The Ride:

2012 Chevrolet Volt

Walkaround:

The 2012 Chevrolet Volt is recognizable, but lacks the distinctive styling of the Toyota Prius or Honda Insight, but that might not necessarily be a bad thing.  The Volt is a five-door hatchback with a fairly high cowl and narrow window openings.  My car came in Silver Ice Metalic paint and benefited nicely from the dark black trim panel.

The Volt’s twin-opening grille and fierce headlights give the car a menacing appearance from the front, which is welcome change from the typical “cute” hybrid styling we’ve become accustomed to.  The rear of the vehicle is a bit less menacing, with a fairly large and tall rear-end and slightly less inspired taillight design.  The vehicle is handsome but could be a bit sleeker and more cohesive.

Interior:

The interior of the Volt is simply the best Chevy interior available.  The cabin is sleek, comfortable, has some fantastic modern flourishes and the grains and materials are all top notch throughout.  The contrasting white pearl and black interior looks great and the bright vehicle information display and its graphics are the best I’ve seen.  The blend of light colored aesthetics and high-end technology evokes an Apple feel and it works.  The buttonless center stack is easy to operate, intuitive and looked oh so very very clean.

The front buckets are comfortable and supportive but disappointingly, there is no power driver seat option, which limits drive adjustments and seems like a major oversight in a $43,000 vehicle.   Rear seating consists of two bucket seats divided by a useful center console, so only four people will fit in a Volt.  Leg room in the rear is okay, unless you’re a 6′ 2″ my driver like me with their seat at its maximum which leaves rear driver-side seat inhospitable.

The trunk is fairly narrow in back and only comes in at 10.6 cubic feet, but it’s deep and large enough to be useful and rear seat backs fold almost flat to increase cargo space.

The Drive:

The Volt doesn’t drive like a typical hybrid, at all.  The Volt, dare I say it, actually handles on the sporty side of things and there’s no discernible difference in performance between when it’s running on battery power or when he gasoline-powered generator kicks in.

The 2012 Chevrolet Volt’s powertrain consists of a lithium-ion battery, a 1.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine and two electric motors.  When he battery becomes depleted the 83-horsepower gas engine acts as a generator for the electric motors.  The electric power-train is good for 149 horsepower and comes paired to an excellent single-ration automatic transmission which means power is always on tap.

In full electric operation acceleration is a bit slow for about the first 15 feet, then you get a smooth rush of power and things get moving. Put the Volt in ‘sport’ mode and throttle response becomes instantaneous and surprisingly strong. I never felt that the Volt lacked power, passing and merging were never an issue.

The Volt starts out on battery power and can travel about 35 miles on electric power alone — which for 80% of Americans is all you need.  Once the battery is depleted the generator kicks in and we got an average of 34 mpg — again typically you won’t often be running off the generator.

The 2012 Chevy Volt comes with a power cord that plugs into a standard 120v wall outlet to recharge.  A full charge takes about 10 to 12 hours.  An optional 240v quick-charge home station will do it in about 4 hours.  Charging the vehicle overnight is quite simple and if I owned a Volt I’d probably only have to fill it up with liquid-gold every 3 months or so.

The Chevy Volt drives more naturally and feels far more substantial than hybrids like the Honda Insight or Toyota Prius.  Steering is light and precise but slightly artificial feeling.  Cornering is confident thanks to a carefully placed battery pack that lowers the car’s center of gravity.  Braking feel is fine – not great – there’s a slight ‘let up’ just before the car comes to a stop. This is due to the regenerative braking, which helps recharge the battery.

The Competition:

Toyota Prius Plug-in which gets better fuel economy in gas/hybrid mode but is limited to a 15-mile electric range.  Nissan Leaf both which has a 100 mile range but no gas-powered backup to get you home if you go to far.

Bragging Rights:

The Chevy Volt will save you gas money without looking or driving like it and the Volt’s fantastic interior is a great added bonus.

The Price:

The Chevrolet Volt checks in at $39,145. Our car came in at $43,030 with the addition of a Bose sound system, audio with navigation and a premium trim package.

Windup:

The Volt represents an important shift in hybrid cars.  In most ways, the Volt is just another 5-door hatchback.  It drives like one, it looks like one, has plenty of power and sporty handling.  But the Volt has a 35 mile electric range.  Though the car could use a few styling changes outside, the interior is outstanding and is the best I’ve seen from Chevy.  The Volt doesn’t disappoint.

The Photos: