The Chevrolet Volt is a range-extending hybrid-electric vehicle, loosely based on the Vauxhall Astra. Featuring a rechargeable battery, an electric motor and a small 1.4-litre petrol-fueled generator, the Volt is part of a new breed of more useable electric cars. The battery can be fully charged in just four hours from a normal household socket, and after completing a range of approximately 50miles on electric power alone the on-board 86bhp petrol engine then powers the motor. Averaging 235mpg and carbon emissions of just 27g/km, the Volt is capable of 0-62mph in 9 seconds and can reach limited top speed of 100mph.
Whether you're driving the Volt in electric mode or using the petrol generator, the focus is on delivering a relaxing ride rather than driving thrills. It's surprisingly nippy around town too, with instant torque from the batteries making it quick off the line. The automatic gearbox and light steering mean the Volt is very easy to drive, with minimal effort required, making is a very relaxing place to sit. There three different modes to choose from, 'Normal', 'Sport' and 'Mountain' each with its own set of dynamic parameters, and a 'hold' mode - which allows drivers to save the battery power until they reach a congested area or traffic jam. It's surprisingly nimble given the weight of the batteries on board, and more fun to drive than rivals like the Plug-in Toyota Prius.
In full electric mode, few cars are as hushed and refined as the Chevrolet Volt. The aerodynamic shape means road and wind noise and well suppressed, and there's almost no sound at all from the electric motor. When the 1.4-litre petrol engine starts, there's a little more disturbance, but it's still quieter than more conventional rivals. Ride comfort is also good, but broken road surfaces can cause the Volt to feel jittery and unsettled, but it copes with bigger undulations very well. There's lots of room inside, and all-round visibility is decent - although the spoiler that runs across the rear window can be a hindrance when parking.
As the technology in the Volt is so new, it's not yet clear how reliable it will prove, but the reduction of moving parts in the electric motor actually means that there are less things to go wrong. Chevrolet offers an eight year, 100,000 mile warranty on the Volt's batteries, and a lot of work has gone into ensuring that the Volt is as safe as possible, and it has an individually heated and cooled crash structure built around the batteries to protect them in the event of a crash. It feels solidly built inside too, and the Volt scored a maximum five stars for safety in crash test by Euro NCAP, also scoring highly for child and pedestrian protection.
The Volt is roomier than a lot of its rivals, but the T-shaped battery cells that run down the spine of the car mean that it's a strict four-seater. There's plenty of legroom in the back, but taller passengers might find headroom in the back a little tight. There's a flimsy fabric parcel shelf, but the boot itself it actually quite big, with room for a couple of large suitcases, and there are a number of useful cubbies dotted about the cabin.
Value for money
Like its sister car the Vauxhall Ampera, the Volt qualifies for the £5,000 government grant for electric vehicles. Even so, it still costs £28,545, making it pricer than all-electric rivals like the Nissan Leaf. To help compensate, it comes fully-loaded with equipment, including sat-nav, leather seats, and a reversing camera, so there are virtually no options to choose from, and unlike the leaf, the Volt can be used as your only car, as it has the flexibility to cover longer journeys and shorter commutes.
Thanks to the unique way it's powered, the Volt posts an incredible set of figures for the official European test cycle, with Chevrolet claiming 235mpg and just 27g/km of C02. That makes it completely exempt from Road Tax and the Congestion Charge, but In reality, it's not that efficient, and actual economy depends entirely on how you use it. If you only ever drive in electric-only mode for short trips, then you could go for weeks or months between fill-ups, but if you cover a lot of motorway miles than expect more like 58-60mpg. Chevrolet reckons it costs around £2 to fully charge, depending on your energy supplier, but very few cars are as cheap to run.