First Drive: 2012 Chevrolet Volt videos reviews hybrids green scene green reviews first drives auto articles chevrolet
2012 Chevrolet Volt. Click image to enlarge

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Buyer’s Guide: 2012 Chevrolet Volt

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Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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2012 Chevrolet Volt

Toronto, Ontario – When I stood at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this year and heard the Chevrolet Volt announced as the North American Car of the Year, I shook my head. This was on top of it also being named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year, Green Car of the Year, and similar awards from Ward’s, Car and Driver, Popular Mechanics and Automobile.

Really? I’d driven the Volt before, at low speeds and for short distances. While it seemed nice enough, I wondered what the judges were smoking to hand over so many awards to an expensive, low-volume model that wasn’t yet on sale and would initially be limited to a few markets.

Now I’ve driven it for a day in the real world, on city streets and highways, on battery and then with its gasoline engine. The verdict: the awards are deserved. The Volt is the real deal. It’s a great car that does exactly what GM said it would, and even though mine was a pre-production model (with Canadian specifications), the quality and fit-and-finish were exemplary. If this is the future of the automobile, bring it on.

First Drive: 2012 Chevrolet Volt videos reviews hybrids green scene green reviews first drives auto articles chevrolet
First Drive: 2012 Chevrolet Volt videos reviews hybrids green scene green reviews first drives auto articles chevrolet
First Drive: 2012 Chevrolet Volt videos reviews hybrids green scene green reviews first drives auto articles chevrolet
2012 Chevrolet Volt. Click image to enlarge

Before you fire up your email, let’s do some housekeeping. GM didn’t (and never does) pay me to say nice things about its cars – in fact, it has let me know on a few occasions when it wasn’t happy with a negative review. And – full disclosure – while GM’s rep did buy me lunch halfway through the drive, you better believe that if it were somehow possible to purchase my praise, I think I’d ask far more than just a schnitzel sandwich and glass of Perrier. In short, I received no incentives for my words: the Volt stands on its own merit.

Basically, the Volt is an electric car with a gasoline engine backup. You plug it in, with a full charge taking ten hours on basic 120 household current, or four hours on 240 current. The car comes with a 120-volt plug, but you can buy a 240-volt fast charger. It’s around $500, plus professional hardwire installation; Quebec offers a rebate on it. Once charged, the car runs on battery alone for between 40 and 80 kilometres, depending on your driving style, ambient temperature and terrain.

Based on the Cruze platform, the Volt also contains that model’s 1.4-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine. Once the battery depletes, the gasoline engine kicks in but doesn’t directly propel the vehicle. Rather, it acts like a generator to produce electricity, and the Volt continues in electric-only mode. (If the battery is depleted, the gasoline engine is running and you mash the throttle hard, the car can send some of the engine’s mechanical torque to the wheels in conjunction with the electric motor for short bursts of power. The company received some nasty press when that was revealed, by a few journalists who said the Volt was actually just a hybrid; GM says that it chose to allow mechanical torque to run through the drive unit because it improved efficiency over using electricity alone.)”

As with a hybrid, the gas engine shuts off when the wheels stop turning: sit at a light or in traffic, and there are no emissions out the tailpipe. (The climate system, stereo and other electronics continue to work.) An engine/battery management system revs the gas engine lower or higher depending on how much power is required. If enough energy has been fed back into the battery, the gas engine will shut off and you’re back to emissions-free operation. The management system maintains a minimum amount of battery power as a buffer, so you can hit the throttle or climb hills without the gas engine screaming at the top of its revs to provide enough power.

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