Chevy Volt, Day Three: Form And Function


Day 3 with my Chevy Volt was eventful if only because I got a call from Fred Ligouri, Chevrolet’s product specialist in Michigan. He is the person who started the whole “How would you like to drive a Volt for a week?” thing. Fred had read yesterday’s story and wanted to give me some tips on using the regen paddle on the back of the steering wheel on the left. I think he was a little incredulous that I hadn’t figured it out on my own!


The regen paddle is a feature generation-one Volt owners said they wanted. Chevy listened. One of the advantages of the Volt’s electric powertrain is there are no transmission controls needed. The space behind the wheel that would normally be devoted to paddle shifters in today’s ICE cars can be used for other things. The regen paddle goes on the left. The radio volume controls go on the right.

After Fred’s call, I went out for a ride with a neighbor who stopped by in his brand-new Kia Sorrento. By the time he left, I think he was a little sad he hadn’t looked into a Volt before he made his buying decision. Both cars cost about the same money. That test drive gave me a chance to try out the regen paddle. Wow! What a slick piece of engineering it is.

A gentle squeeze on the paddle will bring the car to a virtual standstill from any speed. The longer you squeeze it, the more robust the regenerative braking force becomes. After a few miles to get acclimated to the system, it becomes second nature. I did reach for the headlight stalk a few times by accident, but got the hang of it fairly quickly. Fred tells me that, as the deceleration builds, the rear stop lights illuminate automatically to warn drivers following behind that you are slowing.

One thing about the Volt that I like very much is its styling. Beginning at the front, the car has a low, aggressive look. My neighbor called it “taut” and “athletic.” The hood itself is remarkable. It has bulges stamped into it that look like they are intended to direct the air up and over the car to help with aerodynamics.

There is a central tunnel pressed into the front of the roof that expands outward toward the rear of the car. You can almost imagine the aerodynamacists who worked on the Volt sculpting those contours to follow the airflow they could see in the wind tunnel.

I took the Volt over to Walmart in Putnam, Connecticut, to pick up a few  items, but it was really an excuse to drive it some more. Cargill Chevrolet is about a mile from the Walmart store. On a whim, I went in and asked the first sales person I found if Cargill had any Volts in inventory. Within minutes, he had one painted in Kinetic Blue fired up and ready for me to test drive. The new color is quite handsome and less bright than the blue that Chevy used previously.

I used to be in the car business. I know salesmen hate to have tire kickers waste their time. I was very up front with Jason, the salesman I met, about who I was and why I was there. Frankly, I wanted to see for myself if the reports I had heard about clueless, poorly trained sales staff were true.

Chevy Volt Jason
Jasoh at Cargill Chevrolet in Putnam Connecticut is one Volt salesman who knows his stuff.

I needn’t have worried. Jason was polite, informed, and knowledgeable about the Volt. He told me Cargill Chevrolet has a special training program he needed to pass before being allowed to sell the Volt. He answered all my questions and didn’t seem to mind that I had no active plans to buy a car right away. We left as friends and I will keep his card on hand. I have a feeling there might be a Volt in my future sometime this year. So here’s a shoutout to Jason and Cargill Chevrolet. Good on both of ya!

The Volt I sat in just came off the truck on Tuesday. It had yet to be serviced and still had all the plastic protective wrappings on it that prevent damage during shipping. It was a base-level model that did not have side blind spot warnings or the forward collision warning sensor that my LTZ-level loaner features. The interior was solid dark charcoal and looked a bit austere, especially compared to the high-zoot interior on my demonstrator with its leather seats and two-tone dash.

Speaking of that dashboard, my wife was put off by the butterscotch segments, while my son-in-law, who is a trained graphic artist, found the interior color scheme very much to his liking. If I was able to choose, I would probably specify an interior that mixed charcoal and lighter gray pieces.

There is no accounting for taste, of course. I’m sure the colors chosen by Chevrolet were exhaustively test marketed in focus groups. I have a friend who drives a Maserati. It has interior colors that look a lot like the ones in the Volt LTZ.

I am just starting to get comfortable with the car after 3 days behind the wheel. My phone is now synced with the car’s audio system. I have the climate controls mostly figured out. I have adapted to one-pedal driving thanks to the regen paddle. I find the cabin is comfortable for my just-under-6-foot frame. The ride is supple and well damped.

As I was coming into the house to write this article, I realized I am going to be sad to see the Volt go next week. It is a car that grows on you, which is something the marketing people need to think hard about. It is not just another car. It is a different kind of car, one that takes some getting used to. Now that I have had a chance to experience it, I am thinking a Volt could absolutely fit my lifestyle. I’m keeping your card handy, Jason. You will be the first one I call when the time is right.

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.
  • bioburner

    Great article Steve. I also Love that regen on demand paddle. I can not understand why all EVs don’t have it. While driving with only 1 foot it should be possible to NEVER replace the brake pads and rotors. A big savings. I also have received many comments about the car’s good looks both interior and exterior. We also got the kinetic blue with black leather. Very sharp looker.

    • Steve Hanley

      The Kinetic Blue is very appealing. I am strangely attracted to the Heather Gray of my loaner. Gray sounds so drab, but it is a sharp looking car. With 98.6% of cars on the road being silver these days, the gray is a refreshing change.

    • The Smart ED has optional regeneration paddles. FYI

    • Volt Owner

      Well, there is one problem with one-pedal driving.

      The other day my wife was asking about her Spark EV’s noise maker. I had heard it before and it’s pretty un-noticable from inside the cabin, you really need the window down. Warm weather and a year and a half, and she finally heard it. Even described how it went away in neutral and park, so obviously the noise maker, right? Well, a couple of days later I was running an errand in her Spark, and had the windows down. After a while I noticed the sound, it would bounce off walls, and was generally very noticeable, only it was NOT the noise maker at all. it was a dragging brake pad.

