Power: 149 hp, 273 lb-ft
Engine: 111-kW electric drive motor powers the front wheels;
1.4-liter gasoline engine recharges the 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack
electricity only: 95 city, 90 hwy;
premium gasoline only: 35 city, 40 hwy;
combined composite: 60 mpg-e
Price as tested: $43,090, chevrolet.com
On sale: Now
Ideal for: Affluent, techy tree-huggers
Lets cut through the hype and forget the fancy tech jargon: The main benefit of the Chevrolet Volt is that it can drive between 25 and 50 miles on electricity. If you have a short daily commute and can plug in the car at work and/or overnight, then you’ll never need a drop of gasoline to drive it. But wait, there’s more. Unlike the Nissan Leaf and other electric cars, the Volt has a small gasoline engine that acts like an onboard generator to recharge the batteries. A full tank of fuel gives the car a range of more than 350 miles, so there’s no anxiety in getting stranded when the battery drains. The Chevrolet Volt’s interior feels like the cockpit of a spaceship, with its high-res digital dash and glossy white center console. The ride is surprisingly sporty and there’s plenty of pick-up, thanks to the car’s torquey electric motor.
Price is this car’s biggest letdown, and it’s kind of unavoidable, considering how much new technology it’s packing. General Motors plays up the fact that the Volt qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit. But it’s non-refundable, so it only saves you the amount of taxes you owe—and if you don’t own any taxes, it saves you nothing. Other downsides that emerged during the test drive were minor: Headroom is tight; the smallish windows impair visibility and make the car feel claustrophobic; those seeking a plush ride might not like the Volt’s sporty suspension. It also requires premium fuel. The last catch: Finding a plug outlet can be a problem. At least it was for us in New York City.
It’s too bad the Volt isn’t a Cadillac, because that would make the price more palatable. Cost aside, it’s a big win for GM. If I had the dough and a place to plug it in, I’d get one. Here’s what the dashboard readout said at the conclusion of my lead-footed test drive:
Miles driven on electricity: 23.5
Miles driven on gas: 6.8
Total miles per charge: 30.4
Miles per gallon: 91.7