Road test: Chevrolet Volt

Chevrolet Volt
The Volt is stylish and quiet, but does it justify its hefty price tag?
"Despite really liking the Chevrolet Volt, it's hard to see who'll be buying it. That’s mainly because it costs a whopping £30,255"
  • | by Phil Huff

What's this?

It's the new Chevrolet Volt, the Vauxhall Ampera’s American cousin. But it's not a big old gas-guzzler. No siree, this is an Astra-sized cutting-edge extended range electric vehicle that promises to return some 235mpg.

It pulls away silently and cruises along at motorway speeds without using a single drop of fuel. However, once you’ve run out of battery the car will fire up a secret petrol powered engine that is used as a generator to provide electricity to the motor.

How does that benefit me?

Volt charger

For any journey under about 40 miles you’ll never need to use any old-school fuel at all, so you won’t need to stop at a Shell station and be asked if you want two chocolate bars for just a pound. It’s not only good for the environment and your wallet, but good for your waistline too.

For longer journeys, it doesn’t work out quite so well. Once the battery power has run out, the little 1.4 litre petrol engine struggles to provide enough oomph, so economy suffers. On a 46-mile test route, I got 162mpg with a full battery, but just 35mpg with an empty one.

First impressions?

Rear Chevrolet Volt

Really rather good. This is no pastel-coloured soft-edged ‘green’ motor, instead it’s got bold lines which look more modern than most cars on the road. Its ground-hugging stance and high waistline give it an almost-sporty look.

How about inside?

Chevrolet Volt console

Gone is the traditional dark plastic dashboard, replaced by two large LCD screens and an iPod-white centre console that is one giant touch sensitive panel.

It looks great, but at night becomes virtually impossible to use as you can’t work it without looking away from the road. Finding the button to switch the demister on by touch means you’ve also accidentally turned your passenger's heated seat on, reprogrammed the sat-nav and tuned the stereo to Classic FM.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard would feel immediately at home here, just as long as he didn’t want to seat more than four people or carry much luggage. One of the downsides of filling a car with batteries, an electric motor and a petrol engine is that you lose the middle seat in the back and some boot space.

What seats remain though are plenty comfortable, and there’s enough of a boot for your shopping.

What about the driving experience?

Phil Huff drives Chevrolet Volt

Much better than you have any right to expect. The electric motor churns out good amounts of torque at any speed, so you can silently rocket off the line and still have power available to overtake at higher speeds. The lack of noise is more noticeable when the petrol engine eventually kicks in, as the revs unnervingly rise and fall independently of the speed you’re doing.

Ride quality is fine, despite some stiff suspension, and road holding is acceptable. The Volt turns in well and stays remarkably flat, but all that extra weight of the batteries shows eventually as the car understeers gently off to the side.

Oh, and have I mentioned that it’s quiet?

What do other people think?

Side profile of dash

The Volt confuses most people, so you get a lot of “what is it?” followed by blank expressions. However, it gained almost unanimous thumbs up for its styling, both inside and out, while adults liked the silent running of the car. The children who kept running out in front of it where I live were less impressed.

Who’d drive one?

Chevrolet Volt engine

Despite really liking the Chevrolet Volt, it's hard to see who'll be buying it. That’s mainly because it costs a whopping £30,255.

However, if you’re a company car driver, cover exactly 40 miles to work and can plug in to charge while you’re at the office, it might just work out financially. Possibly.

For everybody else, it’s impossible to make a purely financial case for the car. It looks good and might make you think that you're helping to save the planet, but it probably won't save you much money.