The gauge in my Chevrolet Volt’s instrument cluster says I have 38 kilometres of battery life remaining. The odometer reads 7,563 km. In 10 minutes, I’ve driven 6 km, but used up 9 km of battery life. Such is the price of driving at barely 52 per cent efficiency. Welcome to the EV (electric vehicle) world.
Not all this is my fault. The six clicks were spent rolling up and down the hilly, two-lane hardtop from my cottage by the water to the nearest coffee shop. No, EVs are not ideal for country living, even if you’re careful to avoid needlessly draining the 182-kilogram (400-pound) lithium-ion battery.
When I return from coffee and plug in the Volt, an in-dash energy usage guide tells me that if I plug into a standard household 120V outlet, it will take nearly four hours to recharge a battery at half life. Again, my EV world.
In this case, the EV is a Chevy Volt with a range-extending on-board gas motor that fires up to charge the battery if I spill all the juice. That’s right; 99 per cent of the time the Volt runs in pure EV mode; the gas motor is an electrical generator, though in extreme acceleration the gas motor will give a boost for a moment or two.
Not that the Volt lacks get-up-and-go. This compact has a 0-100 km/h time of around 9.2 seconds and a top speed of 160 km/h. That’s what 273 lb-ft of torque will do for a hefty 1,715-kg hatchback with seating for four and a modest cargo space at the rear. Yes, the Volt feels plump, but that’s more a reflection of fairly lumpy handling, not a lack of power.
Here’s the good news: GM says if I drive like a normal person, my annual Volt energy bill will come to $777 a year, versus $1,935 for a comparably-sized Chevrolet Cruze. Factor in the $8,231 Ontario Government subsidy ($7,769 in Quebec, $5,000 in British Columbia) and the Volt saves enough on fuel to pay back the EV price premium in 6.3 years.
For the record, the Volt lists for $42,995 including freight, versus $27,425 for a Cruze LTZ. Money aside, GM figures that Volt owners average an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases – more in British Columbia and Quebec where electricity is generated from clean hydro, less in Alberta where electricity comes from burning coal.
The Volt itself is easy to live with and the range extender wipes clean any fear of exhausting the battery, leaving you stranded. Range anxiety – GONE! It is dead easy to plug in and recharge, too. And while the cabin is not overly spacious, it’s big enough, roomy enough to handle normal city chores for as many as four people at time.
Most brilliant of all, though, are the screens and animation designed to keep drivers in the energy loop. The green-lit instrument cluster is stuffed with useful information, and the controls and switches – many of them simple touch screens – operate seamlessly. The German luxury car makers, with their love of painfully complicated multi-function controllers, should take a user-friendly bit of schooling here.
Speaking of luxury vehicles, that’s the Volt. My tester was loaded with $6,000-plus of options, bringing the total to just short of $50,000. So I could buy three fuel-thrifty Chevy Spark subcompacts and a lifetime of gas for one Volt. Therein lies the biggest EV problem.
Tech specs: Chevrolet Volt
Type: Compact electric vehicle
Base price: $41,545 ($1,450 freight)
Powertrain: 1.4-litre four-cylinder gas engine coupled with 55 kW motor/generator
EV drive motor: 110kW
Battery: 16kWh lithium-ion (182 kg) with an eight-year/160,000-km warranty
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 2.5 city/2.5 highway in EV mode; 6.7 city/5.9 highway in gasoline-only mode; regular gas
Alternatives: Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV