Last month we posted a review of the Nissan LEAF by Gas2 reader Caleb Hey. It turns out Caleb was so impressed with driving an electric car, when it came his wife’s turn to trade up, he and his wife settled on a brand new Chevy Volt. Almost a year later, here are his thoughts on the plug-in hybrid electric from General Motors. I notice his feelings about the car are very similar to my own after driving a Volt for a week last spring.
After driving my Nissan LEAF for a year, I was really motivated to get my wife into an electric car as well. She had driven the LEAF before but was always nervous about the limited range. Although I was never stranded, I did find myself with dangerously low battery levels a few times while driving my Nissan. I became convinced that the only way to get my wife to drive an electric vehicle of any kind was to get her into a plug-in hybrid or range-extended EV.
I had been keeping my eye on the 2nd generation Chevy Volt since its very limited 2016 model release in select markets. Of course, I had seen plenty of Volts around town and was familiar with the car’s origin story after watching “Revenge of the Electric Car”. By March of 2016, I saw one dealer in Austin who had a few of the 2017 model year Volts on order. We scheduled a test drive and after a few weeks of nagging from me, my wife and I signed a 39 month lease for a brand new Volt.
My wife’s commute is much further than mine — just under 50 miles round trip. It works out well, though, since the Volt’s stated range is 53 miles. When we get a full charge, the dash usually indicates up to 57 miles of range but the battery usually depletes right around the 50-53 mile mark. These are highway miles after all, whereas my commute in the Leaf is all city miles with lots of stop lights.
Our Volt is the LT trim, but my wife added leather seats and Bose audio with a Kinetic Blue paint job. The Premiere trim adds safety features, parking assist & cool tech like wireless phone charging but we were looking to cut costs wherever possible, so we had to be economical with our second EV purchase. We drove home from the dealership with a full charge and a full tank of gas. It would be 3 weeks before we needed to add gasoline to the 8.9 gallon tank.
It took a few weeks to figure out the ideal driving strategy. Initially I told my wife to use the “hold” feature to switch from battery power to the gasoline generator whenever she got up to highway speeds, and switch back to battery when she reached lower speeds. My reasoning was that at 42 mpg, the gas was more efficient at higher speeds which would drain the battery more quickly. It turned out she consumed more gas using this method than if she just drove until the battery depleted and traveled the remaining few miles using gas. And now, after honing her efficiency, there are days she arrives home with 4 or 5 miles of EV range left!
The Volt looks like a sedan on the outside but is really a hatchback. The trunk has a good amount of space with no signs of the battery intruding. You can also fold down the back seats to create more cargo room. Unfortunately, the interior is not as spacious as it is in the LEAF. The back seats suffer from low headroom due to the slope of the roof down to the trunk and the advertised third seat is compromised by a divider with cup holders where the passenger’s legs should go. The front seats are far more comfortable with decent headroom, but visibility isn’t ideal especially through the small rear window in back.
Unlike my base trim LEAF, the Volt has a very nice center console and touchscreen. At 8 inches diagonally, there is plenty of resolution to see all the apps and tools clearly and the dash display is equally bright and crisp. Between the two, you get all the info you need to know about your range, efficiency, Bluetooth devices, and much more. An odd design we’ve noticed is that the air vents on the driver’s side are located directly behind the rim of the steering wheel. This means it’s basically impossible to get airflow directly on your body or face, but rather on your hands primarily.
Minor cosmetic issues aside, the Volt is an exceptional vehicle with excellent technology under the hood. The selling point here is a class-leading 53 miles of EV range, with an 8.9 gallon gas tank capable of about 370 miles at 42 mpg. The Volt is certainly not a pure EV like the LEAF, but it’s about the only plug-in realistically capable of being driven purely as an EV if you do not go more than 50 miles between charges.
In our case, it is the perfect companion to our LEAF and the ideal electric vehicle for my wife due to the lack of range anxiety. Perhaps one day we’ll have a 100% electric Bolt, but for now the Volt is the perfect gateway drug into the wonderful world of EV driving!