'Holden' Volt: Our First Drive

Tim O'Brien | 44 Comments

HOLDEN VOLT REVIEW

Vehicle Style: Midsize EV hatch
Price: Australian pricing TBA (US price USD$39,145)

Power (electric motor): 111kW
Torque (electric motor): 368Nm
Fuel Economy (all electric use): 0 l/100km
Fuel Economy (using petrol engine for recharge): 3.8-4.8 l/100km estimated (based on US test results)
Recharge cost at household power-point: $2.50 estimated
Recharge time using household power-point: Six hours approx.

We have driven the Volt - in left-hand-drive configuration and for just two laps inside Sydney's cavernous Australian Technology Park.

It was the barest of introductions and, beyond whetting the appetite, we could draw little real information from those two laps about how it performs at the wheel.

We have of course driven other electric cars (Leaf, i-Miev), but, despite the brief encounter, none has inspired quite like the Volt - it is the most intriguing car to be headed to these shores in decades.

We can't wait to drive it again. That unfortunately won't happen for a while; it's not going to be street ready with a Holden badge on the nose until late 2012. But this in an electric car you too will want to drive.

"(The Volt) is going to fundamentally change the way people think about the Holden brand," GM Holden Chairman and Managing Director Mike Devereux said at its media launch.

He's right. The GM Volt is quite possibly a watershed in modern car design and engineering.

Voltec electric drive system

Where hybrids have always seemed a transitional technology, the Volt, and the logic of its unique Voltec electric drive system, may be the future.

It's electric, but no other electric car operates in the way the Volt does. And it has a petrol engine, but it is not really a hybrid.

Where hybrids mate a conventional engine to an electric motor and utilise both - either individually or paired - to drive the wheels, the function of the petrol engine in the Volt is to drive the generator which recharges the battery pack. At high speeds, however, or under heavy load, the generator also provides additional drive through the planetary gears - a system not dissimilar to the way KERS works.

It is impossible not to be impressed. Because if you peer beneath the layers of complex technologies and electronics that manage the system, you find a simple - and proven - engineering solution to greener motoring.

At its simplest: the Volt has a 111kW and 368Nm high-torque electric motor that drives the wheels; a lithium-ion battery pack that powers the electric motor, and a small 1.4 litre 63kW petrol engine that drives a generator to charge the battery pack. But it can also be recharged via a home powerpoint.

“This is the start of something big for Holden and Australia,” Mike Devereux
“This is the start of something big for Holden and Australia,” Mike Devereux

This is the Volt's brilliance - it is just like an old fashioned diesel-electric train. It's range is in fact unlimited - you need never recharge it from a powerpoint if you choose not to, as the petrol engine is capable of keeping it fully charged - the only range limitation is when the petrol engine runs out of fuel (a 36 litre tank).

It's this unique system that gives the Volt a range of 500km before recharging or refuelling. And, unlike any other EV, you don't need to then find a powerpoint (and wait hours for a recharge) before continuing the journey, you only need find a petrol station.

At the wheel, it feels 'right': it feels like a car. And it looks like a car; GM has thankfully resisted the temptation to make it look like some sort of futuristic 'thang'. Inside and out, it looks like a stylish, robust modern family-sized hatch.

Externally, it's the size of the Vectra; the Volt in fact sits on GM's Delta platform (which the Cruze also shares).

For you and I then, Volt offers the promise of green motoring without compromise and will redefine current notions about what it means to own an electric car.

This car removes altogether the one big 'blocker' to battery-powered transport: it removes "range anxiety" - will it get me there and back?

The Volt has, in effect, the same unlimited range of a conventional car. It could be driven to Darwin and back without once having to plug in to recharge. A notion unthinkable in any other electric car.

The Volt can do it because it carries its own means to recharge - that small petrol engine that drives the generator that replaces the charge.

And if you do choose to recharge by plugging into the grid, it plugs straight into a conventional 10amp power-point, recharging in four to six hours. The cost? About $2.50... less than one cappuccino.

Keep it charged, and the Volt can operate continuously in full-electric mode for shorter trips without the petrol engine ever being needed. (It will briefly kick into life however every 48 days to lubricate itself.)

The lithium-ion battery pack, with thermal protection to prevent heat build-up, comes with an eight-year warranty.

Click here (PDF file) for Holden's technical breakdown on how the Voltec system works.

