Matthew Jones18 October 2011

Chevrolet Volt driven

Can the petrol-electric Chevy Volt solve the very 21st century problem of 'range anxiety'? We find out...

Chevrolet Volt

This is the electric Chevrolet Volt. And it has a plan. Well, two actually.

It's called an extended range EV. That means it's powered by electricity, but to compensate for the dismal lack of charging infrastructure, it's also got a 1.4-litre petrol engine on board. But this doesn't drive the wheels directly - it fuels the electric motor, working as a generator. Hence extended range.

So you get the instant torque delivery of a full EV all the time but, because of the fossil-fuelled safety net, you don't have to purse your buttocks when the Low Charge warning light comes on (you get about 50 miles on electric power).

The other benefit is that the petrol lump works as a generator, not a direct engine. Because it doesn't rev beyond a few thousand RPM, you get colossal fuel economy and hyper-eco carbon credentials - 235mpg and 27g/km CO2.

Chevrolet admits that these numbers are best-case scenario - ie, rather optimistic - but not wholly unachievable. During a recent Alpine sojourn, we managed to get 81 clicks before the petrol engine kicked in - and it only took four hours from flat to charge on a 240-volt system.

So, all the cerebral eco numbery stuff's pretty good, but what about the drive?

Because of the clever generator/full-time EV setup, the instant thrust that's endearing about watt-powered kit is always on tap. Even when it's being powered by petrol. And it's a fair old whack of torque to deploy: 273lb ft, to be precise.

The world doesn't tumble out of the rear window when you prod the accelerator - 0-31mph takes 3.1 seconds - but it's endearingly pokey. That's 0.7 seconds slower to 50 km/h than the new Audi TT, and in complete silence.

While sub-50mph is very much the Volt's comfort zone, it's not strictly an urban toy. 100mph is achievable, though the muted soundtrack's replaced by the slightly unnerving thrum of an engine doing entirely its own thing, as engine speed bares absolutely no relation to road speed.

It rides pretty well at motorway pace, and it doesn't make a fuss about bigger potholes around town either. You only start getting thrown around when the going gets really rough, and it's a pretty portly old hector, so wobblyness takes a while to settle despite otherwise solid damping.

Inside, it's predictably jet-aged. You get an iPod-white centre console and gear shift trim, which looks uncannily like a Gillette Venus, and most of the buttons are touch sensitive. If anything they'd be a little more receptive - you can quite easily find yourself witlessly pawing away without turning anything on, rather like our teenage years.

The Volt is pretty much identical to its GM stablemate, the Vauxhall Ampera, but for one key distinction: price. It's £450 less at £28,545 (that's after the maximum Government grant), and you get leather chairs as standard. Which is a lot to forfeit for a Vauxhall badge.

In short, the Volt is a very pleasant surprise, proving that loving EVs doesn't mean you have to be a slave to them. At the very least, cars should offer a sense of unbounded possibility, which, thanks to pitiful range and little resources to sustain them, most EVs don't. This does.

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