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2011 Chevrolet Volt Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2011 Chevrolet Volt was new.


Performance: 9.5

The Chevrolet Volt’s powertrain make is distinct from other cars currently available. The good news is that reviewers say it drives much like a conventional car. Test drivers report that acceleration is good, handling is on the sporty side and that most drivers will rarely have the Volt’s gasoline engine switch on. While there are a few complaints about the Volt’s brakes and rough ride, overall, reviewers are happy with how the Chevrolet Volt drives.

  • "Its performance, handling, braking and comfort all rated high. There's no discernible difference in performance between when it's running on battery power and when the small gasoline-powered generator kicks in." -- Detroit Free Press
  • "The Volt will leave you screaming, but from its performance and great acceleration." -- Detroit News
  • "Beyond the powertrain, the Volt again seems pretty darn normal.” -- Edmunds
  • "This is where the Volt shines. Quick and nippy in traffic, it proceeds with a silent, oozing surge of acceleration, like a downsized Rolls- Royce Phantom" -- Motor Trend

Acceleration and Power

The 2011 Chevrolet Volt has a one-of-a-kind powertrain among production cars. A 16 kilowatt lithium-ion battery and 111 kilowatt electric motor provide pure electric power for between 25 and 50 miles of travel, depending on conditions and driving style. Drive more aggressively and you’ll get fewer purely-electric miles. Most reviewers report that they got about 40 miles of electric driving. The electric powertrain makes 149 horsepower. When the batteries run out of juice, a gasoline motor kicks in. It’s a 1.4-liter four cylinder that acts mainly as a generator for the electric motor, but also adds power to the wheels when the Volt goes over 70 miles per hour. Chevrolet originally said the gasoline engine wouldn’t power the wheels at all, but having it help in some conditions is actually more efficient than letting the electric motor work alone.

Overall, reviewers say the Volt gets up to speed fine and has plenty of power on hand.

Fuel economy on the Volt is much harder to quantify. Because it runs on electric power for up to 50 miles, which is more than most people drive in a day, it’s possible to go months without getting gas (though the gasoline engine will switch on occasionally to prevent the gas from going bad and to keep the engine lubricated). Most reviewers figured that once they went beyond the electric-only range of the Volt, they got 35 to 40 miles per gallon. Those numbers have not been verified by the EPA or Chevrolet, but they give an idea of what you could expect in real-world driving. A fully-charged and gassed-up Volt has a range of about 310 miles – the same as a gas-only car. Once 300 miles is reached, pull the Volt into any gas station, fill up and continue on your way.

By contrast, pure electric cars like the Nissan Leaf will never use a drop of gasoline, but are limited by their 100 mile range between charges. The Toyota Prius, though it can’t travel nearly as far as the Chevrolet Volt, gets a combined EPA fuel economy rating of 50 miles per gallon.

  • "Acceleration is one continuous ooze of thrust -- sort-of CVT-like, only without the engine drone. In fact, although the Volt isn’t slow compared with its peers -- its 9.2-second 0-to-60-mph time beats both the Leaf and the Toyota Prius by 0.8 second --it feels quicker than the numbers suggest because, off the line, no matter what the driver does, the electric motor’s 273 pound-feet of torque rolls out modestly and averts wheelspin." -- Car and Driver
  • "The Volt sprang forward when I pressed the accelerator. Electric motors produce power differently from gasoline engines, so the Volt felt considerably quicker and more powerful than you might expect from a 150-horsepower compact car carrying four people." -- Detroit Free Press
  • "The electric motors produce 149 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Those are torque numbers you see in V-6s. There are three driver settings: normal, sport and mountain, which adjust a number of electric inputs. My favorite is sport." -- Detroit News
  • "Because of the Volt's dual nature and ability to run solely on electricity, you could theoretically achieve infinite miles per gallon by driving 230 miles over the course of a week, but recharging in your garage every night. However, if you travel 230 miles in one go on a road trip, you would achieve an estimated 38.3 mpg because the gasoline engine would be running almost constantly for 191 miles. Furthermore, the electric-only range depends on driving conditions such as traffic, grades and your driving style. "Your mileage may vary" has never been more true." -- Edmunds
  • "The surprising news is that, after you deplete the 16-kW-hr battery and the engine switches on, a clutch connects the engine and generator to the planetary transmission so the engine can help turn the wheels directly above 70 mph. This improves performance and boosts high-speed efficiency by 10-15 percent" -- Motor Trend
  • "Power builds slowly from a start, but stellar midrange torque means that keeping up with traffic -- and passing slow cars on two-lane byways  -- is no challenge. The Volt doesn't use a traditional gearbox, instead relying on a single ratio setup that always keeps power a mere tap of the throttle away" -- Left Lane News

