2013 Chevrolet Volt Review

Chevy's extended-range electric goes the distance.

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December 5, 2012

2013 Chevrolet Volt Review

The Volt was also pretty quiet, but the gasoline four-cylinder made odd growling noises when it kicked on.

Introduction
There's been much fuss about the Chevrolet Volt. It's been a political football (thanks to criticisms from conservatives) and among the automotive press it's been alternatively hailed as the next big thing in automotive technology and dismissed as vaporware, but how does it perform? After all, that's the question buyers will ask before signing on the dotted line. Owners will care less about politics and what the Volt means for the future of the industry than they will about range, fuel-economy, comfort, utility, and performance.

In order to ascertain that very information, we spent two weeks living with one, charger in hand.

For a more lighthearted take, check out our video review of the Chevy Volt, featuring Sarah.

2013 Chevrolet Volt On the Road Primary motivation from the Volt comes from a 149-horsepower electric motor for the first 35 miles or so, after which a 1.4-liter four-cylinder gas engine that makes 83 horsepower acts as a generator (the gas tank is 9.3 gallons). Including the electric range, Chevy estimates a total range of 382 miles before refueling is needed, meaning that at maximum, the car can travel about 350 miles on gas once the battery drains.

Most folks don't associate plug-in hybrids like the Volt with on-road performance. The Volt belied that stereotype with relatively quick scampers from the line (the Volt won't be our first choice for a blast down a drag strip, but it's quick enough to merge onto the freeway with little drama) and a back road performance that was surprisingly competent if not outright engaging. There are better-handling compact sedans out there, but the Volt was good enough to be at least mid-pack.

Steering feel was appropriately weight, but vague and distant, which didn't help refute the stereotype that plug-in hybrids such as the Volt aren't enthusiasts' cars. That also took some of the fun out of hustling the Volt down a back road.

We also found the ride to be generally smooth and composed--the Volt was a highway champ during our time with it, making the miles pass with ease.

Overall, the Volt was also pretty quiet, but the gasoline four-cylinder made odd growling noises when it kicked on--it sounded like our stomachs growling during that interminable hour before lunch. We also noticed that the regenerative braking system (which captures energy from braking and uses it to recharge the battery) gave the pedal a weird feeling under braking.

We also found that the electric motor sometimes wouldn't operate in cold temperatures, with the gas engine switching on frequently on a cold Midwestern fall day (outside temps were around 30 degrees). This didn't affect the car's ability to be driven, thanks to the gas engine, but it would cut into attempts to save fuel.
2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior We liked the Volt's sleek lines and snazzy wheels--it's a darn good-looking car that doesn't make too many visual sacrifices in the name of aerodynamics.
2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior We had mixed feelings about the car's hatchback design, it lends to the cool exterior look but we think a trunk would make for a more secure cargo area, since items would be hidden from view.

We were similarly mixed regarding the center stack, with its haptic touch buttons that work in a similar fashion to a smartphone. They often require two or three presses to register, and we missed having knobs for simple adjustments like climate control. We did appreciate the large center navigation/infotainment screen, and we liked the Volt's wealth of available data regarding the powertrain. Finally, we found ourselves mystified by Chevy's choice to put the traction control on/off switch on the ceiling.

The Volt seats just four, so those with large families or large carpools might want to look elsewhere.
2013 Chevrolet Volt Charging We had no issues plugging the charger into the nearest available outlet and juicing up. It takes 10 to 16 hours to do so using a 120-volt outlet and around four hours on a 240-volt outlet. We left the car charging in the rain on one occasion, with no ill effects from the mix of electricity and water. On the other hand, plugging into a certain outlet outside of our office resulted in a blown fuse whenever employees tried to make coffee.
2013 Chevrolet Volt Final Thoughts The Volt is an exceedingly competent car that doesn't sacrifice much in the name of greater range and fuel-economy. It provides electric power without range anxiety, thanks to the gas engine's ability to function as a backup, and it works well as a compact sedan.

It's not perfect, of course. Charging can get annoying (although you don't have to do it if you don't want, since you can rely on gas) both due to the task of finding an outlet (when away from home) and the charge times involved to get the battery to full (of course, there's no harm in unplugging early). As noted above, the interior controls could be finicky, and losing the fifth seat diminished utility. Also, at above $40K before tax incentives (a one-time $7,500 credit from the federal government, plus whatever your state might offer), the Volt is a pricey proposition for a compact.

Commuters who can charge every night and travel less than 35 miles a day will love the Volt's ability to forego gas, and those that need to go farther will enjoy the lack of range anxiety. As for us, we found the Volt to be darn good car that won't have to stop for gas very often.
2013 Chevrolet Volt Specs, Features, Prices Engine: 1.4-liter four-cylinder (83 horsepower) mated with 149-horsepower electric motor.

Transmission: Single-speed automatic

Drive Wheels: Front

Fuel Economy: 98 miles per gallon equivalent, 37 mpg (gas only)

Charge time: 10-16 hours (120 volt), four hours (240 volt)

Range: 35 miles all-electric, 382 total

Base Price: $39,145

As-Tested Price: $43,520

Available Features: Navigation system, satellite radio, heated front seats, MyLink infotainment suite, remote start, Bluetooth, USB port, tilt/telescope steering column, auxiliary port

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