Maximizing Electric Miles for Your Lifestyle
Writing about your own car puts an automotive journalist in an awkward position. Suddenly, your dispassionate analysis of a vehicle, where it sits in the broader automotive landscape, what works and what doesn’t from a brief time in the vehicle, is set aside. You have put your own money down as a marker. Are you really going to call your own investment into question?
Well, here I go with my best objective look at my 10-month-old Chevrolet Volt and how it’s worked in my life. Let’s start with why I chose it.
Picking a New Car
I knew I wanted an electrified car, but I wasn’t sure whether what was on the market in early 2018 would work for me. Tesla was out of reach financially and the Model 3 was in limited (and expensive) availability. I’d driven most of the plug-in cars for sale and my favorite was the VW E-Golf, but it’s range wouldn’t work for my regular 250-mile roundtrip jaunts to Sacramento. The Chevrolet Bolt was a logical option as my colleague Steve Schaefer can attest, but it would rely on topping off at some point because the freeway drive would sap the battery range. I was familiar enough with the infrastructure in Sacramento and between there and the Bay Area to have some concern about the practicality of this model, unless I was willing to see a normal hour-and-a-half drive end up doubled in time while waiting for a charge.
I settled on the Bolt’s sibling, the plug-in hybrid Volt, one of my favorites in the PHEV world. It’s range would allow me to travel electrically most of my local trips, but still work for the longer ones like my Sacramento excursions (and I could rely on my HOV-lane stickers to speed the trip), albeit with less efficiency than many other PHEVs..
Other than pure functionality, I knew I could get a full array of advanced technology, including adaptive cruise control (the most addictive
and helpful technology I’ve ever encountered), lane departure warning, blind spot detection and on and on. The Volt bonus is I think it’s one of the better-looking models out there and also has the functionality of a hatchback. But again, my personal bias may be coloring things here.
The Secret Sauce
The first item of business with any plug in vehicle is—where are you going to plug it in? With a PHEV like the Volt where plugging is an option, I found using the factory cord inserted into a wall plug in the garage worked initially, but the time needed to charge up the 18.4 kilowatt-hour battery was extensive. The Volt often took all night to regain its 50+ mile all-electric range.
Then along came Accell, offering the ease of a 120V plug-in with the potential to also charge at Level 2 (240V) from the same charger (an AxFAST portable EVSE). I already had a 240V outlet in the garage in a line running off the house’s central air conditioning; it was just a matter of making sure the grounded wall outlet (a NEMA 10-30) matched the format of the Accell unit. A short visit by a handyman took care of that and we were good to go.
Now recharging is a breeze—and a short breeze at that. It has enhanced our ability to maximize electric miles since charging time is down to a couple hours. That ability also has encouraged us to drive the Volt more than we might otherwise, since our preference is to drive it as an EV. It’s my wife regular commuter car; she has a 30-mile round trip that’s easily accomplished on a full charge. In fact, she’s taken to using surface roads home rather than the freeway because the stop-and-go allows her to make most of the trip with minimal range penalty. We’ve barely seen a blip on the electricity bill.
The results are tabulated monthly by GM and sent to us. At the last check we had more than 8,000 miles on the Volt our last month showed us driving 85 percent on electricity, delivering the equivalent of 250+ mpg. The tally also showed we avoided emitting almost 500 pounds of CO2 through our electric travel (compared with if we had been running on gas).
Of course I validate my choice of the Volt. It’s performed admirably and so far my only trip to the dealership has been for a recall issue. My oil life monitor looks like my oil may last at least another six months. We’ve gone through maybe five tanks of gas, mostly from a couple long trips and local ones just a few miles further than the nominal 53-mile range of the Volt.
My complaints are minimal. When the 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine does kick in, it’s a little jarring. The engine itself is noisier than I remember with the Gen 1 Volt (2010-15), and is not really designed to power the car except on flat ground (rare where I live) or downhill. It’s reasonably efficient (42 mpg) running on the engine alone, but it’s a small powerplant pulling a 3,800-pound car. Since I run on electricity most of the time the with the battery adding its instant torque, the car is a responsive, smooth-running machine.
The Volt’s handling characteristics are good from the start, but the MacPherson strut front suspension and semi-independent rear are enhanced by 335 pounds of batteries mounted low in the spine of the car.
Then there’s the issue of driving an orphan. This isn’t the first time I’ve owned a discontinued model (maybe that says something else about my vehicle choices), but General Motors support of the car is pledged to be around for at least 10 years. I have a three-year lease and no concerns, particularly given the blissfully trouble-free initial time I’ve had in the vehicle. I’m looking forward to the next two years, driving the Volt into the next decade, then facing an even more interesting decision with the multitude of vehicles expected to be on the market at that point.
Related Stories You Might Enjoy–Other Staff Views of the Volt
Road Test: 2019 Chevrolet Volt
Personal: Chevrolet Volt Replaces Nissan Leaf
Road Test: 2014 Chevrolet Volt
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