An electric driving experience

November 06, 2012

Four weeks ago, after driving mainly foreign cars of the not too fuel efficient kind, I leased my first EREV (Extended Range Electric Vehicle); a 2013 Chevy Volt. Curiosity pulled me into the dealership and, contrary to my expectations, I had a good impression of the car and dealership experience. The lease offer was extremely attractive and I was up for an experiment. So I silently rolled off the lot in one. To date, I’ve driven a total of 1,300 miles - 1271 of those purely on electric power. Here are some of my impressions so far.

I really enjoy driving this car. The car has a substantial, almost sporty, road feel that is distinctly different from a Toyota Prius. It’s not a sports car by any stretch of imagination but turns nicely and displays adequate grip.

It’s quiet (before you know it you are doing 40 mph without any noise or vibration normally associated with driving a gas powered car) and the electric drive makes the maximum torque available right off the bat. Accelerating onto freeways and passing are no challenge for the car. You’ll get to 60 mph in less than 9 seconds and, if you have another 12 second to spare, it will do 100 mph.

It has made me a more aware driver as I try to anticipate other traffic to avoid rapid braking. No, I’m not interested in hypermiling; I just try to keep moving to conserve power in order to enjoy the acceleration.

No matter how you rationalize the purchase of this car, a lot of your neighbors, friends and co-workers will wonder what made you go ‘Ralph Nader’ on them.

The cost for a full charge, or 40 miles of driving, in the Madison area is about one dollar. I admit that when the gas price drops, I will feel bad that I won’t save as much.

No matter how you rationalize the purchase of this car, a lot of your neighbors, friends and co-workers will wonder what made you go ‘Ralph Nader’ on them.

Room in front is adequate, but large passengers will find the rear tight with scant leg and foot room. Hey, it’s a compact car.

Visibility is not all that great so parking can get a bit tricky.

The car sits as low as a supercar so the flexible air deflector scrapes on every speed bump, driveway, and intersection with lateral gutters causing unwanted attention and probing stares from nearby pedestrians.

The interior is pleasant, at least in the front. The instrument panel looks a bit too much like a video game and I’m sure our human factors engineer would be horrified by the touch-sensitive controls on the center stack that offer no distinct tactile feedback and are hard to find. I’m also equally as sure that Trekkies love the "whoosh" sounds when you press the power button.

The Volt drives and feels like a regular compact car with some high-tech touches. It’s really a remarkably unremarkable car (in a good way). As to whether it is a practical car depends on the miles driven per day, the climate, and your driving style. For me personally, the car has a decent electric range and I can rely on the gas engine for hundreds of miles if I exceed the electric range. Although this is an advantage over electric-only cars (like the Nissan Leaf), it is also a disadvantage because it requires two complex drivetrains that make the car expensive.

For now, this is still an experiment and time will tell if the Volt is a perfect fit for me. But I do believe that the Volt is a great concept for future models. Over time the cost will go down, the electric range will increase and additional body styles will increase utility and make the car appealing to a larger population.

Tonight, I will try out another advantage: topping off the batteries on one of the many free charging stations around town while I shop for a pair of Birkenstocks. In designer black, of course.