Car Tech Video
2011 Chevy VoltIt's the most anticipated car in at least a generation.
This is the most anticipated car in your life--no pressure there. Let's find out about it as we drive the 2011 Chevy Volt and Check the Tech. The 1970 Z Car, the '76 Accord, the '86 Taurus, all watershed introductions, and all pale in the glare of the hype around this guy, the 2011 Chevy Volt. It's being asked to save the environment, your fuel budget, and GM's reputation in one stroke. I don't envy it. The Volt is distinctive in its look, but whether folks are gonna aspire to be seen in it for its styling is doubtful. That Malibu meets cruise thing is neither hot nor hideous. It's a four-passenger sedan, not five, due to a console between the rear seats to accommodate part of the battery. Now inside the Volt, the first thing you notice is, look what made it into production. This white stuff. This was in all the concepts and I thought, oh, that's interesting, they're trying to do like, what, an iPod Classic meets, you know, Imperial Stormtrooper but, no, there it is. More notable than that, though, are these touch sensitive buttons. Almost every button here is a touch contact, kind of like on current MyFord and MyLincoln Touch which I've not been a big fan of that part of touch. Now if you're looking around, you may have already noticed something else really cutting edge on this car--no dials, no gauges, all screens. You've got one in the center, that we've seen before. This is all new--a complete LCD square instrument panel. It's basically like a 7-inch tablet just sitting in front of you all the time. You've got a huge array of media options on this car. They aren't the main story but let me just run you through them. You've got your usual radio categories as well as XM radio on this guy. You've got the hard drive disc aux button right here. Again, touch cycle through it. Thirty gigabytes of hard drive space to rip to, and of course aux, USB. You do have Bluetooth streaming and of course Bluetooth handsfree. Another indication that the Volt is being moved as a mid to high-end car is the fact that it has navigation standard on it as you might imagine. There's a drive mode button down here that lets you go from Normal to Sport to Mountain. Normal is what it says, a normal balance of how it uses electric versus charges versus gives you responsiveness to the throttle. Your Sport mode is gonna give you greater sensitivity and accelerator response in particular but, of course, that's gonna tap more juice. And then the Mountain mode is one that will start to charge the battery sooner when you're doing lots of mountain grades because that will deplete the battery rapidly so the generator will kick in before the battery is as low as it would be normally. Aside from in the driver's seat, you can also run your Volt from your phone. OnStar Mobile lets you lock and unlock the doors, start the Volt, prep the cabin climate, check your charge state, tell the car when and how to charge, even blow the horn to find the thing. Okay, here's where GM has been spending all their time and their bazillions of dollars--developing the Voltec powertrain. Here's what makes this car interesting. It's an electric car but it has a gas engine. There's a 1.4-liter inline 4, super lean burn gas engine here that does nothing but turn a generator. That generator puts juice into a big old T-shaped power cell that's in the middle of the car, and that powers an electric motor that drives the front wheels through a one-speed gear reduction transmission. Bottom line, 150 horsepower, 273 foot-pounds of torque. Huge delta there because it's all electric power. Zero to sixty about 8-1/2 seconds, not bad. You're gonna get about 35, 40 MPG but there's also a number called MPGe or equivalent, that's 93, and your EV range before the car starts to burn any gas to replenish its batteries is around 25 to 40 miles. There's a lot going on here. Now, MPGe is an odd bird. It's a measurement you'll see on some new window stickers that converts electricity and roughly equivocates it to the same energy in a gallon of gas. Rule of thumb, one gallon of gas is 34 kilowatt-hours because I knew you wanted to know that. Now, a word about charging. You can plug this guy into a 120 or a 240 outlet. Here's your charging apparatus right here. This guy lives on this kind of windup thing in the back. And you see, you got a regular plug on there. That can plug into whatever outlet you've got, and then this will go into the little door here. See that guy on the side of the car? That's this new universal thing that all the electric cars are using. That plugs in there. So, yes, there's nothing wrong with charging this car. It works really well. You do get a bunch of electric only range, a nice amount that might even handle your entire commute. I just think there's an awful lot