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?”
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.
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.