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No Gas Money? Charge It!

The 2011 Chevy Volt

Now please, don’t anyone out there tell me you’ve never heard of the Chevy Volt. Since it debuted at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show, I don’t believe a day has gone by, or a car magazine been published, that hasn’t had at least a mention of General Motors’ electric car. Kudos to the PR team.

And now that the Volt is finally available to the general public, does it live up to the hype? Before I get to my overnighter with the Crystal Red Metallic Volt, loaned to me by Keith Lucas at Ki-Po Chevrolet in Ransomville, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. That would of course be that little number on the window sticker. No, not the EPA mileage figure, which itself will take a little explaining. I’m talking about the price, which starts at $40,280. Granted, the federal government is currently offering a little help in that department (a $7,500 tax credit for the first 200,000 buyers), but many will compare that price to Toyota’s Prius ($23,520 and no tax credit), and Nissan’s Leaf ($32,780 minus a $7,500 tax credit). But technically, you’d be comparing apples to oranges…and to pears.

The Prius is a gas/electric hybrid, which means depending on the circumstances the car is being powered by either the gasoline engine or the electric motor. I’m assuming that’s a less expensive technology than what the Volt has. The Leaf is a plug-in electric car. Plug it in and charge it up; when the charge is used up (or hopefully before), plug it back in. There’s no backup power. The Volt is also a plug-in car, but it contains a gasoline engine which acts as a generator to recharge the batteries. If your charge runs out while you’re driving, the generator kicks in and recharges them as you keep driving. The best of both worlds, perhaps. If you’re lucky and live close enough to work to make the round trip without using up the charge, theoretically you’d never need to buy gas.

Other than the price, I pretty much like the Volt. Thanks to Greg Taylor at Ki-Po for showing me around the car. The styling, though not groundbreaking, isn’t weird like the first hybrid Honda Insight. But you can tell there’s something different about the Volt, from the lack of a real grille up front to the door on the front fender which hides the charging outlet. The interior is roomy, and especially quiet when running on battery power. I think a full bench seat in the back would be in order, though. The Volt seems a bit large to be a mere four-seater. The touch controls on the center stack, which in the test car was a startlingly bright white, remind me of those on our dishwasher. The gauges are a show in themselves. You’ll find yourself, as I did, trying your darnedest to keep your mileage figure high through diligent driving and/or coasting. It’s a distraction that I would hope would will go away after driving the Volt for a while.

And about those mileage figures on the window sticker: The gas-only figure is 37 miles per gallon; the all-electric mode is given a “93 miles per gallon equivalent” figure. They say this is for the first 35 miles with the battery fully charged. If you think about the technology, in all-electric mode you’re not using any gas, so the miles per gallon figure would be either nonexistent or the opposite of infinitesimal. But the EPA felt they had to put something in there, so there you go. My combined electric/gas figure, according to the arcade-game-like dashboard readout, was 114 miles per gallon for my Friday night/Saturday morning drive. Not too shabby.

I think I can recommend the Volt to the new technology buyer who: a.) likes the plug-in technology without having to worry about running out of charge before reaching the next electrical outlet; b.) wants to buy American; and c.) has the 33 grand. I know I got a charge out of driving the Volt.

Read more of Jim Corbran's You Auto Know every other week in Artvoice, and more frequently on Artvoice Daily.

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