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.

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.