Alternative Fuels/Charging

The Volt’s battery pack can hold up to 16 kilowatt hours of power, which is enough to let the Volt travel on electric power for up to 50 miles as an electric car, depending on conditions (drive more aggressively, or over hilly terrain and the gasoline generator will kick on sooner). Charging the Volt is as simple as plugging it into a 120 volt household electrical outlet. With a 120 volt outlet, a full charge takes 10 to 12 hours. If you go for a 240 volt outlet, available as part of a home charging station (which runs about $2,000, including installation), charging only takes four hours.

But, because of its gasoline engine, that charging is less of a concern for Volt drivers than it is for people who own purely electric vehicles, like the Nissan Leaf. When a pure electric car like the Leaf runs out of charge, it must be plugged in to continue. This is a big problem if you’re out on the road and have no access to a charging station – or don’t have eight hours to spend waiting for the car to charge on a 120-volt outlet. When the Volt’s battery pack runs out of charge, its gasoline engine kicks in and acts as a generator. That means that the Volt doesn’t have the same range limitations as a purely electric car. In fact, its limitations are the same as any gasoline-powered car, even if most drivers will only use the electric power during everyday driving.

As an added bonus, because electricity is less expensive than gasoline, operating the Volt should be much less expensive than operating a gasoline-powered car. For less than the cost of one gallon of gas, the Volt can be fully charged from home.

  • "While a pure EV -- needing long recharging sessions every 70 miles or so --will transport you back to the era of the month long road trip, the Volt could easily drive across the country on gas when there’s no time or electricity available for recharging." -- Car and Driver
  • "If I owned one, I could probably go three months or more between stops at the gas station. If you drive fewer than 40 miles a day, you might be able to, as well." -- Detroit Free Press
  • "When the gas engine kicks on, it purrs. The start/stop system on the gas engine is flawless, making it difficult to tell when exactly the engine has turned over. There were more than a couple of times while driving it that I had to roll down the window to confirm whether the engine was on or off." -- Detroit News
  • "However, should your commute home and back stay within the Volt's estimated low-speed cruising range of 40 miles, the gasoline engine would only ever come on once every few months  to maintain itself and the fuel system. In that scenario, though, you'd have to plug the Volt into a household 120-volt (estimated 8-hour recharge from drained) or 240-volt circuit (3 hours) every night." -- Edmunds
  • "The range extender takes away what remains the greatest impediment to battery-electric car acceptance: range anxiety, the fear of running out of juice when far from a source of electricity. …The cost to charge the Volt will be about 80 cents per day based on the national average energy price. In a year's time, the Volt will use more electricity than an electric clothes dryer but less than a refrigerator or water heater, at a cost roughly one-sixth that of the gasoline consumed by a comparable car." -- Cars.com

Handling and Braking

While reviewers like the Volt’s acceleration and power, they give its ride and handling mixed reviews.  While the Volt is has a sportier, more engaging drive than other hybrids, low rolling resistance tires degrade handling, and its regenerative braking takes some getting used to.

  • "Beyond its impressive powertrain, the Volt drives surprisingly well, with a reassuringly steady suspension. The electric power steering is light but direct on-center, adding weight in proportion to angle." -- Car and Driver
  • "The handling is sporty, thanks to well-tuned electric power steering and a carefully placed battery pack that lowers the car's center of gravity by a couple of inches compared with conventional compact cars like the Chevrolet Cruze." -- Detroit Free Press
  • "The Volt provides a drive setting that will force harder regen braking, similar to some hybrids, and it feels like the car has downshifted when the driver takes his foot off the accelerator. While eco-fficient, it's also eco-nnoying." -- Detroit News
  • "The ride is a bit firmer than in a Prius, and its electric power steering is linear and well-weighted. This is in contrast to that of other Chevy vehicles (the Equinox, for instance), which tend to be numb in feel and overly light in effort. While we wouldn't call the Volt fun to drive, it seems like one of the more involving among alternative-fuel and hybrid cars." -- Edmunds
  • "I like these brakes a lot better than the Prius’. The Volt’s pedal feels much more natural and less intrusive." -- Motor Trend
  • "Those tires, designed specifically for the Volt, are also probably one of the prime suspects in its rather choppy rough road ride. Combine their hard sidewalls with a short wheelbase and stiff suspension tuning and the occasionally clomping, but still quite competent Volt doesn't feel like a softly sprung compact car of yore." -- Left Lane News

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