of hassle that goes around with it if you're not really committed and for most folks, just putting gas in it and getting like around 60 MPG is pretty good and all the hassle of charging may not be worth that 93 MPGe. Okay, so here we are. We're under way in the Chevy Volt. On the left here, in the configuration I'm in, you can re-jigger this dash a little bit but on the left there is my fuel tank, my gasoline, with an estimated range on this range extending, generating-on-the-fly drive motif. On the right is something very interesting. That green ball is the momentum meter, if you will. You don't want it to be up or down. When you hit the gas too hard, the little ball goes up. See that? And it gets smaller and it kinda withers and it gets this nasty, phlegmy color of yellow. If I brake really hard, watch this. Same thing, it drops down and it's not happy. It tells you when I accelerate hard, I'm wasting energy, either electrons or dinosaur cells, but when I brake hard, I'm also wasting energy. I'm wasting kinetic energy. Now, on this shifter which controls the one-speed automatic which is really a gear reduction box than an actual gear box, you've got your drive and low. Drive, you know what that is. Low is a little different. Low is like B on a Prius or a hybrid synergy drive vehicle. It brings in an aggressive regeneration so I'm gonna put this guy on low and do nothing else. Down we go, heavy deceleration as it's really putting the electromagnetic brakes on to put juice back in the pack. Interesting trivia about this guy. You can go potentially a year without burning gas if you've got a short commute and you plug in every night and only commute in this car, so what happens to that gasoline sitting in your tank? Gas does go bad, you know. It jellifies. It gets real nasty. Well, they have a pressurized gas tank on this car. Also, sensors that will run the engine and burn off some gas about every couple weeks, I understand it, if you never use gas otherwise. Okay, you got a bunch of modes here on the power flow thing. There's battery power. I'm running off stored electricity and the engine's not running right now. I hit the brakes or I coast and there's regen, that's regenerating with the electromagnetic clutching of the motor to drive back to the batteries. Now, when I get on it, I have engine power where I'm generating through the generator through the battery pack into the electric motors. Okay, so all of this gets down to the bottom line. What's the efficiency on this car? Let's take a look. That's under energy info here on the main screen. You've got lots of things it'll tell you what the MPG is. The confusion does not end. On this charge, since the car was last plugged in and got a charge and the driving history since then, I got a bunch of things to look at. I got 55 miles per gallon overall on this charge. The car's done 60 miles per gallon average in its 2272-mile life. Here's my driving style and climate setting efficiency on this trip. I've not been driving terribly efficiently, only 34% efficient, but I've had my climate control 100% efficient 'cause I basically have it turned off. Here's your climate system where you can save as much power as possible. If you go to Eco mode, it will use the climate in a way that doesn't sap energy, so it will run the AC very limitedly. Down here, that little green ball, that's where you see the total efficiency. You want that number to be low on the climate scale. Chevy has turned out a nicely engineered car here. It's a technical tour de force, enjoyable to drive, and seriously efficient. Its hurdles are the somewhat complicated story around its electric-ness, suburban looks, the fact that it comes from a recently bankrupt car brand, and then there's the price. Okay, so you decided the Volt's for you. Here are the numbers. $41,000 with destination. Now, there's a little bit of, I don't know, I think it's a little misleading on the Chevy Volt website that shows the price of this in great, big, bold numbers with a $7500 tax credit already minus'd out of it, but that's a tax credit, that's not a rebate as of today's taping, though the Obama administration's trying to convert it to a rebate. That will be different. Right now, it's a credit. It's a $7500 deduction, if you will, off any federal tax that you owe in the tax year you buy this car. If you don't owe any federal tax, you don't get any benefit, and even if you do get a benefit, it can never turn into a refund. All it can do is reduce your tax to zero, so in other words, you've gotta owe at least $7500 federal tax to get the full $7500 tax credit from buying one of these cars, it's not as simple as getting a check from the government. If the Obama administration does change the laws they're trying to, you will actually get a $7500 rebate at deal time at the showroom. That will be different.