A driving impression

Slide in behind the wheel and things are both familiar and very new. There are two seven-inch screens: one directly ahead of the driver carrying the charge, range, speed and other driving information; the other above the pearlescent gloss-white centre-stack (with classy touch-sensitive controls) for sat-nav, audio and other system information.

The seats are deeply contoured and nicely trimmed in thick leather, front and back. It's a four seater only, the battery running through the tunnel and under the rear seats makes it a two-plus-two seating configuration.

"The Volt is joy without sin. That rare experience of living well and doing good," US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich.
"The Volt is joy without sin. That rare experience of living well and doing good," US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich.

With gloss-white and satin metal highlights, and that super centre-stack, it is a thoroughly modern, edgy and quite unique interior.

Start up, a simple press of a button, requires a foot on the brake. The dashboard immediately lights up, displaying the range remaining on the batteries, plus the extended range achievable with the engagement of the petrol engine.

Engaging drive via the shifter in the console is the same action as in a modern auto. At this point the Volt is completely soundless.

There are three drive modes: Normal, Sport and Mountain mode (the latter for steep alpine driving). Squeeze the accelerator and it moves away from the line like any automatic, but accompanied by a faint electric whirring.

Electric motors of course, unlike internal combustion engines, do not require kinetic energy to produce torque. Torque is instantaneous.

But so that you don't shred the tyres or over-stress the mechanical components on take-off, torque output is electronically damped to 320Nm at zero rpm, rising to 368Nm once underway.

That's a hefty torque figure. Give the accelerator a firm prod, and the Volt leaps ahead eagerly. It does not appear to want for power.

The brakes feel a tad strange at first, because it also regenerates charge when coasting and braking.

Cornering? Well, we couldn't get a feel for that on a concrete surface inside a warehouse, but, because the battery pack sits amidships, GM reports a 52/48 weight distribution.

Our verdict

At this point, we have no verdict to give. The Volt though has scooped a swag of US technology and industry awards since release in North America just on 12 months ago, including MotorTrend's Car of the Year for 2011.

It is, as we noted at the outset, an intriguing car. Importantly for Australian motorists, its Voltec electric system with on-board recharging, makes it one of few electric cars suitable for Australian motoring distances.

There is a premium feel to the Volt we sampled; it retails at an entry level of around $40k in the US.

Because it provides solutions for a greener planet and reduced motoring costs, we would hope that Holden can get it on the road here for under $50k.

We would like to see this car in reach of middle Australia.

At its media launch, Mike Devereux also said, "Volt will make driving more economical, more environmentally-friendly and will fundamentally change the way Australia thinks about alternative transport solutions. This is the start of something big for Holden and Australia.”

He's probably right about that, too.

Filed under: Featured, review, Green, Holden, chevrolet, EV, Chevrolet Volt, holden volt, electric, petrol-electric, tim o'brien, erev, electric range-extended vehicle

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  • JT says,
    3 years ago
    I never had any expectations of the Volt but after this I'm pretty darn interested, if they could sell this over here for under $50k then it'd sell very well I reckon.

    Too bad then didn't actually let you drive it on an open road.
  • James Vale says,
    3 years ago
    1 like
    Congrats GM!.great work.it has been a long time coming.i'm very interested and cant wait to get one. i wonder if they will make a wagon version?
    • Lori-ellen Ivers says,
      2 years ago
      I have been waiting for the electric car to finally surface. I am however disappointed about the price. Was actually thinking that it may come in at under the $40K mark as the Australian dollar is over parity and more than likely will stay that way for quite a while yet, with obvious fluctuations. I am a pensioner and was looking forward to this vehicle coming for a very long time. May not be able to afford it after all the hype now. Sadly so, I'm afraid.
      Please try go do something about the price as I really would love to buy the Holden Volt.
      Lori-ellen Ivers
  • SWH says,
    3 years ago
    "GM has thankfully resisted the temptation to make it look like some sort of futuristic 'thang'."

    I'm not sure that they have. Every electric/hybrid vehicle coming out today has a hideous tail - the Volt is no exception to this.

    The tail lights sitting above the lower borders of the rear windows for example are a discontinuity that kill it's look.

    The Tesla Model S got this right, you only need to look at the rear of a Model S and then look at the rear of the volt to see how evident this is.
  • KS says,
    2 years ago
    2 likes
    Great review and GM have designed a real game changer. Can't wait to test drive one.

