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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Is it A Best Buy?

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2011 Chevrolet Volt

SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyers Guide
COMPARE: 2011 Chevrolet Volt Vs. 2011 Nissan Leaf

2011 Chevrolet Volt: Is it A Best Buy?
A Quick First Drive.
By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor, Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

Chicago, IL November, 2010. Chicago was the final stop in the Volt Unplugged 12-city tour showcasing the functionality and capability of the Chevrolet Volt, the world’s first electric vehicle with extended-range capability. Wrapping up a hat-trick, award filled week wherein the Chevy Volt was named the Green Car of the Year, Motor Trend Car of the Year and Automobile magazine Automobile of the Year, Chicagoans got a first-drive in this car that I think is very suited for urban, big-city living.

It was my first chance to get behind the wheel, being an average interested consumer and asking questions of the Volt engineer who rode along and explained how the Volt worked. When I “lit-up” the Volt, the cockpit display told me I had 18 miles of driving left in the battery. Depending on weather, driving patterns and other stuff, a Volt can get between 25 and 50 miles on a fully charged battery. In Chicago like many large cities, driving is often about negotiating streets in short distances from stop sign to stop sign. The “L” mode in the drive selector is really suited for this type of driving because of the braking action due to the re-gen charging of the battery.

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The Volt is a roomy 4-passenger car, with a large rear hatch opening to an 11 cu.ft, trunk. Very suited for singles, or a young couple, or empty-nesters. With the range-extender gasoline engine that kicks-on to charge the battery, I was relieved of any fear of running out of “juice” and could have taken a quick hop up to Milwaukee for lunch…if they would have let me.

With nearly silent operation, a quick pull on the turn signal stalk sounds a “city-friendly” beep to warn unaware pedestrians of the Volt’s presence. Perhaps this feature should be on all cars to help alleviate the blasting horn that is often so unnecessary.

The Volt has all the stuff you would expect to find in a typical gasoline-powered or hybrid car including a Bose sound system, power windows and power outside mirrors. No power seats however, since they would add about 25 lbs per seat to an already heavy car.

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One of the features I especially like about the Volt, and other EVs too, is the ability to precondition the passenger cabin…heat it or cool it… using the remote vehicle starter system that draws electricity from the charging station. My wife would love a preheated car on a cold 20 degree Chicago morning or at the end of a work day, along with de-iced windows.

I was told that if the outside temperature is below 20 degrees F the engine will come on to re-heat the passenger cabin and then shut off.

Which brings me to the subject of charging. We’ve heard a lot about charging at home using off-peak electricity over night. In my view, corporations, businesses, and public parking garages need to install charging stations so that we can commute to work and charge the car’s battery all day long. However, charging shouldn’t be free. Simply swipe your credit/debit card or perhaps a corporate ID at work to deduct the cost from your paycheck. I believe we’ll get to this through various initiatives that are now in the works.

According to Chevrolet, fully charging the Volt battery five days a week for a year will use an estimated 2,730kWh, which is less than a quarter of the 11,040 kWh of electricity consumed by the average U.S. household annually.

Chevrolet is introducing the Volt in selected launch markets. California, Texas, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Washington, DC will get them first. As I write this, the Volt is in production and cars are ready to be shipped to dealers as soon as the US EPA decides on what should appear on the Federal-mandated fuel economy label.

With a $41,000 base MSRP the Volt is pricey. A $7500 federal tax credit is available, that is, if you qualify. Also, I don’t think you’ll see that until you file your federal tax return for the year of purchase. Leasing might just be the better way to go if you don’t have all of the up-front cash. The ROI could take 10 years to recover.

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The Volt test drive in Chicago drew a good crowd of interested persons and there was minimal wait to get behind the wheel. It was a college football Saturday and many of the younger folk were off to their favorite team watering hole or the Northwestern home game, otherwise I think we would have seen more folks taking a drive. However, interest came from many, as you can see!
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© Larry Nutson