Our 16 year-old Rav4 had 220,000 miles, and was still running strong, but the clutch was finally showing signs of wear so we decided to look into a new car.
We wanted to go electric, so we surveyed the current state of the technology, keeping in mind we only have one car and so it had to cover all of our needs.
You basically have three choices of electric vehicles today, Hybrid, Plug in Electric only, and Extended Range Electric.
Hybrid Electric Vehicles (like the Prius):
These are basically gas vehicles using an electric motor to improve the miles per gallons. Although a move in the right direction, you can get clean diesel vehicles (like the Volkswagens) that are more fun to drive and that have as good or better miles per gallon than the best hybrids, so for me today it is only a partial solution.
Plugin Electric only Vehicles (like the Nissan Leaf or coming Fiat 500e and Chevy Spark EV):
If you are going electric, this is the real deal as you are 100% electric. The main issues here are the range and the time to charge. The first models like the Leaf had a little over 75 miles of range and would take a minimum of 8 hours to recharge on a fast charger.
Both of these issues are improving. With the latest models like the 500e or the Spark, range is getting close to 90 miles per charge, and for the Spark, a fast charging option can recharge 80% of the battery in 20mn.
But even with these improvements, if this is your only car, you end up severely limited when you need to take a long trip. Charging stations (especially the ones that could do an 80% charge in 20mn) are rare, and so you cannot easily plan to drive long distances with these cars yet, making them a hard choice as an only car.
Extended Range Electric Vehicles (like the Chevrolet Volt):
These are 100% electric vehicles, meaning that the wheels are only powered by an electric motor, but you have a small gas engine that can be used as an electric generator to provide electricity to the electric motor when the battery is depleted. The advantage of this solution, is that you (almost) get the best of both worlds.
The range of a Volt today is announced at 38 miles (although you can easily get around 40/45 miles on a charge).
As long as you are on battery power (driving less than 40 miles per day, or have a charge station at work), you are only using electricity and never need a drop of gas. But if you have to take a longer trip, you don’t have to worry about being stranded or having to find a charge stations and wait for recharge. You can let the gas powered electricity generator power the electric engine in a totally seamless transition. The amazing part is that even when driving with the electric motor powered by the gas powered electric generator, you actually get about 40 miles per gallon which is better than most cars on a gas engine only.
And when running on electricity, depending how much you pay for your electricity, you can easily be in the 150 Miles Per Gallon equivalent.
So for us, having a single car, there was no question, the Volt Extended Range Vehicle was the absolute best solution.
Now given the technology is still evolving a lot, and given interest rates are at their lowest with aggressive lease incentives on these cars, we decided to take the Volt on a lease. A 3-year lease with a 3-year warranty and 3 years of OnStar included should provide a trouble free experience
Experiencing the Volt
Although we expected it somewhat, the addiction to efficiency on this car is almost comical. The number of miles per charge is updated every day based on your past driving, and so every morning you find yourself cheering the new higher number (it started at 37 miles when we got the car, but you can easily get in the 40/45 miles per charge or more, depending on driving style / terrain and weather conditions). We’re at 45 and dreaming of 50 Update: We reached 54 miles on a charge in city driving!
All the dials in the car allow you to optimize every aspect of your energy consumption, showing you, among other things, the real time flow of kilowatts from the battery to the electric motor or from the electric motor to the battery when using regenerative breaking.
An interesting option in the Volt regarding regenerative breaking is the L mode. When using L (which we now do all the time), regenerative breaking is applied as soon as you lift your foot from the gas pedal and is proportional to how much you lift it. This not only maximizes the recharging of the battery while you drive, but it allows you to regulate your speed very comfortably with a minimum of back and forth between the accelerator and the brake pedal.
Not going to the gas station any more is another great source of satisfaction of course
Another thing that surprised me is how much pickup speed you get if you need it. If you floor the gas pedal, you get the full torque of the electric engine and it is quite strong. You also have a sport mode at the touch of a button to get this responsiveness all the time (at the expense of your electricity consumption, of course).
The technology in the Volt is actually pretty amazing: the electric engine is used to move the car and to recharge the battery; the electricity generator can be powered by the gas engine to recharge the battery or directly power the electric motor; and the generator can even assist the electric motor when driving at high speed (providing a second electric motor to power the car). But the driving experience is the same regardless of what is going on. All these transitions are totally seamless.
In the end you can forget about the technology, and simply enjoy the (silent) drive. The car is comfortable, lively, handles very well, and I find it pleasing to the eye.
Over the next few years, I am sure technology will give us more range and a faster charge, but even at this stage, I find the Chevy Volt to be an amazing car.
If you have never thought of it, I highly recommend taking one for a test drive and playing with the sport mode
To hear from Volt Owners go to this independent GM-Volt forum.
Statistics of our first 1360 miles :
1170 Miles using 243 kWh for $32 of electricity
Comes up to 166 MPGe
Gas generated electricity Mode:
192 Miles using 5 Gallons for $22 of Gas
Comes up to 39 MPG
Gas + Electric:
1360 Miles for $54
Comes up to 113 All MPGe