Motor Trend Claims Volt Gets 127 MPG, Not Quite True


I guess I am one of the lucky ones, because growing up, I always knew what I wanted to be. I wanted to write. It wasn’t until I got my driver’s license though that I figured out what I wanted to write about. Cars. I just love cars, and I would read every car magazine I could find cover to cover, pretending I didn’t hear my name called in the dentist’s office just so I could finish one more paragraph or page. I really used to idolize the writers at publications like Car & Driver and Motor Trend. Lately though…I guess you could say I’ve become jaded.

For one, I found out that many full-time auto journalists don’t even own a car. They simply go from one corporate loaner to the next, reviewing them and moving on to the next one. What kind of car guy are you if you don’t even own a car? And then there are omissions of truth…like Motor Trend claiming to get 127 mpg out of the Chevy Volt. Too bad they didn’t tell the whole story until a whole day later.

In their initial piece, titled “127 MPG: This Volt Story Must Be Told“, Motor Trend writer Johnny Lieberman goes on and on about how they romped and railed on the Chevy Volt, driving 299 miles, him and a fellow driver had used just 2.36 gallons of gas. I will admit initially, I was wowed, impressed, even shocked, especially after so many other outlets had claimed Volt gas mileage from between the upper 20’s to upper 30’s. 127 mpg? That is nothing short of amazing, blowing away any other car on the street. How is that possible?

Well, the devil is in the details. A day after the first post, Motor Trend released a follow-up story called “127 MPG: The Chevy Volt Dairies”, where they released their driving log. Turns out, they had got that 127 mpg figure over the course of three days, driving 214 miles in EV mode and just 84 miles in “charge sustaining” mode. To me, that is just not an accurate representation of real world mpg, because in reality the Volt got 36 mpg, not 127 mpg. It’s just like GM claiming the Volt got 230 mpg, because in a typical gas mileage testing function of 50 miles, 40 of those miles would be under electric power and not use any gas at all. I didn’t let GM off the hook for that, and I won’t let Motor Trend off the hook either.

In today’s age of minuscule attention spans and multi-tasking, a snappy headline like 127 mpg is sure to get page views. But to publish a story like that without 100% of the information up front and available just smacks of dishonesty and cozying up to GM close to the Volt’s launch.

Having said all of that, aI will say this about Motor Trend’s test. It represents what one might consider a “real world” commute. This is exactly how GM is marketing the car…as a commuter vehicle to use as little gas to get back and forth from work as possible. In this scenario the Volt certainly seems at home, and I imagine many commuters could see similar results. Still, it seems a little odd to me that Motor Trend would make a test that was essentially designed to optimize mileage. That is just fine, and technically the Volt really did go almost 300 miles on just 2.36 gallons of gas. But does this really represent 127 mpg? Not to me. For $40,000, I was hoping GM could do a bit better than 36 mpg in charge sustaining mode.

How about you guys? Do you feel deceived, or am I overreacting?

Source: Motor Trend

About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.
  • GM has hyped the Volt so much that they have done themselves a disfavor. I predict the Volt will be yet another GM flop. The car company that once was…is no more. Bland, and dated model brands, too much fanfare for so little. I’ve had my fair share of GM vehicles, and the Volt is not one that will be driven into my garage.

  • I’m a GM designer and I’ve been intrigued by all the discussion around the Chevrolet Volt.

    I think it’s good to expose people to the REAL way the car can be driven so they can estimate their actual cost to drive the car. 127 MPG + “x” amount of electricity would have been fair to trumpet. All the buzz about the MPG in charge-sustaining mode is just as absurd to highlight given the intent of the car and the way its real owners will use it. Do you really think anyone would purchase a Volt and never plug it in? As a potential owner of the Volt, I’d be quite pleased that it can achieve between 30-some MPG and near-infinite MPG if a high percentage of my anticipated driving would be on electricity.

    Overall I think it’s fantastic that there is a lot of discussion going on because it should expose a greater portion of the public to this new breed of car that for most people should deliver amazingly low energy costs per mile driven.

