Words and Photos by Jeff Cobb

Last Thursday, Chevrolet dropped off a Volt for a week-long evaluation. Prior to a full review, I thought it would be fitting to chronicle impressions gained during the first 72 hours.

Right up front, I can tell you that I see why the Volt has accumulated a growing number of fans. You’ve heard of smart phones? Well the Volt is a smart car; a rolling technology showcase that happens to make driving enjoyable in ways other cars cannot.

The Volt pokes along in Kimberton, through a particularly nice example among the Keystone State's many old covered bridges.

The Volt I have is a 2011 model year, number 445 as displayed on the LCD console info screen. Technically, it is the same as the 2012 cars which began to issue forth when the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant reopened around the third week in July.

Electric driving

Since it had been driven from New York, the Volt’s approximately 40-mile-range battery was tapped, so first order of business was plugging in.

After a little more than four hours soaking in 120-volt house current, the battery meter on the digital dash showed 17 miles of electric range. Since I had planned to go running, I put on my gear, stashed my duffel bag in the Volt’s sizable hatch and headed to the park.

You have probably heard it before, but it bears repeating: The Volt behaves like “a real car.” It is not a proverbial roller skate, but substantially reinforces the impression of a sophisticated, solidly handling, sporty vehicle.

Driveability and performance

On day two, after fully charging overnight, the display said the car had 38 miles of electric range. I spent it kicking around town and sampling a variety of road conditions.

Since I have used up most of Chevrolet’s media photos writing daily Monday through Friday for the past five-and-a-half months, on day three I decided to begin a stockpile of my own new shots of the Viridian Joule Volt in scenic settings.

So, a friend and de facto reviewer who has helped me with reviews and assisted me with photo shoots before, Dave Altomare, and I took the Volt for a drive into the countryside of Chester County about 25 miles outside of Philadelphia to take plenty of pictures and get more driving impressions.

Outside a restored 19th century general store (now an upscale French-Italian cafe ).

Dave is a mechanical engineer who designs and manufactures computer-controlled machinery used in making printed circuit boards for his family business, a die-hard car guy and motorcyclist like me, and good for a reliable second opinion.

He noted the Volt handles bumps well and even does OK when hitting an occasional bad pothole here in the land of winter frost-heaving and low state road repair budgets.

As has been documented, the quietness in all-electric mode is phenomenal. It is like an added bonus for staying within battery only operation.

While rewarding because it costs less to use grid power, an ancillary benefit is the car is quieter than when the 1.4-liter generator kicks on after the battery is depleted.

When the engine turns on, noise is not excessively intrusive, but you do hear its muted sound as the revs rise and fall depending on how hard you press the accelerator.

The engine note is unlike a car with an automatic transmission as there are no shift points with the Volt’s planetary gear drive system. It just offers muffled revs as needed, or quiets back down to hardly noticeable.

Turning on the stereo to moderate volume will easily drown it out 90 percent of the time.

Passing by an old horse-drawn wagon in a mode of transportation early settlers might never have imagined.

Braking takes a light touch, and for people used to less powerful stopping action, there will be a short adjustment time needed. Gentle braking also optimizes the action of the regenerative brakes as displayed on the dash.

Acceleration is brisk, and again, the experience is unlike a gasoline-powered car with an automatic transmission. It just goes in one velvety continual motion.

I have been using the Volt in sport mode, and pressing the pedal to the floor from zero mph or speeds under, say, 25 mph, quickly sees the digital speedometer flick through the numbers into the 50s and 60s in a few heartbeats. Keeping pace on any road from stoplight-to-stoplight, to easily going with the flow on the mean highways is no problem.

Nitpicks are few

Nothing about the car is a deal breaker, but I can call out a few subjective observations.

Steering feels a little more assisted than I might like. Anyone used to German or Japanese cars, for example, will observe it offers a bit less road feel, although not unacceptably so.

While the Volt does not pretend to be a BMW M5, we hear often enough about comparisons to upper-echelon Euro and Japanese sporty sedans, so I think this is fair to point out. Dave also agreed it does not feel as capable of ripping through corners as, for example, his stiffly suspended, 40-series-tired Audi S4. But then if it could, that would be something indeed, considering the Volt is a first-generation, extended-range electric car and not targeted at back road burning.

How do you suppose they tied that rope swing a good 60-plus feet up that tree?

This said, the Volt is better than some would expect. While I won't be signing up for any track days for the Volt, it corners flatly at a brisk pace, and performs admirably for a 3,750-pound car rolling on low rolling resistance tires, and whose primary mission is eco-friendliness and all-around utility.

Another thing noticed was the Volt likes its front windows rolled up at speeds above 35 mph. Not only is this better aerodynamically, it prevents an undesirable acoustical sound effect whereby a rhythmic buffeting resonates my eardrums. I might call it a vroom effect, or something, like one might get with some aftermarket sunroofs. By 45 mph the feeling of wind steadily flapping is pronounced, and the only way to get rid of it is to raise the window to less than half closed or to fully closed.

Comfort and quality

The Volt will accommodate drivers well over six-feet-tall. I am just six-feet-tall, with fairly long legs, and adjusted the seat to next to last but not fully back position, and had ample headroom.

The black leather seats have held up well after 10,400 odometer miles of weekly rotations by review drivers. One piece of plastic trim on the roof line is coming up, but all it needs is a little adhesive. The Volt’s body seams, fit and finish overall look pretty straight and true throughout. It feels solidly constructed, and quality of materials is good, with nothing looking low budget.

The front seats are comfortable and supportive, and complement a functional driver’s cockpit. The smallish leather wrapped steering wheel adds to the sporty feel.

The dual digital displays, Bose premium sound system with XM satellite radio, voice-activated, hands-free Bluetooth phone, navigation, and OnStar all add to the high-tech sensory experience.

Having only gotten a brief tutorial on the infotainment system, I found it somewhat intuitive, but think I am going to have to sit in the car with the manual to really get the low down on all its myriad functions.

Rolling toward the future in an area preserved from America's past.

My first priority was to just get a feel for the car. After fiddling with the infotainment functions thus far, I think it will be rewarding to learn the ins and outs further. The dual display screens and iPod like feel of the center console controls is a reminder why automakers are rushing to add all kinds of data to the driving experience.

It is fun to fiddle, but I had to remind myself to keep my eyes on the road, as it is tempting to be distracted by the comprehensive audio/visual entertainment available.

Summary remarks

The Volt has been heralded by environmentally conscious drivers for its outrageously good fuel economy and low-to-zero emissions.

It is not a car for tree huggers and technophiles only, however. In building it, GM did not forget to keep it stylish, well-appointed, and fun-to-drive. Anyone can hop in to this inviting car, and soon start to feel at home.

I will write again after a few days, but am already sure this is a car that will be a pleasure to drive day in and day out. It offers no unacceptable compromises, and rewards far outweigh the few minor nitpicks noted.