    Your comment "it is just like an old fashioned diesel-electric train" got me thinking - why didn't GM put a diesel motor in it with all the advantages diesel has over petrol?!
  • Alfred says,
    2 years ago
    3 likes
    Except nobody here realises GM built a car in 1996 (300 of them and sold them only in California before oil companies got scared and GM withdrew the cars from their owners) called the EV1 that did 240km/h per charge.

    This thing could easily do more distance per charge, they just dont want it to. What a joke.

    Woo Hoo Oil companies
    • stuey81 says,
      2 years ago
      they were leased, not sold. Also it was CARB that withdrew the mandate not big oil.
  • KR says,
    2 years ago
    1 like
    Those batteries will die sooner or later. It will cost a real fortune to replace them. It's the same type of expensive battery what is used for electric bikes but just a lot bigger. If this battery ever get recharged completly by not using the car for several months then it could be instant death to the battery. I would like to know more about the fine print regarding the warrenty of the battery and replacement cost.
    • mrwise says,
      2 years ago
      1 like
      The same as the engine on a conventional car will require replacing one day and will be real expensive! Doubters have been saying the same thing about the prius for years, yet we've been using them as taxi's for years because they're far cheaper in the long run, and the batteries haven't proved to be a problem at all
  • Paul says,
    2 years ago
    Is the 'Start Up' program for the engine controllable so it won't start in a closed Garage, and potentially gas the home occupants?
    • stuey81 says,
      2 years ago
      paul, it will prompt you for you permission before it does anything, you also have the option to delay this feature.
  • SAV says,
    2 years ago
    1 like
    I'm not buying a traditional vehicle again. When the boxes are ticked for me it will be an electric vehicle, however, I still have some boxes to tick. The VOLT could be it.
  • Johnno says,
    2 years ago
    1 like
    I was wondering why they didnt go with a diesel too. Might be some weight penalty, but more economical, plus you could run it on bio diesel..

    But still a very interesting vehicle, and with a battery change-out policy like some electric vehicles have it would be an all-round winner
    biggrin
  • Phil Wilkins says,
    2 years ago
    My Wife and I have a passion for touring this wonderful country of ours. I have been driving for 65 years and have driven early Fords, Valiants, Holdens, Falcons, and now a Holden Astra. Judging by the estimated price of the forth coming VOLT I feel it would be well outside my price range, but would be glad to test one for you as a long range touring vehicle.
    Regards
    Phil Wilkins
    Sunshine Coast Queensland.
  • stuey81 says,
    2 years ago
    It's electric, but no other electric car operates in the way the Volt does" BYD makes a car that functions in EXACTLY the same way. Also i would expect to see right hand drive models for testing this close to the Australian launch date, not left hand drive, I was also told by Holden @ Port Macquarie on the mid north coast, not to get my hopes up to for one of these anytime soon, localy anyway, as the cost of training up all the country staff (mechanics, sales people) for holden wouldnt match expected sales. It was is if the guy was trying to talk me outta a volt, i think charging time is ridiculous considering the 16 kwh battery is only supposed to let you use half of its capacity, why can Tesla recharge a 85kwh battery in 45 mins? (models s, with fast charger, with 8years warranty) a good step in the right direction, personally i will be waiting for my Tesla Model S - 480 km per charge, 5.6 seconds 0 - 100 km/ph 22 inch rims, holden could learn ALOT from Elon Musk. NPNS =D~
    • Laurie Mackeson says,
      2 years ago
      You make an excellent point regarding cost/location of servicing for the Volt. I will add to this by saying Holden will have a monopoly on the servicing because of the technology specific needs of the service + (I'm sure that) Holden will require the battery to be checked/serviced by them to maintain it's warranty. Not a Holden fan in the slightest. Not a Holden fan in the slightest but this vehicle is an interested development in motor vehicle progress. Cheers.