  • While I have to acknowledge the author’s point, “36 MPG in charge sustaining mode”, I think it was a fair and useful test. They drove the car the way I would on average. If I could do my weekly 300 mile commute on just 2.36 gallons of gas, life would be sweet. The purchase price, however, needs to get down into the $25k range before I would consider buying one.

  • mog

    The Prius gets real-world mileage of 35 mpg, the Civic Hybrid 26. What did you think, the Volt was based on inter-dimensional entropy-reversing tech? If it performs 10% better than the Prius, that would be a technical victory. The public has been fed so much anti-GM rhetoric it won’t matter unless the car runs on solar, carries 6 passengers and has a top speed of 90. [Mileage is better at 55 or less, but nobody wants to drive that slow]
    Yes, some GM cars had flaws. No mechanical thing will always be repeatably perfect. In general, Toyota corporate management has been better than GM, and a Toyota model usually has a history in Asia before we see it in the US, so the new design bugs are [usually] gone before US consumers see them. Given that, I am willing to wait for the car to hit the market and see how it shakes down.

    If you want to make sure something is foolproof, let it spend some time in the hands of fools.

    • GM touted, hyped, then touted the Volt again and again as a “game changer.” Now, it is little more than another “lane changer.” The Volt is missing on all points: Price, legacy, proven reliability, residual value, just to mention a few.

      Had GM simply shut-up about the Volt, built and sold it, then potential customers might have been drawn it to for all the right reasons. But, in typical GM fashion they oversold the Volt. Is Bob Lutz being retained as a consultant, because the Volt’s entire history of mistakes to date has Lutz written all over it.

    • The Prius plug-in should easily be around 50+mpg, even with just one charge in 300 miles. Lots of people get 60+ in the gen 3 Prius (which rated at 51mpg Combined), so adding 12-14 miles in EV mode, make getting mileage 50+ very possible.

      And with multiple charges, the Prius plug-in can get very high mileage: with 3 charges, Robert Llewellyn got 87mpg in over 300 miles total. Add a fourth charge (like MT did) and the total would be over 100mpg.

      Sincerely, Neil

    • The Prius gets real-world mileage of 35 mpg? Reality is whatever we want it to be. My Prius has never seen mileage that low, even after strapping a cargo carrier to the roof and driving it over a mountain range to go car camping it averaged 40 mpg. Without the carrier it would have averaged well into the fifties as is more typical.

      If you only use half a gallon over the course of a month and drive your Volt a thousand miles during that time, your gas mileage would be 2000 mpg, which is not only misleading, but non-nonsensical. If you always drive in electric mode your mpg would be mathematically undefined because it is illegal to divide by zero : )

  • Don’t see how this isn’t real world…that is exactly how the Volt’s target audience would drive the car.

  • I agree with you. The volt is a step in the right direction but they should be getting closer to the Prius in actual gas mileage for me to consider this car…

  • The Motor Trend article and GM have been up front in saying that the to get great gas mileage in the Volt you need to plug it in, that’s the whole point of the car.
    Does it get the best mileage of any car on the market when driving across the country, No and it was never expected to.
    Does it get the best mileage of any car on the market when driven under 100 miles a day, sure does.
    Plus for drives under 40 miles it doesn’t use any gas.

    The Volt is a revolutionary new car, and to dismiss what it does, is to not see the whole picture.
    It reduces our usage of foreign oil, END OF STORY.

    • “The Volt is a revolutionary new car, and to dismiss what it does, is to not see the whole picture.”

      I question whether it is “revolutionary” as we have yet to see it on sale in showrooms and receive “legitimate” (not GM shills) long-term owner feedback. Drivers are no so much into revolutionary as they are receiving high-mileage at now industry standard price-points. The Volt is a wait-and-see vehicle—nothing more at this point.

  • Stupid, why would anyone drive a Volt in gas only mode all of the time? By your logic a Leaf is totally worthless because it can never be driven in gas mode. The Volt was designed to be driven in EV mode most of the time why would that not count. You seem to be one of those lazy journalist that finds it easy to beat up on GM because lots of people are mad at them.

  • Hold it there, partner.

    Sure, the 84 miles on 2.36 gallons technically “IS” getting only 36 miles per gallon.

