Living With A Chevy Volt, Day 2: Silent Running


Yesterday was my first full day with the Chevy Volt the folks at Chevrolet have kindly placed at my disposal. I decided I would use it exactly the way I use my regular car, a 2010 Honda Civic, on a normal day. Apart from all of the “saving the planet” goodness of driving an electric car, I wanted to know, “Is this a car I could live with on a daily basis?”

Chevy Volt

When I am not parked at my keyboard creating stories for Gas2, I am a constable for the State of Rhode Island. That means I deliver court notices to people. Not many of my “customers” are all that happy to see me. Basically, what I do is leave the house and drive to dozens of locations in northern Rhode Island. If no one is home, I leave a note on the door asking someone to contact me. It’s surprising how many do. I call it “littering;” my wife calls it “disturbing the peace.”

I can spend up to 8 hours doing that on a typical day. Performance is rarely an issue, but comfort and getting in and out easily are important to me. My car is primarily a business tool. Ideally, it will assist me in getting the job done rather than putting roadblocks in my way. Reliability is more important to me than acceleration and style.

I started the day with 57 miles of range and 1754 miles on the odometer. I finished the day with 0 miles of range and 1837 miles on the odo. That means I drove a staggering 83 miles on battery power alone. The gasoline engine never came on, even after the range indicator told me I had no range left. This is what people want — a car that under-promises and over-delivers. Congratulations, Chevrolet. Color me impressed.

How do I account for that? I don’t. I drove the car exactly as I would my Civic. I stopped to see my son-in-law in Providence who drives a Honda Fit EV. We drove around a bit and did a few full throttle starts in performance mode just to see what the car could do. I drove mostly on city streets, got caught behind a school bus or two, and drove about 12 miles on a highway. I did not try any hypermiling techniques. I just drove normally, traffic permitting.

The Volt I have is loaded with every option known to modern science. Frankly, I don’t know what half the buttons are for yet. I noticed while I was driving on the highway that the steering seemed heavy. A couple of times it seemed like I had to fight the wheel. I noticed an indicator light was lit on the left side of the steering wheel and remembered the fellow who brought the car to me mentioning something about a lane departure system.

I cancelled the lane-keeping function and the steering immediately became more responsive to my input. Note to Chevy. I can do without the lane-departure technology, thank you very much.

While on the highway, I was approaching an exit I wanted to take. There was a knot of traffic around me that made it unsafe for me to get into the right lane. No problem. I pushed down on the accelerator and the Volt wafted its way, silently and effortlessly, to the front of the line. No drama, just the extra speed I needed when I needed it.

About halfway through the day, I got curious why there seemed to be little regenerative braking going on. Somewhere in the back of my head, I remembered reading about how the L setting on the gear selector would engage more regen. I tried it, and sure enough, there was the regen braking I had been expecting all along.

I have to say, I am uncomfortable driving around in L. That’s what we did in my Mom’s Impala years ago when we wanted to make a lot of noise and impress our dates. It just doesn’t feel right being always in L mode. Time to think of another letter, Chevrolet. I recommend D1 and D2, with a programmable function that allows the driver to choose which is which. People who like a lot of regen should be able to make it the default setting for them.

Chevy Volt

Regen adds a whole new level to the electric car experience. It makes true “one pedal” driving possible, where the brakes are used seldom if at all. With a little practice, the driver can bring the car to nearly a complete halt just by lifting off the throttle. It’s an acquired taste. I don’t think I would care for it on the highway. But around town in traffic, it is just about the best idea since sliced bread.

Here are a few more things I like. The blind spot detection is sweet. I know lots of cars have this today, but it was my first experience with it. It works great. The backup camera has an audible alert that warns of a person, car, or obstruction lurking behind you.

As I was practicing my one pedal driving technique, I got closer to the car in front at a traffic light than the car’s computer thought was prudent. Suddenly, a series of bright red LEDs illuminated directly in my line of sight and an audible warning went off. I was surprised the first time it happened, but I like how the system works. Definitely want this on my next car.

My first day with the 2017 Chevy Volt convinced me this is a car I could live with. Sure it’s “green,” but it’s also a darn good car. It is nearly silent but powerful. It tracks and steers accurately. It rides comfortably. I purposely drove it over some manhole covers that upset the suspension in my Honda, but the Volt handled them with aplomb.

I mentioned that my son-in-law drives a Fit EV. He is an electric car enthusiast, someone who looks with scorn at any car with a gasoline engine. At the end of our test drive, he said, “Nice car. I’d buy one.” Coming from someone who already owns a battery electric car and has sworn never to own a car with an internal combustion engine again, that is high praise indeed.

I could do without some of the bells and whistles on this fully equipped car, but overall, I was thoroughly impressed by the Volt. No roaring engine, no shuffling gears — just quiet, confident, sure-footed driving. It reinforces the opinion I and so many others have — the best way to sell someone an electric car is to get them behind the wheel and let them drive one. Are you listening, Chevrolet?

Photos by the author.

About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I’m interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.

  • Coach Roschella

    Welcome to weird world of driving the Chevy Volt…..I love mine!! I haven’t experimented with L yet, so I think I’ll do that on my way home to see if I can do the 1 pedal driving.

    • Steve Hanley

      I think the “L” scares people, as it does me. But it introduces a whole new component to the electric car experience — and adds battery range as well, as far as I can tell.

      • John Qoolji

        Assuming the regenerative braking in the Volt works the same as in a Spark EV (which is reasonable IMO), L mode adds exactly zero to the range. It is merely a convenience feature. Think of it as a little robot that lightly presses on the brakes every time you take your foot of the “gas” pedal.

    • J_JamesM

      The L mode has a slight learning curve, it’s true, but once you get over it the D just feels weird. I always put it into L—I don’t know how people would drive in the city or mountains without it, not even counting the regenerative benefits.

  • Jim Smith

    I love my 2017 Volt. Wish it was a bit bigger, and the back door plastic was not so cheap, but overall, a very well done car. Why on earth is GM not putting the Voltec powertrain in a Volt CUV? add a few more cells to keep it > 50 miles on a full charge and they would sell like hotcakes. The only complaint i hear from people is the car is too small for them.

    • Steve Hanley

      Will cover interior room tomorrow, Jim. The car is a bit…..snug.

      • J_JamesM

        Ha! That’s exactly how I’d put it.

    • J_JamesM

      They already put a version of it into a Malibu, a Caddy… truly, it is mystifying why they won’t put it into a CUV. The torque is more than sufficient to propel a car with greater mass, though the horsepower may need some tweaking.

      • Jim Smith

        a version of it sure, but it is not the same. There is no plug on the Malibu. What i am talking about is a CUV Volt, with a plug, and >50 miles all electric range with a gas power generator.

  • Ash45

    Don’t forget about the “regen on demand” button located behind the left side of the steering wheel. It performs similarly to if you pressed moderately hard on the brakes, but not completely depressed so that it uses the brake pads.

    That’s another feature I love on hybrids and plug-ins, since the regen braking saves wear & tear on the brake pads, and restores a little bit of energy back into the battery that would otherwise be lost as friction heat on the pads.

    Incidentally, the buttons on the back right hand side appear to be the volume buttons for the radio.

    Took a 2017 Volt for a test drive a few weeks back. That was definitely a feature I wish the Gen 1 Volt had.

    • Steve Hanley

      I wondered what that thing was! I really should spend more time reading the owner’s manual. Gotta try that out. And here I was proud of myself for discovering the radio volume controls on the back side of the steering wheel on the right all by myself. : – )

  • Disqusor

    And it got a nice huge liftback back there 🙂

    • Steve Hanley

      It IS huge. Big enough to make a Tesla Model 3 owner green with envy! ; – )

  • Marc P

    I drove a Volt about two weeks ago. I had a hard time getting in the car and once inside, I felt downright cramped. I definitely could not live with a Volt day to day. The camped dimensions would drive me crazy…!! After driving in the Volt, my CR-V felt like a GMC Suburban ! If only they could make a PHEV version of my CR-V !

    • Mike333

      The front seat?!?

      • Marc P

        “I drove a Volt”… so yeah, the front seat.

        • Volt Owner

          I’m guessing you missed the seat height adjustment maybe?

          • Marc P

            No, I did not miss it and I lowered the seat to it’s lowest position. My head was still almost touching the roof and it felt downright cramped.

    • When I drove my friend’s 1st-Gen Volt, it was a pretty good drive. But the Driver’s seat was never comfortable. :-/

    • bioburner

      Marc P. I had the same problem. I adjusted the height of the front seat and that issue was resolved.

