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2011 Chevrolet Volt (photos)

The power train in the Chevy Volt--one of the most innovative cars on the market--drives the front wheels with an electric motor, which gets electricity from both a battery pack and a gasoline generator. The cabin tech is the best Chevrolet currently has on offer.

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Wayne Cunningham
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1 of 22 Josh Miller/CNET
Chevy's Volt is a bold move for the automaker, an experiment with a completely new type of automotive power train. Technically a hybrid, the Volt uses an electric motor to drive the front wheels, which gets electricity from both a battery pack and a gas engine.

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The Volt's styling looks benign, a simple sedan-like front-end and an inconspicuous roofline. The grille has minimal venting, as it is designed more for aerodynamics than cooling the radiator. As the small engine doesn't have to rev high, its cooling needs are minimal.

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A plug-in port sits up on the driver side of the car and uses a standard J1772 plug. It can be plugged into a 110- or 220-volt home outlet, or a quick charger. The lithium ion battery pack can run the car for 35 miles on a full charge.

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A conventional 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine sits buried among power modules underneath the hood. As it runs at steady speeds, its maintenance needs should be minimal.

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The Voltec power control module is a computer that notes when the battery is exhausted, and decides when the engine needs to turn on. It also governs regeneration and other electricity flow within the car.

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With the Volt's cabin size, it could easily be a five seater, except the battery pack runs down the center of the car, splitting the rear seats. As such, it can only carry four people.

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The 16 kWh battery pack adds a lot of weight to the Volt, but Chevy engineered it to sit low in the chassis, contributing to stability.

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The cargo area is very roomy, especially with the rear seats folded down.

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Chevy shows it can do good coachwork with the Volt's cabin. Fine materials with a pleasing layout give the Volt a quality feel that had been lacking in older Chevy cars.

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As a nice touch, Chevy creates some Volt-specific design elements around the car, such as these door panels.

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11 of 22 Josh Miller/CNET
The Volt necessarily uses an electric-power-steering unit, but the whole rig is well-tuned for road feel.

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The center console changes little from the concepts shown at auto shows, using touch buttons and a high-resolution LCD. It really sets the look of the Volt apart from other cars.

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Although the Volt has a large shift lever, it is merely an electronic control, running the car through Drive, Low, Reverse, Neutral, and Park, familiar settings for most drivers.

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The navigation system uses high-quality maps and integrates traffic information, which helps to avoid jams.

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The LCD is a touch screen, useful for input with the onscreen keyboard.

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Weather information is another data feed into the car.

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17 of 22 Josh Miller/CNET
The climate control screen has an Eco mode button to help save electricity, and therefore, range. But the Fan Only button goes a longer way to preserving range.

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18 of 22 Josh Miller/CNET
The satellite radio interface is excellent, showing channel names as well as the current song playing for each.

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For music on a connected iPod or the car's hard drive, this library screen categorizes it all by artist, album, and genre.

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A Bose audio system built especially for the car has low-energy usage, but still gets six speakers and a subwoofer.

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21 of 22 Josh Miller/CNET
The Volt's phone system is full-featured, even making a paired phone's contact list available on the car's LCD.

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The backup camera not only has trajectory lines, but also detects obstacles, flashing a warning icon over them. The reverse light is also useful for illumination, unlike in most cars.

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