    • Laurie Mackeson says,
      2 years ago
      An 86/BRZ for $30-40K vs a Volt for $50K (est)...I know which one I will buy every day! It may be a good car, a good car for some or even a good car at some time in the future BUT I know many people who won't spend that much OR have better ways to spend the same cash on another car....
    • Paul says,
      2 years ago
      There are 3 charging modes, 110V takes about 8 hours. 220V takes between 3 and 4 hours. There is also a DC charge which will be at charging stations in the next year or so, it will charge in 10 to 15 minutes. It is not cost effective for home charging tho.
  • stuey81 says,
    2 years ago
    GM one of the advantages of having an electric drivetrain is being able to get the power to the back wheels without the usual losses through the running gear, so why oh why would you make this little gem FRONT WHEEL DRIVE? This will more than likley be the deal breaker for me, my first car was a RWD 79 Toyota Corolla, the i had about 6 Gemini`s, and finaly progressed to my current car, a RWD Commodore, BMW once had a tv ad showing a tennis ball getting struck in slow motion, and the ad said "the best way to propel an object, is from the rear" i couldnt agree more, anyone who has driven a front wheel drive car into a wet corner a speed knows what i am talking about, this seems and engeneering hang-over from the FWD Delta platform on witch it was based, should have been a ground up electric car guys. Volt 2.0 RWD please
    • kym says,
      2 years ago
      Have just driven this car sold as the Chevrolete Volt in France for 10 days.Hertz provided it as a rental. Absolutely amazing!Exceeded all expectations.
    • Jeff says,
      2 years ago
      Its people like you that stop advancement in technology with your backwards "i hate FWD" thinking. MODERN FWD cars are superior in many ways to RWD. For example, FWD is generally more economical with lower drivetrain losses. This Volt is supposed to be a 'green' car, so its a no-brainer that it was going to be FWD.

      Perhaps you should then go drive a FWD RenaultSport to see how far things have come, where it will out-grip and out-handle your commodore all day long, wet or dry.
      • stuey81 says,
        11 months ago
        Dave, can you please explain to me where the drive train losses are in a rear wheel drive electric car, with the electric motor mounted on rear axels please? and your other point about front wheel drive will out grip a rwd car, if there is no wieght over the front wheels (due to not having an internal combustion engine) front wheel drive will not get traction, still waiting to see a front wheel drive ferrari,or lambo btw,you statment of FWD cars a superior is laughable
        end of the day, the only thing superior to rear wheel drive cars are all wheel drive cars - no exceptions.
        • Balthazaaaaaargh says,
          8 months ago
          Call someone "retarted", then proceed to demonstrate *** spelling.

          The "retart" might be you, Stuey.
          • Mike Stevens
            Mike Stevens [TMR] says,
            8 months ago
            1 like
            Comment edited and re-approved.

            Folks, do us a favour and enjoy your heated discussions without resorting to name-calling. Doesn't say much for your personality.
  • brian says,
    2 years ago
    1 like
    with the aussie $ at parity with the greenback, its a pity our version may be $10k more than the U.S. A $50K price tag puts the volt in the lower-luxury range of other cars. short-sighted, maybe, but an extra $10k spent on other competing priorities is an issue for me. Trade-in at 7 years with 1 year left on the battery may cuase a huge devaluation.
  • Phil says,
    2 years ago
    2 likes
    Well big deal. Sounds like a Prius (synergy) drive train. This was needed 10 years ago; and at a price comparable to a standrad ICE vehicle. Stop giving GM kudos for giving us overpriced, old technology.
    • jacko says,
      2 years ago
      1 like
      its total different system to prius... read the artical
      • More Holden Lies says,
        2 years ago
        Jacko...wake up and open your eyes...this hunk of junk was outed 3 yrs ago as a fraud, its a HYBRID CAR..its NOT ELECTRIC..independent testing found the crappy petrol engine drives the wheels...more lies from holden.
        • Paul says,
          2 years ago
          I own a Volt and I love it. There are no gears and the acceleration feels like when your in a jet accelerating down a runway. They made it feel familiar, when you take your foot off the brake it starts rolling and makes no sound at all, only the tires on the pavement. The center of gravity is very low so you don't feel any body roll in cornering. The funnest car i have ever owned. I originaly had one gripe, At highway speed the steering seems to responsive, the slightest itch will make you change lanes. But i have been getting used to it, now other cars feel mushy in the steering. I drive 14 miles round trip to work, so i have yet to burn any gasoline, I charge it about 3 times a week. The 220 volt charger charges in just a couple of hours. I have no kids so trying to master all the electronic gadgetry has got me buggered. All in all i give it a 10 out of 10. Very fun to drive.
  • LH says,
    2 years ago
    Looks and sounds good. Hopefully they'll be built here so we can finally see some value from the billions in bailout money given to Holden and Ford.
  • rod says,
    2 years ago
    1 like
    I believe at around $59000 aud it will be a poor seller.In theory it sounds ok but a 63kw petrol engine can only charge the battery for limited time before mains top up to supply a 111kw electric motor,you can only get out what you put in less losses.How much is a replacement battery pack required at 160,000km's?This would likely negate any saving made owning an electric vehicle.Is it capable of towing? Still appears to be a limited use vehicle! --
    • Alan says,
      8 months ago
      111 kW is peak power output. It doesn't need that power in Woolies' carpark. The 63 kW moto will generate 63 kW all the time when charging, if it needs to.
  • jim grace says,
    2 years ago
    could a 240volt battery charger connected to an inverter wired into car be an additional charging source? such as short stops like lunch etc.
  • More Holden Lies says,
    2 years ago
    1 like
    madmadmadmad This hunk of junk was outed by the Obhama Govt as a fraud and holden continues the lies here...its a HYBRID..the petrol motor was found to drive the wheels...ITS A LIE..ITS NOT AN ELECTRIC CAR...ITS A HYBRID!!...holden lies about SIDI, ecotec and countless other lies told to peddle their rubbish cars...at this to the scrap heap!!
  • Frodo says,
    2 years ago
    Sorry, but $60k seems like a lot to me for this car. The engine, while technically different from the prius/lexus/honda hybrids, is still a 1.4L petrol/electric, NOT a pure electric car. There is also the fact that for the same price you can buy almost 2 commodores...
  • Matthew Hart says,
    2 years ago
    Like all cars in Australia, the volt will be decidedly over priced. sad