      • Marc P

        Of course, I lowered the seat to it’s lowest position. My head was still almost touching the roof and it felt downright cramped. Not my kinda car. Put the same tech into a small SUV… and then we’re talking!

        • bioburner

          Worked great for me but then again i’m 5 ft. 6. A taller person might have trouble.

          • Marc P

            Well, believe or not, I’m 5’9″, but, like my grade 6 students used to say… I “have short legs and a long body”…

          • Amused Norn

            *grin* I’m 6’3 and have a 52″ torso. Yet somehow, the seat isn’t even all the way down, nor all the way back. There’s not a lot of spare room, admittedly, but there enough to get in and fit.

  • Mike333

    How do you feel it handles?

    • Steve Hanley

      I am impressed by the car, Mike. The suspension is supple but well controlled. I live out in the country with some fairly twist back roads in the neighborhood. The car feels well planted in the turns. I would say the ride is confidence inspiring.

  • Kevin

    1) Your Volt may not have been setup correctly; it never should have gotten to 0 miles left. Taking the batteries to 0 charge is not good.
    2) They should re-name L. Yes, do not put your ICE transmission (PRNDL) in L and drive it. This may have been ‘Mountain’ mode from Gen 1, which allows extra re-gen as well as ICE boost up steep hills.

    • jychevyvolt

      There a buffer, you can take it to zero all day.

    • Volt Owner

      Mountain Mode has zero to do with regen, everything to do with building/saving a bigger buffer for, you guessed it, Pike’s Peak.

      L is properly named, it’s used the same way as an ICE trans is, for holding you back down hills.

      It ALSO happens to be very useful for one-pedal driving. My wife won’t drive any other way. You should have heard her after dropping my son off at the airport, she had to drive his car, her old Honda Civic hybrid. I heard something about “Stupid car won’t slow down”, and a string of other, uh, words…

      You all just need to get over your ICE prejudices towards the L label…

      It’s like idling, you get over the urge to restart the car very quickly. Coming from a hybrid, I was already expecting the car to be dead silent when stopped, as well as expecting to see power going into the battery when slowing down.

  • bioburner

    Yes GM under advertised and over delivered. We get 70+ miles on a charge on our 2016 without trying hard. The last time I was on a trip we burned gasoline and got 54+ mpg at 60 MPH. very happy with the car so far. I really like using the re-gen paddle. Driving around in “L” gives you more aggressive regen like the BMW i3. The last few times I washed the car there was NO brake dust on the wheels so yes driving 1 foot is great for me. Adjusting the height of the front seat made all the difference when it comes to getting in and out of the car.
    Glad you like the copy you are driving.

    • Steve Hanley

      I am embarrassed to say I actually did run on the ICE some the first day, but only for 5 miles or so. The engine is so quiet and unobtrusive, I could tell it was running. I just found the power screen today that tells you how much of your driving was done on the battery and how much on the engine.

      So i only went about 77 miles on the battery that first day. That’s still pretty impressive. Today I went 54.7 miles of mostly highway driving.

      If it weren’t for the small ICE icon that illuminates in the instrument cluster when the engine active, most people would never know. The engineering is so good, the transition is seamless. Well done, Chevrolet.

      • Volt Owner

        My spidey sense went off reading that number! Good to hear you figured it out.

        • Steve Hanley

          Looking back on it, I did see the like ICE icon come up in the instrument panel but since it was my first day with the car, I really didn’t know what it meant. The engine was on – I just couldn’t hear it!

          • Volt Owner

            A few years back, my wife and I were turning left, waiting for a throng of pedestrians to clear a path. They were actually walking in the street and totally oblivious to us. My wife commented that I should use the pedestrian horn (a quiet chirp that went away for Gen 2) since we were silent as an electric car. I had to remind her that we had in fact switched to gas power a block or so before. And that’s with Gen 1, the new one you drove has been made quieter from what I hear.

            Resisting taking a test drive, I don’t want a car payment again!

  • Joe R. Smith

    It sounds like you didn’t try the “regent on demand” paddle behind the left side of the steering wheel. Rather than using L you could pull back on that paddle instead.

  • I feel like the best way to sell people on an EV is take them on a 600 mile road trip. If they can make the drive in a single day and arrive at their destination reasonably rested and in good spirits, you may have something. If that same drive takes even a few hours longer in an EV, you’re going to have some trouble.