Thursday, October 11, 2012

First Impressions - Chevrolet Volt


It is the environmental halo car of the newly reorganized GM, the new direction for a company that needed drastic change to become competitive once again. I was looking forward to driving the Volt, two years after having tested the prototype in electric mode only. While I’ve been a pretty big fan of the electric car, the Volt was a good meal that left a sour taste in my mouth.

Let’s start with the good, because deep down, it is a good car. I love the looks; the interior design is fantastic for a company that used to launch vehicles with interior designs that were outdated before they even made it to the production line. Build quality has been vastly improved over older GM’s; the Volt is a solid, tight feeling car with high quality buttons and dials. For the first time I’ve driven a car where the light dimmer switch actually dims all light emitting sources inside the car from a single point, even the annoyingly bright high beam light. And finally, the serenity of electric drive; this car is so quiet that the loudest distraction was the gears in the differential coming under load when pulling away from a stop, bravo GM, in electric mode the Volt is a champ.
However, there is a lot of damning issues left unfinished, imperfections that really should have been taken into account back in the research and development days, simple and common sense issues that should have been sorted before the car was ever put into production. Dual screens bombard the driver with distracting information while the centre stacks layout is confusing at best. Even after a week I couldn’t figure out how to get certain operations to work, and had my eyes away from traffic far too much. However, even when I was watching the road, massive A-pillars with a steep rake killed peripheral vision, making left-hand turns almost a crap shoot. The rear-view mirror is mounted high on the windshield behind a raised portion in the roof. This not only obscures the majority of the view out the back but even rendered the auto-dimming function completely useless. The blind spots are large and the shifter will draw blood putting the car in park.

However, the most disappointing letdown was the Volts fuel efficiency once the petrol engine engaged. Averaging 6.3L/100km, the Volt not only gets its ass kicked by Prius, a TDI Golf also gets nearly 1L/100km better efficiency on the highway, pretty much making the whole point of the Volt mute. The Volt was designed for Range Anxiety racked Americans that want kill their dependence on fuel while still being able to drive long distances. If you need to drive long distances you’re better off buying a Golf TDI that is $15K cheaper and gets better efficiency. A city dweller that does the odd road trip, save $1,500 on a Nissan Leaf with nearly twice the range and save it for a rental when you need to travel.

I know I’ve been hard on it, I do actually like the car, but there are just way too many short comings for a car that costs over $41K. Hopefully a good mid-cycle refresh will iron out most of the issue I’ve had, however, how this car won so many awards is beyond me.