I’ve known for awhile that I would have to start searching for a new car. My 1997 Taurus SHO ran super well until this year when it started idling rough. That lead to repairs and more repairs and then it died. It was repairable, but I was done spending money on it. So I went looking.
I considered a Toyota Camry LXE Hybrid, a Volkswagen Jetta TDI, and the Chevy Volt. After a week of creating spreadsheets in Numbers, running lease vs. buy predictions, and a lot of research, I bought a 2013 Volt.
This car will not pay for itself in gas savings. This car is for early adopters. This car is pretty awesome.
The pickup for an electric is really nice. It is like riding on a roller coaster with magnetic propulsion, except slower. What I am finding interesting after two days of ownership is that I am starting to drive like an old person, and that is a good thing. The Volt is very good at letting me know when I am braking too hard. Why am I braking too hard? Because I sped up too much when there is a red light ahead. The Volt regenerates electricity when you coast as well as brake, so you can let up and even “coast” up a freeway offramp, putting electrons back into the battery.
The Volt is a heavy car, topping 3700 lbs curb weight. Much of this is the massive lithium-ion battery. The battery was the #1 thing that slowed me down from buying earlier. At 8 years/100,000 miles, I am still wary of the battery, so I may sell it in three years as an affordable commuter to someone, if the tech has gotten better by then. If you live in one of the States that adopted the California PZEV Emissions Warranty, then you’ll get a 10 year/150,000 mile warranty on the battery, which is nice. Washington only elected to adopt the non-PZEV portion of California’s standards, so I got screwed. Thanks, Olympia.
My car came with the rear safety package, which includes a camera and object alert system. The camera is awesome, and even has a light at night. The car also came with premium interior, including leather seats, and a Bose “low power” radio system. I did not want that at first, but now am glad I got it. I may have to sign up for XM/Sirius.
The dash consists of two screens, one in the center console, which runs all of your climate and entertainment systems, and one where you would normally have your dials and gauges.
The center console is a hot mess. The screen is a touch screen, but much of the UI is not touchable. The buttons on the console are touch sensitive, which means you trigger them when you did not mean to, or sit there pressing hard because they don’t react like normal buttons. Some buttons have cryptic labels. It took me 4 hours to figure out how to set the temperature. I just did not see the red/blue arrow buttons until it was night and they lit up. I kept tapping the “72″ on the screen to no avail.
The climate system is designed to save power. You can run it in fan-only mode, eco mode, or comfort your sweaty ass mode. We’ve been running in Eco mode and it is not bad. However, if you happen to hit a climate control button by accident, say the fan speed, then it ignores the temperature and it’ll waste energy as well as not cool you down. If fan speed gets set to manual, the only way I have found to make it auto again is to make everything auto with the magic Auto button. Le sigh. I have to make sure that “Auto” is always lit *on the console* as the touch screen has 5, count them 5 things that can be auto or not: Left heated seat (part of the premium package), right heated seat, circulated air, which vents to use, and fan speed.
The UI for the console is terrible. I think it was designed by some engineering committee of people who like large ugly buttons. I’d love to sic our designers on this thing. But once you figure it out, it is usable. You can switch radio stations, radio bands, XM, Pandora, look at the energy going to/from the battery, see how efficient you drive, what the lifetime stats of the car are, etc. It’s a regular video game on wheels.
Ok I have been complaining a lot for a 40+K car, why do I like it? Well….
It’s freaking high tech. I drove 39 miles today, all on electric. 250+mpg yeah. I did charge a little in between one trip, but seeing as I have the slow charger (120v) it wasn’t much. My charger takes about 12 hours to do a full charge. I’ll be having SPX come out and hopefully get the 240v outlet and charger installed for $300 out of pocket, which takes advantage of the Ecotality/DOE program containing a free Blink charger and $400 rebate on the install. They claim that the government has them do hours of paperwork and hence the $700 quote for install, but I do not have a hard number on just how much this thing will cost me. Once installed, a full charge will be a scant 4 hours. Awesome.
I am not a green nut. I recycle when I can, turn in old computers, try to be good to the environment, but I do not grow my own food and I drive around unnecessarily just because I can. The Volt interested me though because if I could save some gas, that has to be a good thing, right? And I get a car that connects to my iPhone.
So OnStar. I got 3 years free. It’s a great concept if you don’t mind them knowing everything you do. You can get help in an emergency, or ask them for directions and it’ll come down to the car. They also include an iPhone app to get information from the car, start it remotely (to start climate control), etc. It’s cool but either my car has a 300 baud cellular modem or their system is slow. It can take 45 seconds for the car to respond to a command or send data back. I guess there is some connection lag, and it mostly works, but I did have it reject my connection a couple of times. And it won’t let me update my alert notifications. Ugh. They need some better iOS engineers, as the app feels like a web app wrapped in a UIWebView with a UITabBar at the bottom. I did get 3 years free of OnStar and I have to say it’s pretty nice. They will inform you if the car fails any aspect of the monthly check, in addition to the onboard alerts. They can help contact the dealer for service, or find the closest Chipotle. Pretty neat.
The dash – There is so much to cover, but basically you have a super easy to read speed indicator, a battery charge graphic, a fuel left graphic, an indicator that tells you if you are accelerating or braking too hard, then a widget in the bottom middle that you can change with a dial. The widget can show you how many kilowatts are flowing too/from the battery, what your oil life is like, tire pressures for all four tires, messages from the car (like “charging has begun”), navigation, two trip computers, and a tutorial. There may be more, the car is overwhelming.
The rest of the car is basic, wipers, signals, horn, and even has a pedestrian horn which is a nicer way of telling someone “I’d coming up on you and you don’t hear me because I am BATMAN SILENT!” The car has a normal stick for the transmission, including Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive, and Low. Reverse turns on the rear camera. Low is useful for stop and go traffic, or so I am told.
The parking brake is electric. I assume this is so the car can turn it on when you charge, and likely other reasons. One scary thing I read is called Torque Lock. This is where you park on a hill, and if you put the car into park, and then turn on the parking brake, you risk locking up the electric drive. If this happens, you will need a push up the hill or tow to get the drive unlocked out of Park. The solution is to stop with the brakes, then put on the parking brake, then put the car into Park. I’ve been practicing this on normal parking, because I don’t want to have to call AAA if I do not need to.
The Volt has all sort of other cool stuff. Remote Keyless Entry means I keep the fob in my pocket and the door unlocks for me, and I start the car with the press of a button. It will alert me if I leave the fob in the car. The unlock range is short, less than 3 feet. We tested this by having me walk up to the passenger door. Elizabeth could not open the driver’s door, but i could open the passenger door. This is really slick. If the key battery gets low or dies, I can pop out the key and plug it into a hidden port on the dash to get headed to buy a new key battery.
My car also came with an auto dimming rear view mirror. The car has sensors to detect humidity and will auto defog the car, as well as auto defrost. Seeing that the climate system can use up to 26% of your charge if run inefficiently, I think it is nice that the car detects situations and heads them off before they get too bad and would need even more energy to correct.
The car rides really nicely. Super silent and handles quite well. I do not know what the exact turning radius is, but it is shorter than my SHO. I really like how it feels going around the corners, and it has StabiliTrak should I get into a traction compromised situation.
Comfort is ok. I was spoiled by my SHO’s seats with lumbar support. I have plenty of headroom and my legs are comfortable. The back seats are more cramped, or so I am told <g>, but they do well most passengers, unless they are tall.
Being a hatchback, it is fairly easy to see into the cargo area, especially since there is a rear view port for seeing out the back. I may have the entire car tinted at some point.
The blindspots suck on the Volt. The A/B front pillars are large, as are the C pillars. When you glance over, you see a lot of nothing and small, sloping rear window. However, when researching this I found a technique that bucks how I have set up mirrors for 28 years. Check it out at your own risk, but I really like it. Basically, you set the mirrors so the edges of the side mirrors overlap the rearview mirror slightly. You can no longer see the rear of your car while sitting normally, but you see everything to the sides. There are several sites, wikihow and cartalk that discuss this system.
This review was a bit of a ramble, but I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with all of the research, both on the car and financing, as well as reading the owner manual (thanks Google!)
I’ll post more here as I log milage and track any issues I have with the Chevy Volt!