    But that’s only PART of the picture. Not the WHOLE picture.

    There is the FACT that they indeed drove 299 miles and only used 2.36 gallons of gas. That’s a FACT.

    Now, the REST of that fact is that they used and paid for electricity to drive the other portion of the test.

    But it’s not a lie to say they got 127 Mile Per GALLON of gas used. Because that’s what the math says. And math can’t lie.

    In my world, if I drive 299 miles and only burn 2.36 gallons of gas while doing it, then I got 127 miles per gallon of gas burned.

    If you want to “calculate in” the cost of the electricity, and convert that to an equal cost of gasoline, then I think that still leaves the total “adjusted MPG” at somewhere around 70 miles per gallon.

    That’s better than anything you can buy in the USA right now.

  • Motor Trends definitely tried to deceive readers. So did GM. But there is a bigger underlying problem: the MPG rating is obsolete, it simply doesn’t work for plug-in hybrids. How about replacing it with MP$ (miles per dollar)? Of course standards needed: MP$ in commute mode, MP$ when no recharge available, etc.
    Or, keep the MPG for gas mode and add MPKWH for electric mode…

  • The first problem is MPG is just a terrible unit of measurement.

    The second one is that because people have vastly different driving habits its difficult to compare energy consumption with a vehicle that uses both electricity and gasoline.

  • I don’t get the problem with the writer of this article. They ACTUALLY drove 300 miles on 2.36 gallons of gas. That is how Mr and Mrs everybody would be using it, thus a REAL WORLD driving situation of going 300 miles on 2.36 gallons of gas…. WHAT’S THE PROBLEM ???

    Oh, ya, part of that was on the battery / electric motor alone… ISN’T THAT THE POINT of this car ????

    I think this article is more about GM bashing than about serious journalism.

    Marc P.

  • GM has certainly set up a softball for the Auto Jounalist to take a wack at. But non-the-less this technology is a breakthrough in Mass producing such a vechicle. If you want it to be a 200MPG car it can be – If you want it to be a car you can drive on long distances it can be. If you want it to do both at the same time – I am sorry. No vechicle allows you to do that at this time in this price range.

    Correct me if I am wrong on this one.

    Thanks All

  • For the record friends, I have owned a number of GM vehicles. In fact, there are a number of vehicles in GM’s current lineup that I would buy in a heartbeat, had I the funds.

    The Volt is not one of them though.

  • The fact is a lot of MFG have spent a lot of money on plug in’s and other tech. For the Volt to set a new trend in a new direction could set the others back in time and a lot of money.

    There are going to be people out there that will snip at anything they can on this car. They want it to fail because they did not build it first.

    The Volt is not perfect nor at the end of it development. It in fact is only the first step in a new direction that could change the entire industry.

    The Volt will do well as the numbers in real life are showing good things. With more time and development it will only get better MPG and cheaper.

    So in looking at this car we need to consider the people who are sniping and what they are sniping about.

    I will be the first to day the Volt could be better but only a fool would dismiss this car for what it is and where it will go in the next 5 years.

  • Gilles

    Your overreacting 😉 Motor Trend’s test is actually quite close to my actual driving conditions (mine are 26/day) so the test concept is good, the issue for me is not completely disclosing the test parameters. 36 MPG is sustain mode doesn’t sound terrible for the engine and fuel they chose. Since most electric generators not intended for light duty use are diesel, I believe diesel would be the fuel of choice if the Volt was intended for the European market. It seems like there were plenty of battles between engineering and marketing at GM over this car..

    • MO

      I have been bashing GM since they buried the electric. But hold on a minute. The Volt is a step in RIGHT direction. It is not a hog SUV that begs a Middle East war or another president named BUSH.Ill give GM a passing grade this time and I hope it sells. The price is a little high, unless you compare it to the first plasma TVs

      • Plasma TVs and electronics can be expected to go down in price over time. Is anyone naive enough to think that cars will go down in price over time?

  • I quibble with the miles per dollar calculation MP$. If money is the real question, fine. But some of us really care about how much petroleum we are consuming, and how much we come to depend on OPEC. My fuel dollar that goes to the electric company be it for neuclear, coal or hydro
    is different than my dollar that goes to the oil producer

  • To me, if you can’t count the EV only miles, then Priuses shouldn’t be allowed to count any time the
    electrical assist kicks in.

    GM has a winner in the volt and they’re going to sell every one they make. My friend who is a flaming enviro-liberal (owns a 2010 Prius and, like most liberals, generally hates American cars) is waiting with baited breath to buy a Volt. I asked him why not a Nissan Leaf and he said, “I want the assurance of getting home.”

  • htl

    Chris great to see journalists looking for their own stories unlike many other “journalists”. Even though the volt might be used that way on a regular basis, you are correct to point out that the MPG claim is very deceiving. I personally think they should discount the battery only mileage and use the gas extended mileage to get more accurate data. Electric only should not be included in the MPG claim. We all know if we allow companies to use it they can and will use it to claim insane MPG claims. Case in point 270 MPG… They should say 25-40 miles Electric only then XXX MPG after that. Great article!

  • Equivlent mpg calculations should take into account the cost of the electricity used to charge the battery of the electric car. The electricity is not free. If gas cost say $3.00 a gallon and assume that it cost $3.00 (estimated average cost posted by several manufactuers) to charge a cars batteries and the car can go 40 miles on that charge, then the equivalent mpg calculation would 40 mpg (equivalent cost to drive the distance) not 127 mpg. If you average in the lower mpg when using the gas motor, then the average equivalent mpg is even less. There is no way any plug in hybrid can get an equivalent 127 mpg if you take into account the cost of the electricity required to charge the batteries. In fact, an all electric car will likely always get a better equivalent cost per mile than a hybrid since the cost of the elctricity to charge the batteries will likely stay lower than the cost of gasoline, especially once global demand for gasoline increases as supplies continue to deminish, driving the cost of a gallon of gas higher and higher.

  • LME

    Any vehicle with alternate energy sources (gas and electric) cannot be advertised with a MPG figure. Maybe something like MP$, and even that is conditional on time and region.

  • Sam

    I don’t know about you guys but I work for a living so I have to figure how the Volt would fair for me in my “real world”. My commute to work is 46 miles one way which works out to 460 miles per week. Right now my gas bill is about $60 per week or about $3,060 per year if I take one week for vacation. I’m lucky to work where I would be able to plug in a Volt at work if I had one and I work 12 hours days so it would be re-charged by the time I get off. Worst case, I would be using 22% of the fuel I use now dropping my per year to $673 saving me $2,387 per year! That’s enough to buy a round trip ticket to Munich, rent a 5 series BMW and waste as much gas as I want blasting up and down the A8 autobahn for my one week vacation each year. For real people with real jobs, the Volt makes sense. If you need a car to drive from NY to FL everyday, you really should consider buying a plane ticket. Why else are you busting your butt at work everyday anyway?!

  • I too thought it had gone this far on a single charge and 2.359 gallons of gas. Yes, I know that seems wildly unrealistic, which is why the article was so fascinating. Even to the end of the article, there was no indication that the trip was made over several days with a recharge each day. They could have made a much longer trip over many more days (or a shorter trip that only used the ICE for a mile or two) and claimed something wildly fanciful like “Chevy Volt gets 8,000 MPG!” I don’t know if this trip was designed purposely to produce a headline that seems impressive but “maybe” possible, but in any case there should have been some language saying something like “we decided to test the volt in a manner similar to how we expect most people will use it – daily commutes with a charge in between with an occasional longer drive.” This certainly would have been more genuine and explained the results much better IMHO. Cancel my subscription Motor Trend.

  • So, look here. Honesty sucks when it comes to selling. I refuse to not tell the truth when I sell something. All these clowns lying just to get readership. If I just drive 35 miles a day and only work off my home charger, my cost would be one dollar twenty cents a day. 12765 miles and $428.00 per year on homemade electric in my Florida county. That is the Volt. Now, my 2007 Prius. 12,765 divided by 48 miles per gallon of regular gas. That is 266 gallons of regular gas. $4.00 per gallon equals $1,064. The difference is $636 and that is a fair difference over 8 years if your keep it that long. Case closed.