like the Volt — are more interesting than exciting. Car enthusiasts would probably opt for something less cerebral; more emotional. It’s the demise of decibels, we guess.

Pricing: 2012 Chevrolet Volt