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HEELS ON WHEELS: 2012 CHEVROLET VOLT REVIEW


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2012 Chevrolet Volt

HEELS ON WHEELS
By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

INTRO TO THE VOLT VEHICLE
The four-passenger Chevrolet Volt sedan is a sportier and faster version of a hybrid with propulsion coming mainly from an electric motor. Still, it does use gas, with fuel efficiency numbers largely controlled by the driver using moderate eco-sense and discipline to get best-in-class results. In other words, regularly plugging the vehicle in and mapping out your travels (the Volt gets an EPA-estimated 35 miles for electric-only) can mean the vehicle has the potential to run on pure charge. Yet total range with gas and electric is 375 miles.

I drove a 2012 Chevrolet Volt that primarily uses an electric motor drawing power from a 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack combined with a 1.4-liter gas-powered range extender for 149 horsepower. Available in just one trim, standard features included: a color seven-inch display screen with touch-control commands; a six-speaker audio system; USB port; Bluetooth; XM Radio; premium cloth upholstery; four bucket seats; and seventeen-inch wheels. My test drive came with the optional $1,995 and navigation system and 30GB of audio storage space; a $1,395 Premium Package that included leather upholstery and heated front seats; and a $495 upgraded Bose energy-efficient sound system. Total vehicle price came to $43,030.

For the 2012 model year, the price dropped – but so did standard navigation and the Bose audio system (as noted above, they are now options). Chevrolet’s telematics MyLink system is new. The Volt’s main competitors are the hybrid and electric bunch – the fully electric Nissan Leaf, the Prius Plug-in and the hybrid Lexus CT200h.

HEELS ON WHEELS REVIEW CRITERIA

Stylish But Comfortable Results: The Volt offers an extremely futuristic cabin, equipped with touch-sensitive board on the upper deck of the center stack that does away with buttons and dials. Despite the Volt’s savvy and sizable exterior shape, seating is cramped, parlaying into several design problems. The awkwardly constructed center console has the shifter fighting for existence, for one. It’s not anywhere ideal for a rear baby seat. The hatchback design easily loads cargo, but has very small dimensions.

Reliability & Safety Factor: The Volt is listed as a Top Safety Pick by The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the vehicle an overall 5-Star rating. OnStar, an advanced airbag system and GMC’s StabilTrak are equipment highlights.

Cost Issues: Owners get a $7,500 federal tax credit, so that drops the price down. In my opinion, $40k-plus is a lot of money for a sedan, credit or no credit, and at that price I would assume consumers expect a 360-degree premium experience – yet the Volt begs for power seating and a sunroof to achieve such a level of comfort and class.

Activity & Performance Ability: The performance is where the Volt impresses, and the ingenious electric motor and battery pack deliver it (the gasoline engine really just plays second fiddle to the system). Response is quick, smooth and quite. With various driving modes, I can attest to feeling a defining difference in Sport versus Normal. The touchy brakes did equate to unpredictable control, especially when parallel parking. Charging takes a 120V (8 hours) or 240V (reducing charging time to 4 hours), and like the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet has developed a smartphone app for viewing the battery level and scheduling a plug-in time. A portable charge cord is included.

The Green Concern: The EPA estimates the Volt will deliver the typical driver 37 miles-per-gallon on gasoline, assuming you’ll travel the first 35 miles on electric juice and then allow the vehicle to sip fossil fuels for the next 344 miles until the next fill up. Using this formula, I averaged about 34 miles-per-gallon. With this style of driving, you’re looking at a five-year savings of $7,600 in fuel cost. But if you stay diligent with plugging the car in and costs a buck-fifty in electricity, you won’t be paying for fuel at all.

FINAL PARTING WORDS
Unlike the all-electric Nissan Leaf or the Toyota Prius Plug-in, the 2012 Chevrolet Volt doesn’t require compromising style or driving habits to care more about the environment. You’ll also get a truly sportier ride and a deep federal discount to balance out the price.

©2012 Katrina Ramser