Editor's note: The owner of Autospotters, a Texas-based Web site, offered to let us run his review of a 2011 Volt (essentially same as 2012). It includes a spur-of-the-moment road trip to get a burger hundreds of miles away – all in the interest of road testing, of course – and therefore pretty unique as Volt reviews go. The "inefficient" use of time using the world's most efficient vehicle for this errand explains the title, in case anyone is wondering.


By Autospotters.com

Five hundred and twenty miles, eight hours of driving, one hour and twenty minutes in line at a drive through, all for a three dollar cheeseburger and we only used fifteen gallons of gasoline.

In our week with the Chevrolet Volt, we discovered that most people do not know how the Volt operates. About half thought it was an all electric car and the other half thought it was a traditional hybrid that splits operations between a gas engine and an electric motor.



The Volt does have a gas engine and an electric motor; however the gas engine is only a generator and does not directly power the car’s drive wheels or electronics. The electricity produced by the gas engine does several things, such as power the car’s electronics and power the electric motors that turn the wheels. At times, such as braking or going downhill, when 100 percent of the electricity is not needed to drive the car, the remaining electricity is used to charge a lithium-ion battery pack. Once the battery pack has reached a certain charge, the gas generator shuts off, to preserve fuel, and the car operates completely on stored electricity.

The gas/electric Volt is revolutionary in the automotive world, but not revolutionary as far as transportation goes. Most modern trains and ships operate the same way, except rather than using a gas engine, they use a diesel engine. A gas/electric configuration uses less fuel based on the idea that an engine running at a constant speed, to produce a steady amount of electricity requires less fuel than an engine constantly under the load of moving a heavy vehicle.



In addition to the generator providing charge to the battery pack, the battery pack can be recharged by plugging the Volt into a 110 or 220 volt power outlet. Chevrolet claims a full battery charge takes eight hours using a standard 110 volt outlet and only four hours when using a 220 volt outlet. It took our test vehicle nearly eleven hours to fully charge its completely drained battery using a 110 volt outlet. Once fully charged, the Volt can operate without using a single gallon of gasoline, for about 36 miles, and of course the actual number of miles that can be driven on a full charge varies, depending on your driving style.

Road Trip

To properly review a car like the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, I knew we needed to drive it a lot. I also knew it would be difficult to find someone willing to take a last minute road trip in a Volt, but I had a plan. A friend of mine is a self-proclaimed In-N-Out Burger fanatic and just two days earlier an In-N-Out had opened in Dallas. I knew it had been at least a year since my friend last had an artery clogging burger from his favorite burger place, because up until two days earlier the closest one was over a thousand miles away. All it took was a quick phone call and I had someone willing to take a last minute road trip starting from our HQ in Houston and offering to buy the burgers when we got to Dallas.



Before we set off on our extremely inefficient use of time in one of the world’s most fuel efficient vehicles, we knew this trip would be long and we assumed it would feel even longer considering we were taking a vehicle designed for fuel economy. We thought consideration for comfort and speed were several of the things not built into the Volt – boy were we wrong. For comfort, our test Volt was equipped with navigation, back up camera, heated leather seats and all the audio features you can think of including USB connectivity for iPods or smart phones. For speed, the Volt is electronically limited to 101 mph and gets there pretty quick thanks to 149 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, which meant we were not holding up traffic. For comparison, the Toyota Prius has 134 horsepower, 153 pound-feet of torque and is almost always holding up traffic.



In addition to the basic comforts expected in cars today, the Volt is also equipped with a lot of electronic features that will go unused or under-appreciated unless you read the comprehensive owner’s manual. The dashboard features two very high quality LCD screens – one directly in front of the driver which displays basic information found on a normal car’s instrument cluster plus information pertaining to battery charge and miles left on the current charge before the generator is needed to supply electricity. The second screen is mounted in the center of the dash and displays everything from audio, navigation and pages of diagnostic information relating to the car’s electricity usage.



When you drive the Volt there are certain things you will have to get used to. First, the terms: you turn the Volt ‘on’ – you do not start it, you press the ‘accelerator’ – you do not press the gas. Second, the silence: accelerating from a stop light or passing on the freeway – all silent. Third, people not looking where they are walking. In one short outing, we had three people walk directly in front of the moving Volt and one person walked directly into the side of the car, all because they could not hear it.



When the Volt was dropped off at Autospotters HQ, we were initially skeptical of a gas/electric car, but by the time our week with the Volt was over, we were believers. The Volt is a game changer. For anyone in the market for a new car with about $45,000 to spend, the Volt should be strongly considered.

Autospotters