Now, after several hours and nearly 200 miles driving and riding in saleable Volts, we know how the finished product drives. And the news is very good.
The Volt launches from a stop with a punch that makes the car feel faster than its 0-to-60 time of 8.8 seconds would suggest. Around town it is solid, silent, and quick. At 85 mph it feels unshakeable, with plenty of passing power to spare. (Top speed is limited to 100 mph.) It is not light by any stretch, but its low center of gravity (which comes the 400-pound lithium-ion battery situated underneath the center console and back seat) makes it feel nimble. We squealed the tires on hard turns a few times, but never did it start to slide. Steering is silky and precise.
The loaded Volt is comfortable and pleasant to sit in, with soft leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a sophisticated touch-screen navigation system (which also offers a vast amount of data about your driving efficiency), rear backup camera, seat warmers, cruise control, Bluetooth, iPod connectivity, and the rest of the usual upgrade amenities. It’s not spacious, but it doesn’t feel cramped; I spent my time in the car with two other sub-six-foot adults, and I never heard anyone complain about legroom, even in the back.
So GM has succeeded in making the Volt a perfectly solid, nicely appointed production car, never glitchy or cut-rate or compromised in any way. Good. For a car that starts at $41,500, this level of fit and finish should be the minimum.
But the Volt, of course, is not just any production car. Let’s start with the pure-electric (EV) mode. GM long said that the Volt would get 40 miles of gas-free driving on a full charge of its 16 kilowatt-hour battery. They recently replaced the number “40” with a range of 25 to 50 miles, and after spending time in the car I see why. The first leg of my trip was a 45.9-mile drive through the Detroit suburbs—no highway driving, many stoplights, an average speed limit of 45 mph. I made a reasonable effort to drive efficiently, which the Volt turns into a subtle and surprisingly compelling game; when the green bouncing ball that sits just below eye level is sitting still in the middle of a digital column, you’re doing well. And you don’t have to drive like a hypermiler to do well: Just don’t floor it from a stop, and let the regenerative braking (which is all but imperceptible and starts as soon as you lift your foot off the throttle) do as much of the deceleration work as possible. I made the 45-mile drive in pure electric mode with 6 miles left on the battery meter,. The next day, on the first leg of a 155.7-mile route, we did several miles of 80-plus-mph freeway driving, switched it for several miles to “sport” mode and generally tried to push it as much as we could given that we were driving in town, and we got a little over 37 miles of all-electric range.