Chevrolet Volt: Test Drive Review
11 May 2012
|Category:|| Lower medium|
|P11D price:|| £34,940|
|Key rival:|| Vauxhall Ampera |
Plug-in hybrids, such as the Chevrolet Volt and its Vauxhall Ampera sibling, are a stepping stone for probably the next decade until full-electric motoring is a practical option for the majority of the population.
The Volt is powered by an electric motor, charged from a three-pin plug, with a 25-50-mile range, which then reverts to a 1.4-litre petrol engine that tops up the battery for a potential 300-mile capability.
Eligible for both the £5000 Government subsidy and the 5% company car benefit-in-kind band until April 2015, the Volt has the potential to present a strong case as company car transport - but only in the right circumstances.
Our 93-mile test drive illustrated the point perfectly. If a driver's usage pattern means you can recharge it every 35 miles or so, then the Volt is a brilliant piece of engineering, but if it's only every 90 miles or so then an efficient diesel engine is a better choice. According to the trip computer we averaged 57.6mpg over the route, yet once the battery was exhausted after 32 miles we averaged 41.9mpg, a figure that would certainly have been bettered by a good diesel. Drive mainly on the electric motor however, with the petrol engine as back-up for the occasional longer journey, and the Volt starts to make serious sense. According to Chevrolet, early users in the US are only refuelling every 1000 miles or so, which means they're getting 700 miles of electric usage for every 300 of petrol.
The Volt, like the Vauxhall Ampera, is a very good-looking car that doesn't suffer from any sort of ugly duckling complex, as other alternative-fuelled vehicles have been known to in the past. The interior looks like someone has tried slightly too hard to make it appear modern, but the screen does a great job of showing what the engine and battery are doing at any moment, and the systems actively encourage efficient driving. It only comes in one trim, with a minimal number of options that include satnav.
On the road, the Volt is far from the last word in driving pleasure thanks to a lack of steering feel and a horribly wooden brake pedal that, like rival cars, is a result of the efforts to extend the battery range by storing energy collected under braking. It's obvious when the engine kicks in too - due to the increased noise compared with the wind and road noise that accompanies electric travel - but only under hard acceleration does it become intrusive.
The cost per mile argument for a range-extender is very difficult to clarify because the fuel figure is entirely dependent on how much time the car spends on electric power. KwikCarcost presumes a minimal amount of petrol consumption, somewhere between a quarter and a third of use, and that puts the Volt in a very competitive position on whole-life costs, even before the £5000 Government grant is introduced. Find the right user, and the cost versus conventional hybrids and diesels could become even more attractive.
This car is all about usage patterns. Rarely need the petrol engine and it's brilliant, but the brilliance diminishes with every passing mile on petrol power and the argument for an efficient diesel becomes stronger. Yet it's another important step towards giving businesses different propulsion options depending on how they intend to use the vehicles.