Chevy Volt: final thoughts

Today, I again found myself behind the wheel of a Chevy Volt, heading south on the 101. This time, I was cruising on purely battery power. Here are some of my final thoughts on the Volt.

First: the core value prop of the vehicle. I previously argued that the Volt was the ideal vehicle to slowly move people from gas to electric. I argued that it was far superior to the Prius, in that it could act like a Prius when it ran out of charge, but it could be a purely electric vehicle for a majority of the time.

Living and working in SF, I thought the Volt would be ideal for the city life — I could zip around in all-electric mode most of the time and let the gas engine kick in for longer drives around the Bay. After driving a few different Volts in SF, I no longer see the benefit. Around the city, it’s impractical to drive — parking is a nightmare, and traffic means you’ll spend most of your drive time playing with your phone (even if it’s illegal). And for longer drives, the battery power isn’t substantial enough, so you quickly end up driving Chevy’s version of a Prius. In the city life use case, it’s better to go all-electric or all-gas. So, the value prop doesn’t work for my current lifestyle.

Second: the electric-only prowess. I ultimately find the Volt hard to love as an electric-only vehicle. While I do feel good and fuzzy inside for driving battery-only, the instant torque I’ve come to expect just isn’t there. The “kick” of the electric powertrain is fine for the first second, but the Volt’s battery pack lacks the guts to really continue to push like a Tesla or an i3.

Third: the “hybrid mode” driving. I often chide the Prius for its pitifully-weak engine, non-progressive brake pedal feel, and not-so-great mileage. The Volt is no better. The fossil fuel engine kicks on, and you feel the vibration in the go pedal. This detracts from the smoothness I expected from the GM engineers. The brake pedal is oddly unresponsive for the first few inches of travel, until it kicks on abruptly. The Volt’s MPG rating is better than a Prius, but its 300-mile total range is inferior to the Prius’ 500+range. As a hybrid, then, the Volt isn’t game-changing.

Thus, without the pure-electric drivetrain smoothness, speed, and range, the Volt is a let-down. I’d still recommend it to friends looking for basic transportation for a few reasons:

  • You can still get a carpool sticker to beat traffic during rush hour
  • The Volt is cheap (used or new). With government incentives, you could probably pick up a new example for mid-$20k. Used examples from 2013 are in the low-$10k range.
  • In my opinion it’s prettier than the now-Daliesque Prius. Plus, everyone already has a Prius.

Conclusion: it’s better than a Prius and I’d recommend it to friends, but I would never buy one.

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