2011 Volt – Not Your Daddy’s Chevrolet. Not mine, either.

2011 Chevrolet Volt All Electric Vehicle
2011 Chevrolet Volt Production Vehicle

When you first get behind the whee of Chevrolet’s new “all electric” Volt, it looks like your all American Chevrolet vehicle. Just a few blocks later, however, it’s clear you’re driving something pretty unique. The Volt has been the darling of the “EV” or electric vehicle media for several years and a short drive gives one the impression that it’s a marvel.

Step on the accelerator, and the Volt accelerates. Like most EV style vehicles, it’s quick. As you gain speed, the performance shifts down from sporty V6 to compact I4. The 400 pound battery keeps the center of gravity low, and the ride is both familiar and somehow different, which adds to the initial allure of the car.

Chevrolet includes just about everything with the Volt, from Navigation to “driving efficiency.” Speaking of driving efficiency, the Volt will absolutely get you from here to there, in spite of its 40-mile all electric range. How’s that? Well, to be frank, Chevy cheats, but it’s a good thing. You see, the Volt’s all-electric range is 40 miles. Many other EVs can go 100 or even 130 miles before their batteries beg for an outlet. The Volt offers a range extender that can actually propel the Volt forward for an additional, well, um… Chevy won’t say how far, except that you could drive, “cross country.” How’s that?

Gasoline. The Volt uses gasoline. But here’s the twist: the 1.4 liter gas engine powers a generator that in turn, delivers electricity to the Volt’s drivetrain. As such, the Volt is “all electric.” So, there is an MPG, but Chevy will spank you if they catch you saying that out loud. They want you to say, “my new Volt goes much further than your Toyota Prius.”

There’s more cheating at play with the Volt. There’s an EV tax credit, and boy, is it needed. At $41,000, the Volt is about the cost of a BMW 335i. But, with the tax credit of $7,500, its closer to the cost of, um… a BMW 328 sedan (which gets a claimed 28mpg). To be totally fair, GM is offering an attractive lease program, where qualified customers can commit to a 36 month lease for approximately $350 per month, with $2,500 out of pocket to get things started. That’s a good deal in today’s market.

The problem is that once you’re inside the Volt, you know it’s an old school GM product. The original concept looked innovative and exciting. The production vehicle does not. The plastic is cheap. The materials throughout, with the exception of the digital displays, totally compact city. Yup, its’ true, sitting in the Volt is not that far off from sitting in the new 2011 Cruze. The Cruze is a terrific new car from Chevrolet. It’s a sedan, has GM’s OnStar and other technology, gets a claimed 36 miles to the gallon, and… is $18,000 (base).

Chevy Volt Concept Vehicle
Chevrolet Volt Concept

And ultimately, that’s the problem with the Volt. It’s a compact car dressed up for upper class sedan buyers. There’s no doubt people will buy the Volt. It’s different. It’s clearly an example of how technology can be put to good use and GM should be credited with the creation of something completely new (it is unlike other EVs, in range, functions, etc.). The Volt is pulling in 2010 era awards, including the 2011 Green Car of the Year award at the 2010 LA Auto Show by Green Car Journal. It’s also Motor Trend’s Car of the Year and Automobile Magazine’s Car of the year. Due to the technology employed, it deserves those awards. But based on what it could have been, and what others are doing, I fear it’s a flash in the pan, rather than a new standard.

If GM had stuck to the totally unique design the concept carried when first shown in Detroit several years ago, perhaps it would have created a (Prius) niche for itself. As it stands, it’s a bland looking, cheap feeling, $41,000 ($33,000 net) sedan. And that begs the question: With the rapid turnaround manufacturers are employing today, and with the wide variety of high-efficiency vehicles on the way (more than 40 models in the coming 18 months), where will the Volt be in 2013?

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