A normal future awaits this electric Chevrolet
The new Chevy is most certainly not a hybrid. Unlike hybrids, which combine a petrol engine boosted by an electric motor to power the wheels, only the Chevy's Voltec electric drive system drives the Volt's front wheels (though, there is one exception to this rule: occasionally, after the battery has been depleted and the Volt is using the 1.4L petrol engine as its source of energy to power the batteries, the petrol engine will actually help the electric motor in powering the Volt up hills. It occurs rarely and never in EV mode).
It certainly drives like an electric car. In battery mode, the silence is eerie and the first thing that passengers comment on. From the driver's standpoint, there's the initial surge of torque (370Nm at its zenith) common to all electric vehicles and the rheostat-like response to throttle inputs. The Volt takes a little more than nine seconds to scoot to 100kph and, even if its acceleration tails off dramatically after 140kph, it offers all the performance a family saloon needs.
When the petrol motor kicks in, it still feels like an EV simply because the electric motor (or two, since the Volt has primary and secondary electric motors) is still driving the front wheels. Throttle response and the powerband remain the same. For the most part, the 1.4L Ecotec's operation is subdued enough that you have to strain to hear it. The exception is when first starting up after the battery is depleted; the engine starts with a high idle as if it is trying to warm up quickly. Also, when maximum acceleration is called for, the little four-banger revs hard enough to be heard.
As for the rest of the Volt's comportment, its performance is typical of any GM product these days; far better than they've been with only a few tinges of the old, retrograde General. The steering - electrically boosted, of course - is a little light and jittery. The brakes could be a little more responsive. But the ride is excellent, cornering better than most family saloons on the market and, from any seat other than the driver's, it is very easy to forget that you're in an electric vehicle.
One interior limitation imposed on it by its electrical propulsion are the two bucket-type seats in the rear. The battery back occupies the cabin's centre tunnel so a bench seat that could accommodate three passengers in the rear is not possible. That 198kg of liquid-cooled lithium ion has to go somewhere.
It is, other than price, the Volt's biggest sacrifice to EV status. That price, however, will be a large impediment to Volt ownership. Forty-one-thousand-and-change - the Canadian price (no price is listed yet for the UAE) - is a lot of money to pay for something that started as a Cruze; you'll almost assuredly never recoup the premium in diminished fuel costs, though, as I've said many times, that's true of virtually all electrified vehicles.
What the Volt remains is proof that the future doesn't have to be as boring, underpowered or alien as we might think. Or "more car than electric" as GM's advertising department is proclaiming.
Published: August 11, 2011 04:00 AM