    Add to that the price for chevrolet's emergent technology, and the Volt will be way beyond the reach of the average Australian buyer.

    Holden really need the volt to succeed, but unless they can price it at around the $35k mark, it's not going to succeed.

    I expect it to go on sale for around $47k make it it over priced and leaving owners with a 7 yr wait before they recoup thier costs in fuel saving over the vehicle, at which point the batteries will need replacing making a used 7yr old Volt worthless.
  • fred says,
    2 years ago
    sounds good time will tellsmile
  • Tom Berg says,
    2 years ago
    Those torque figures are tantalising. How about gear ratio and tread circumfence to find tractive effort?

    Those epicyclic gears what do they couple, and when?

    How much regenerative breaking?
  • Mark Wakeling says,
    2 years ago
    The Volt is the Future of GM Australia. What a brilliant motor vehicle. This will keep the imports hoping. I am very interested and would recommend this car for our fleet

    Mark
  • Mr Sixlitre says,
    2 years ago
    rolleyes and the rest of us will be subsidising the infrastructure and capitalisation thru our taxes in the form of State and Federal govt's pursuing this politically correct but misguided technology WHICH WILL NOT WORK OUTSIDE SMALL CENTRALISED LOCATIONS!
    Then those of us will combustion engines will be taxed to the shothouse on rego and fuel to FORCE us to adopt an unsuitable mode of transport.
    Diesel on the other hand has made huge advances in small engine technology and bio fueloils are being developed at a great rate in the rest of the world.
    Turbo diesel bio fuels leave NO polution, not even micro carbons as fuel oil diesel does, esp in trucks.
    Yep more outdated technology..next thing they'll want to bring in a National hard connect internet service to the country.......sigh, what a waste!!!
  • Qskeptic says,
    2 years ago
    Mr Google says that the US "Volt" version has only 56km range; much the same car; marketed as 100km range in Australia? How come?
    There seems to be a lot of extra shrapnel being carted around. One extra motor/generator and one extra petrol motor which may never be used. This weight could be devoted to more battery and the cost reduced substantially. An electric vehicle doesn't need blinding aceleration it just needs to drive me sedately to work and back at legal speeds; and the boss might even let me plug it in at work.
  • george says,
    1 year ago
    Why didn't Holden do this or that with the Volt? Are you people mad? Holden is a "REDNECK" car maker catering to the needs of feral rev heads!! Diesel electric, I ask you? And a longer distance between charges, not likely. And the price less than 40K in the states, a 20K hike to put them on Australian roads. Just how much of Holden is owned by the oil companies? Is the car any good, compared to all electric vehicles in the states NO!!! Compared to other petrol electric vehicles in the states NO!!! As usual Australia is getting the failed hand-me-downs from the US. One day GM Australia will cease to exist, unless they change their thinking radically. Their past history says change to their thinking is painfully slow. Australia is "lagging" behind in the electric car business, we should be the front runners. We have the experts in this country, and we should fund them to stay here!!!madsad
    • Vincent John says,
      11 months ago
      Many details missing here. There are no reviews on handling or how it corners. There are no details of the acceleration of the fully charged or just petrol mode. I need to know these figures and how it steers. It may look nice but if it is a slug I dont want it
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