Two hundred and two kilometres driven without using a drop of fuel in a 2015 Chevrolet Volt has changed my mind about electric cars.
Regular readers will already know I view all-electric cars with range-anxiety trepidation.
I am not talking about hybrids, which are the right step, but not the final step, towards weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels before they dry up or we kill the planet.
The Volt is actually an electric car running to the beat of a different drummer, in this case called range extending.
So far the Volt is one the only two (BMW i3) mainstream electrics which do away with the fear of being stranded after 60-80 km when the battery goes dead.
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Chevrolet’s approach is to base the propulsion system on a huge, T-shaped 17.1 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, supplemented by a 1.4-litre, four-cylinder gasoline engine that Chevrolet calls the “range extender”.
Unlike a hybrid, drive is always electric with the battery good for 61 km, at which point the engine cuts in seamlessly acting like a dynamo and adding backup power for a total of 608 km on the battery/engine combination.
But the trick is the driver can take advantage of regenerative energy recovery values when braking or simply coasting which can then be seen on the large central LCD screen.
The battery can be fully charged in 11 hours using a supplied 5.5-metre corded regulator that plugs into any 120-volt wall socket. The owner can also buy a 240-volt quick charger than replenishes the battery in about four hours.
The front wheels are driven by a 111 kW (149 hp) electric motor with 273 lb/ft of torque that is augmented by a 55 kW (83 hp) generator motor. When called upon, the twin-cam engine (premium fuel required) uses its 83 hp to provide electric propulsion.
The transmission is a continuously variable electric drive unit that acts the same as if it were a streetcar. And like a streetcar, full torque delivery is immediate.
To increase efficiency, the driver can select between four drive modes – Normal, Sport, Mountain and Hold.
The latter is the most interesting for those on longer trips, where the engine can be used on the highway saving the battery for urban usage.
The interior is as high-tech as the drive system, with two interactive screens – a driver information centre where the main instrument cluster would normally be and the upper centre stack 178 mm (7.0 in) screen for secondary usages like the infotainment/Navi/climate controls and the all-important energy flow depiction.
The driver info screen is large and easy to see at a glance with an icon of a battery level on the left indicating charge level and a green ball on the right that goes up for (battery draw) or down for (battery regeneration) along with total range, fuel consumption (if any) and more.
Because of the sheer size of the battery pack that acts like a central spine, back seating is limited, and I mean limited, to two people but up front, it’s just fine.
Press the blue power button and the Volt hums into “ready” with nothing audible and that’s how the Volt is for the rest of your journey – silent except for the tires on the pavement.
Because you know there’s the engine as back up, it's possible to travel at higher flow of traffic rates without clinging to the inside lane amongst the big trucks trying to conserve the battery.
And because this is an electric car, energy consumption is measured in e-litres. Thus the Volt on battery alone comes in at 2.3/2.5/2.4Le/100 km (123/113/118 mpg) city/highway/combined. Using the 1.4-litre DOHC inline four-cylinder, it is 6.7/5/9/6.4 (42/48/44 mpg).
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As mentioned above, I did 202 km with no gasoline. If my wife drove the Volt back forth to work (15 minutes), she could drive it for a year without a fill up.
According to NRCan, the yearly “average” cost to operate a Volt would be $514 in electricity and $1,792 in fuel.
The Volt as tested here started at $37,195. But there were a bunch of options, such as $1,210 for leather and $1,145 for Tricoat white paint, both of which I could live without. But the $795 for MyLink infotainment, $795 for rear park assist, rear vision camera and auto dimming mirror is good value, as is $625 for forward crash alert, front park assist and land departure warning plus another $685 for the Bose premium sound system for a grand total of $44,050 including a $1,600 shipping fee.
Sounds like a lot, but Ontario offers an $8,500 cash rebate. Quebec offers $8,000 and B.C. $5,000. Add to that the next generation 2016 Volt is coming soon, so Chev dealers may be inclined to make a deal.
If you’ve considered an electric car, the timing and pricing right now could be enough to put you behind the wheel of a Volt.
2015 Chevrolet Volt at a glance
Extended range electric sedan.
front-engine, front-wheel-drive, continuously variable electric drive unit.
110 kW primary motor; 55 kW secondary motor, 1.4-litre DOHC inline four-cylinder for a combined 149 hp and 273 lb/ft of torque
All-electric L/100 equivalent: 2.3/2.5/2.4Le/100 km (123/113/118 mpg) city/highway/combined; 1.4-litre DOHC inline four-cylinder, 6.7/5/9/6.4 (42/48/44 mpg)
300 litres (10.6 cu ft)
Base price $37,195, as tested $44,050 including $1,600 shipping fee
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