Norm Reviews the Chevy Volt

First, full disclosure - I have not driven the Chevy Volt. But I will give you my quick and dirty analysis.
2011 Chevrolet Volt side view
Essentially - this is the perfect commuter car, if you drive about 50miles or less per day. It is not a great car for pretty much everything else. And let me tell you why:

First of all, there has been a lot of controversy recently about whether the Volt is a range extended electric vehicle or a plug-in hybrid. What's the difference, and why does it matter? Well, basically the issue is that GM told everyone that the Volt was going to be the world's first mass-produced range extended electric vehicle. And all of the enviro bloggers got their patagonia panties in a twist when they found out that the little 88hp iron-block 4-banger under the hood is attached to a clutch which can both send power to the 55kw generator and to the front wheels. Turns out that this is 10-15% more efficient that just having the motor powering the generator under range extended mode... but the ecomentalists don't care about that, because they cant call it an electric car anymore. Whatever. That's just idiotic: the whole point of this car is efficiency.

And efficiency is where things get interesting. When the Volt is running under range-extended mode, it gets 33mpg. Gulp. That's not a lot. Why? Well - you have about 3,800lbs being pushed around by a very complex drive system with a fair bit of friction. Would you pay $40,000 for a compact car which gets 33mpg? Errr... no.

But, this is the big kicker: the first 30-50 miles are free. Or basically free - they are all battery powered. And the car can run up to its 100mph limited top speed on the battery. This, I have to say, is pretty damn sweet.

Which leads to the following mpg numbers:
Electric only 40miles: almost no cost, infinite mpg
Extended range only: 33mpg
Drive 40miles on electric, then empty the extended range tank:38mpg

So, if you drive mostly 40 miles or less to work, every day, the Volt could save you a lot of money. And over time, your mileage could - very much - vary.

And what it is like as a car? Well - pretty much a nice, normal, compact car. You could test drive it back to back with a civic, corolla, and cruze and not think it was anything out of the ordinary. And that is extraordinary. Basically, the amazing clutch system, the electric drive, the extra weight, the just general amazing feat of engineering makes this car feel and drive just like your regular compact 4-door. If you were shopping for a nice $18,000 car, the Volt would fit right in. Its nothing sporty, but its not too bad.

Which brings me to my final point: price. It will cost $40,000. Which is a lot. But it will get $7,500 in federal tax credits - which brings it down to the price for an Audi A4 with a few options... a much nicer car.

In essence it all comes down to this:
1) Do you drive about 20-50miles per day to get to work?
2) Do you not drive long distances, or have a second car you would use (truck, minivan, etc)?
3) Do you have a garage spot where you can keep and charge up the Volt?
4) Do you not care about having a sporty, fun to drive car?
5) Are you okay with buying a compact car?
6) Are you able to front the cost in order to reap potential long-term benefit?

If you answered yes to all of the above, GM has a car for you. And I think that is totally valid. I would never buy the Volt, but I think it is a pretty cool car, and GM has done an amazing job engineering it. GM is hoping there are 45,000 of you out there, because that is how many Volts it plans to generate (har har) in 2012.

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