So I will have relevant comments for those driving an electrified vehicle in severe winter conditions!
But first of all, to recap, the Chevrolet Volt — now in its second generation — is best described to the layperson as a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), although it has always been identified by General Motors as an Extended Range Electric Vehicle (EREV), an acronym that hasn’t really caught on.
Volt’s unique selling point is its 85-kilometer advertised range when driven on battery alone, which currently exceeds all other PHEVs. Once the battery is depleted, Volt’s 500+ km extended range — achieved with the help of a 1.5-liter gasoline engine — arguably gives you the best of both worlds when it comes to motive power. It’s all automatic, of course, and switching between battery and engine is seamless in everyday driving.
However, Volt has four driver-selectable drive modes: Normal, Sport, Mountain and Hold (perhaps confusingly, it doesn’t actually have what you would call a dedicated Electric Vehicle or “EV” mode). Let me explain: “Normal” is the default, where Volt will alternately and sometimes simultaneously draw on its gasoline and electric power reserves to maximize performance and fuel economy. “Sport” supplies a livelier throttle if you prefer, and “Mountain” is used on long, steep grades. “Hold” saves your battery charge for later, useful in situations when the driver wants to retain electric power for upcoming high gasoline-consuming city or stop-and-go driving.
I typically drive in “Normal” mode, which seems to default pretty much exclusively to battery in favourable conditions. Fuel consumption overall is rated at 5.6 Le/100km (Le is the equivalent combination of electric and gasoline consumption), but driven predominantly as an EV, a tank of gasoline could actually last for weeks. In practice, with regular recharging from my home charge station, I can theoretically drive my Volt as an EV in the city, and when I need to make a long highway trip, I can do that, too. For this reason, Volt is still, in my view, the most practical electrified vehicle on the market today (although new and improved PHEVs are being introduced).
I’m very happy with Volt’s driving dynamics and practicality. It accelerates smartly and with palpable torque; it’s nimble in corners while stopping is straight and controlled. The steering is light but has good feel; the ride is smooth; the driver’s seat is comfortable, and driving position good. I’m always happy to get behind the wheel of this engaging car and so far, I am happy with my purchase.
Furthermore, as far as sedans go – admittedly a class of vehicle that’s becoming less popular as people opt for SUVs and Crossovers — the Volt’s practical five-door configuration is my favourite (I wouldn’t have bought a Volt if it was a conventional four-door sedan). Drop the rear seatbacks and the huge rear door gives access to a large and open cargo area. Skis fit in there; a bicycle, shelving units, chairs… you get the idea.
Although I find the Volt’s styling appealing enough, I do think it’s somewhat generic. Very similar to the Chevrolet Cruze (not a bad looking car, I grant you), it follows the current angular, pointy styling shared with Honda, Hyundai, Toyota, etc. Not beautiful like a Tesla; let’s agree that Volt’s styling is contemporary but not particularly distinctive.
If I have any real criticism of the Volt’s design, it focuses on outward visibility. This car’s A, B and C pillars (that is, the front, center and rear pillars supporting the roof) are very wide. The base of the front pillars, for example, measures 40 centimeters (16 inches). These pillars can and do fully obscure entire vehicles at certain angles, and I regularly find myself peering around them to confirm that a bicycle or pedestrian is not hidden behind. It’s the same at the side when doing shoulder checks, and at the back, where equally formidable pillars compromise one’s view rearward. And in the rain you can barely see out the small rear window, which sorely needs a wiper. Yes, you get used to this, but I’m just saying…
The opposed front wipers are great, I’ll give you that! (Not rain sensing, though).
Certainly, my Volt Premier version is very well equipped, pampering its occupants with navigation, satellite radio, leather seating upholstery, blind spot monitoring system, lane keeping assist, Bose premium audio, heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, pre-collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert, keyless entry, auto high beam, LED lighting and more. It’s a very modern car, also compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (CarPlay works fine, but the onboard interface is fussy, at least with an iPhone). Volt doesn’t have a sunroof, however, which initially I thought would be standard at this level. Turns out this feature is not offered at all.
And here’s a gripe: my top-of-the-line Volt Premier, complete with both extra-cost Driver Confidence packages does not arrive with Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC). It (KSG is the code) is a $1,200 stand-alone option that I mistakenly believed was part of the packages. I only learned this after returning the Volt to fix the ACC. Duh… My mistake. If you want ACC, which I did, don’t make the same one.
All-in-all, Volt is an advanced, roomy, comfortable, well-equipped, practical and, dare I say it, sporty car, what with its nimble handling and responsive accelerator. But I wouldn’t have bought one without the clever electric drivetrain, and that’s where I need Volt to really deliver.
Which brings me to the cold weather.
Sub-zero winter temperatures cause Volt to operate differently than it does when the temperature climbs. The big difference is that it regularly and frequently uses its “range extender” gasoline-powered engine in everyday “Normal” mode driving in order to maintain drivetrain components at their required operating temperature. Another observation is that the 18.4 kw/H battery is simply not as efficient in cold weather (no battery will be), so you’re not going to see the advertised 80-85 km you may have expected. In real-life winter driving the battery delivers 55-60 km, and it doesn’t do it continuously.
So while Volt will indeed happily operate as an “EV” in warmer weather, in the Canadian winter it does so intermittently and unpredictably. You’re still averaging about 5.5 Le/100km, but I was hoping to use the car almost exclusively as an EV in city driving, and because of the frigid temperatures, it’s not giving me that yet.
That said, we love the car when it’s running on battery only. It’s super smooth, silent and stealth-like as it glides along the pavement. I’m very hopeful it will drive this way most of the time when winter passes.
But first I have two more winter related criticisms. The door to access the charge receptacle is a flimsy, hinged plastic cover. It opens horizontally – right to left — exposing the receptacle (that is unfortunately not illuminated; another optional extra at $340) to all manner of winter weather. As we keep the car in the driveway, this creates a cavity that’s a magnet for freezing rain and snow, which you don’t want to be hacking to remove. I guess in California they don’t have this type of weirdness, but here we do. I have pics… see what I mean.
And finally, the operation of the heater. It seems to me that too many times we’ve not been warm enough. In Ottawa we regularly endure -20-degree winter temperatures, and sometimes even setting the climate control to 28-degrees still delivers cold air from the vents. We’re not freezing; don’t get me wrong, but occasionally we’re feeling uncomfortable and would simply like to increase the temperature, which too often is not easily done! I presume the air conditioning will blow cold in the summer…
As a prelude to my next piece, I can report that we’ve recently experienced a brief spell of warmer weather (10-12-degrees) and I switched back to “summer” tires. The result is an EV range of 80km! This it good… very good!
I’ll wrap up this series in late summer, by which time the snowy weather will be a distant memory, right?