      I had to stomp on the brake pedal a couple of times to get it to go away.
      Most brake calipers will creep a little when not getting used. Normally, they do get used before the pad contacts the rotor, but regen adds to the time before they get used again.

      I also noticed that the service writers at a few dealers were very quick to say “They all do it” if you mentioned any sort of brake noise, once simply because my Volt was squeaking as I drove in.

      New-World problems I don’t mind having…

      • bioburner

        I don’t mind having that problem either. A Tesla owner in Canada also has that problem. The mechanics advise. Use the friction brakes every now and then to keep the brakes working properly. The regen on my Volt cuts out at 2 MPH so a little friction braking is almost always used when coming to a full stop.

    • kvleeuwen

      What exactly is so desirable about one pedal driving?
      I get that it is desirable to maximize regeneration, but is one pedal driving the best solution?
      Other EVs use other means to maximize regen; my Zoe for example is brake-by-wire so when you press the brake pedal, it figures out how much torque the regen will brake and add the required friction torque so it matches your brake pedal position. That means that when braking while leaving the freeway for example, the fiction brakes just enter the picture around 50 km/h seamlessly for a constant deceleration while regen tapers off from 40 kW to zero at standstill.

      The advantage is that the car handles like any other automatic (no new buttons/switches/paddles/settings to learn) and that for example the brake lights just light up when you actually intend to brake. A disadvantage is that it is not clear when friction braking kicks in.

      About the Volt: a great car, very practical and useful. Too bad it does not have a tow rating (obviously with that torque and weight it would be a great one).

      • SpiderDan

        If you drive the Volt in D and use the brake pedal, it will work exactly as you described the Zoe above. One-pedal driving in L and/or using the regen paddle are simply options that the driver has to maximize usage of the regen brakes (and minimize usage of the friction brakes).

  • GoFetch

    Glad you like it. I’m on my second Volt. My first was a 2013 and when it came off a lease I then bought a 2017. By the end of my lease the 2013 averaged 146 mpg after 29,000 miles. My 2017 is averaging >250 mpg as my commute is well below 30 mies daily. I still have the same fill of Gas in my 2017 that the car came with two months ago! The car is a blast to drive so there is no way that I will ever go back to a regular car. My next car is going to be a Tesla 3 and when that arrives the volt is going to my wife who has coveted it since its arrival. I seriously don’t understand why these are not selling like crazy but I guess average folks are slow to change.

    • Dustin

      Average folks buy what marketing tells them to buy, it is as simple as that! Gas car companies want you to buy gas cars, it is just the way it is. How many Volt commercials do you see on TV versus Chevy truck commercials? I own a 2013 Nissan LEAF SL (the fancy one) and it is sad that the LEAF is never the focus of the ads or in them at all. This just makes what Tesla is doing with zero marketing even more impressive. My next car will also be a Tesla Model 3!

    • Michael G

      I am eagerly awaiting a 2016 Volt as soon as the used car price gets below $14K – probably in 2-3 years when all the leases expire. But I can’t see buying a new one. They cost too much and depreciate too quickly. A lot of people feel the same. 2/3 of all cars sold are used cars.

      People go into a car dealer now having a very clear idea of what type of car they want by size. You aren’t going to sell a Volt to someone looking for an SUV. So if someone goes in looking for a compact car, they might look at the Volt, but even after tax breaks the Chevy Cruze (virtually identical) is much cheaper. People looking for a small car aren’t going to buy a Volt. Most probably don’t even qualify for the tax break. They are more concerned with finance charges and for that the out-the-door price is key.

      Only people looking at Volts are those who care about getting a gas saver and even there a Prius is the same price (over 5 years counting depreciation and tax breaks).

      The price has to come down a lot to make mass sales – by $6K at least after tax breaks which will expire soon.

      • SpiderDan

        Depreciation really only matters if you plan on selling the car in <10 years (after 10 years, most cars aren't worth a whole lot). If you're a person who likes to have a new car every 5 years or so, then yeah, depreciation is a big deal… but if you're the kind of person who doesn't like making car payments, and you tend to drive your cars until the wheels fall off, then you shouldn't worry too much about the lost value in these first- and second-gen EVs.

    • AaronD12

      “…the 2013 averaged 146 mpg after 29,000 miles. My 2017 is averaging >250 mpg…”

      You forgot the asterisk saying “does not include the utilization of electricity”. When running on gas, the Volt gets around 35MPG.

      • kcdonjwn

        Actually, on the one long (300 miles) trip in my 2016 running ICE only I got 43 mpg. Thar trip was the only time I’ve put gas in it since I got it in January. And the Volt does have a stat called mpge ( miles per gallon equivalent) that accounts for both the gas and the electricity used. My lifetime mpg is 257. My mpge is 93.

      • Amused Norn

        Gas mileage depends HEAVILY on driving style and speed in a Volt, much more so than a conventionally-powered car. On flat-ish terrain with no particular wind, 75 MPH gets about 30 MPG in my car, 70 MPH gets 36 MPG, but slowing down to 63 gets 44 MPG. That’s a huge change for so little speed change, but it’s repeatable.

  • Radical Ignorant

    Nice to read your stories. Hope you will switch to Volt more permanently. It sounds like this car likes you 🙂

  • Sneezerdoc

    Thanks for the updates Steve. I am going to test drive one this week.

    • Steve Hanley

      Nothing would make Chevrolet happier! My work here is done.

      Let us know about your experience at the dealership. Hopefully you will speak with a trained, knowledgeable sales person as I did. If not, let me know and I will put you in touch with Chevy’s customer care team.