Test-driving General Motors’ new Chevy Volt

Jeff Winkler Contributor
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The Chevy Volt. GM has been calling it a “game changer” and “revolutionary.” Reviews have been positive, even if Jalopnik has anointed it the “Jesus Car.”‘

Volt spokesman Robert Peterson, however, called it something else.

“It’s a little spooky …” he said.

He was talking about the sound of the engine, but it’s not a bad thing.

The Chevy Volt is a little spooky. It’s quieter than a church mouse loaded on Ambien. So sure, the silence is a little disconcerting for anyone accustomed to the pop of cylinders in a poorly made Chevy, which seems to be just about everyone (kidding!).

It’s electric, baby, and it’ll be built in the states. No wonder GM seems thrilled to promote a vehicle that works better than Captain Planet and is made by Captain America. The Volt engineers, however, have worked overtime to ensure the car’s bells and whistles sound like Big Ben and the James Brown horn section. The Volt, said Peterson, was designed with the tech-savvy in mind.

“We think that early on, it’s going to be early adopters to technology. People that need the latest and greatest technology.”

Now, a techie is an odd creature, and the same goes for motorheads. They seem to communicate by way of congested chuckles and half-finished non sequiturs. It’s pure gibberish. Then again, so are the squawks of politicians and media types. So perhaps we should discuss a few of the Volt’s cooler features with something we can all relate to  — like Hollywood.

Volt’s Flux Capacitor

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Back to the Future’s Flux Capacitor needs no introduction. Without it, Crispin Glover wouldn’t be the romantic, productive member of society he was in 1985.

The Volt’s Flux Capacitor is its lithium-ion battery. Peterson said the 400-pound, T-shaped battery nestled in the car’s belly can last about 40 miles before it needs to be recharged. The small gas engine in this hybrid extended-range electric car works like a generator after the battery’s drained.

The Daily Caller pit crew was fortunate enough to be in the car when it finally ran out of juice. The dashboard belted out a little jingle as the Volt switched to generator power. Apart from a muffled growl, the changeover was seamless and the car kept driving as stealthy as ever. Very cool.

The style of the T-shaped design, though, is even more important than its substance. Thanks to the battery’s placement, the Volt doesn’t look like a smug golf cart begging to have its tires slit.

The new design doesn’t flex like the 2007 prototype. The look is definitely conservative-sleek. However, it probably wouldn’t take much convincing to get The Situation into the driver’s seat. As Doc says: “If you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”

Volt installs the MiB’s ‘little red button’

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“I wanna show you something,” said Volt engineer Trent Warnke as we turned into the final stretch of the test course.

It was a quarter-sized button below the LCD display that said, simply, “Sport.” Warnke pushed that little sport button and away we went. The acceleration was instantaneous. There wasn’t the jolt you normally expect after playing another round of Scare the Pedestrian.

As Warnke tried to explain, it’s simply a matter of cracking the juice up from 90 kilowatts to 110 kilowats. It’s a smooth surge instead of the thuggish push from a dirty gas engine. And without sticking your foot in the tank.

The easiest comparison would be that of a golf cart’s acceleration, which is the last thing the Volt folks want to hear.

“Some of the [hybrids] look like glorified golf carts. This doesn’t look like a glorified golf cart,” said Warnke.

A similar feature on the Volt’s shifter puts some serious drag on the car, but where’s the fun in talking about that?

Volt’s Batmobile features

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As long as Penguin’s not in control, the Volt’s cell phone apps are a great way to have some remote-controlled fun.

At the demonstration, one GM rep started his car, honked the horn, and flipped the lights for his own Volt, tucked in a garage miles away. Don’t feel like going outside and freezing your spark plugs off warming up the car? With the OnStar tools, the Volt will even be nice and toasty when you get in.

The choices used to be so limited: Lock/Unlock. And you’d have to hide near the vehicle if you wanted to startle someone with the Panic button. Not anymore.

The Volt’s apps even alert you when someone’s been getting their grubby little paws on your baby. Oh, and it has other fluff features too: crap about important mileage information and charging capabilities.

The final grade

The Daily Caller test-drove the Volt right after two D.C. disc jockeys. We were followed by Michigan Senator Carl Levin who said, “I’m an old taxi driver, I know a good car when I feel it, when I drive it. It passed the taxi-driver’s test.”

My own qualifications for passing judgment are slim. It took a month before I totaled my first car (’91 Chevy Blazer). And I’m very shallow.

There was the Volt’s confusing ad campaign. And that jingle performed by a Moldy Peaches cover band (Rotten Peaches?). Not to mention the achingly bad video from the Los Angeles Car Show.

Image says a lot. If said goal is to attract the tech-savvy,  it’s not good when your every promotional attempt is the butt of Internet jokes.

I also don’t know where to steal $40,000, even with the $7,500 tax credit. Although… it’d be a great car for a nighttime robbery.

That said, the Volt accomplishes exactly what its makers envisioned. The technology is top-of-the-line without making the Volt come across as a spaceship. It’s hard to argue with a practical, functional vehicle that plugs into your bedroom socket and heats up in the cold. Imagine an iPhone with tires and a steering wheel.

Having the Volt’s two LCD screens on while you’re driving sounds almost as bad as one teenager driving, but that’s a minor issue. Sen. Levin said the car was “the Volt of the future.” Maybe. But with its Hollywood features, the Volt is certainly ready for its close-up.