2013 HOLDEN VOLT REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Long-Range Electric Vehicle
Price: $59,990 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy listed: 1.2 l/100km | tested: 0.0 l/100km
We were impressed, to say the least, but the ‘pushing-the-parameters’ type of driving done on a typical media launch is perhaps not exactly representative of what goes on in the real world.
At the Volt’s launch we’d depleted the battery after an hour and a half of motoring, something we reckon few Volt owners will do.
After all, the key appeal of a plug-in hybrid like the Volt - which Holden describes as a 'Long Range Electric Vehicle' - is its ability to bypass petrol stations entirely.
So we weren’t going to let that happen this time.
Instead, our objective was to see if we could drive the Volt every day for seven days without having the petrol engine fire up.
Was that goal achievable? Is the 60-80km EV range enough for the average commuter? Can you drive the Volt as you would any other car?
Well, here’s some answers.
Quality: We dig the polished white centre-stack and instrument binnacle (although we’re not entirely sold on the capacitive buttons on the former), but other interior plastics fall a bit below par.
Yes, we know it’s not a luxury car, but for nearly $60,000 it’s not unreasonable to expect a level of fit and finish that’s better than a Cruze.
There are some sharp edges on the centre console plastics, and, though the leather seats are broad and nicely trimmed, the interior ‘feel’ falls short of that sticker price.
Comfort: Although occupying roughly the same footprint as a Cruze, the Volt is strictly a four-seater.
There’s more than enough space up front, but there’s a shortage of headroom for back-seat passengers. Not only that, there’s the glass of the hatch, not a metal roof, above the heads of backseaters.
That aside, the Volt has a reasonable amount of interior space. Eliminating the centre rear seat means both rear passengers get decent shoulder room, and good rear knee-room.
The driving position is great and the LCD instrument panel is clear and easy to read, however it can be hard to see around the Volt’s fat A-pillars.
Equipment: Some of the standout features on the Volt include sat-nav, climate control, cruise control, dusk-sensing headlamps, auto-dimming mirrors, lane departure warning and a forward collision alert system. Bluetooth phone and audio integration is also standard.
The Volt’s trip computer can display a huge amount of information about the car’s power consumption, powertrain status and range, and its interface also allows you to set charging times to take advantage of off-peak power rates.
There’s plenty of on-board gizmos to satisfy tech-heads, and music fans will also appreciate the iPod connectivity, Bluetooth audio streaming and built-in 30GB hard drive for the Bose audio system.
Storage: There’s only 300 litres of luggage space in the back of the Volt, which is rather little by small car standards.
What’s more, there’s only a flimsy cloth cargo cover and the gap between each rear seatback means loose items can find their way into the cabin.
You can fold down the rear seatbacks to expand the load area, but you’ll need to unclip the rear console storage box to make a flat floor. Not the most practical load-lugger, this one.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Can you drive a Volt all week without burning any petrol? Short answer: yes.
During the course of our seven-day loan, we subjected it to an average daily distance between 40-50 km. We didn’t baby it either.
Almost every highway on-ramp was tackled at full throttle, and the addictive torque surge of the electric motor meant the accelerator was firewalled nearly every time the light went green.
We didn’t dial down the mod-cons either, with the climate control fixed to 23 degrees the whole time (bar one unusually cold morning).
Yet as long as we plugged in the charger each evening, there was more than enough EV range for a day’s driving.
Even when we forgot to charge it one night, there were still enough electrons swimming around in the battery pack for 25-odd kilometres of travel the next day.
The biggest test was when we needed to head to the airport. It’s a 71.4km round trip from home base, yet we were able to drive to the airport, park overnight and drive home the next day - with 8km of EV range still left.
That means the Volt’s real-world EV range is not far off Holden’s claim of 87km. We were pleasantly surprised, to say the least.
All up, the airport run used 9.6 kW/h of electrical power, which would cost $2.40 at today’s average electricity price of 25 cents per kW/h.
The same amount of money would buy around 1.7 litres of petrol, which might get you 30km of travel in a fuel-efficient petrol-powered small car.
So in terms of immediate running costs, the Volt is miles ahead when run purely as an EV.
It’s also a pleasure to drive.
The plentiful torque makes the Volt quick off the line with acceleration on par with some ‘big six’ family sedans.
The electric motor loses its urgency as it approaches 100km/h, but it sits happily at highway speed. The ‘Sport’ drive mode sharpens up accelerator response and seemed to have little measurable impact on power consumption.
Once on the road, even if you do run the batteries dry, there’s always the on-board petrol engine to give you more range. That alone makes the Volt a more appealing option than the few pure EVs currently on the market.
Refinement: It’s nearly silent save for some muted mechanical whirring, and the electric motor is virtually vibration-free.
The epicyclic CVT is beautifully refined, imperceptibly shifting from one ratio to the next.
Suspension: The Volt is a heavy car. Tipping the scales at 1721kg when empty, it’s about on par with a large RWD sedan in terms of heft.
But it doesn’t quite feel heavy in the way it handles. The majority of the Volt’s mass is contained within its battery pack, which sits in a T-shaped housing that stretches along the central tunnel and under the rear seats.
This gives the Volt a low centre of gravity and a low polar moment, so it feels less-susceptible to body roll and turns more eagerly than you’d expect a 1.7-tonne car to do.
Ride quality is also good; the Volt has no trouble smoothing-over choppy surfaces.
However, the eco-compound tyres let down the chassis. They run out of grip early, and are quite obviously overwhelmed by the Volt’s weight when asked to corner hard.
Braking: Like most regenerative braking systems, the Volt’s brakes have a vague pedal and inconsistent response at low speed.
Tramp on them hard and they respond quickly, but again the tyres let things down. They’re prone to break traction under hard braking, so you’ll be relying heavily on ABS during an emergency stop.
ANCAP rating: 5 stars
Safety features: As standard, the Volt gets six airbags (front, front side and full-length curtain), plus pretensioning front seatbelts.
Stabilty control, traction control, ABS, EBD and brake assist are also standard, while lane departure warning and a forward collision warning help drivers avoid accidents.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Service costs: Under Holden’s capped-price servicing scheme, the first four services cost $185 at most during the first 60,000km or three years of ownership.
HOW IT COMPARES:
In the absence of any other plug-in hybrid vehicles, the Volt is alone in this country. Its competitors, for now, are the more traditional hybrids and all-electric EVs.
With a combined fuel consumption figure of 3.9 l/100km the Prius is certainly fuel-efficient, but without any sort of plug-in capability you’re still wedded to the petrol bowser.
Much cheaper than the Volt, it’s also much slower and bettered for economy. (see Prius reviews)
Nissan Leaf ($46,990 drive-away) - No internal combustion engine here, but the space freed up by the absence of a petrol motor and a fuel tank means the Leaf’s larger battery pack supplies around double the EV range of the Volt.
Nissan says the Leaf can do around 170km on a single charge - more than enough for the average commuter - but not enough for venturing far out of the city.
Unlike the Volt, the Leaf isn’t able to charge from a conventional household outlet either. A 15-amp outlet is needed at a minimum; it’s also pricey for what it is. (see Leaf reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Never mind what you think about the carbon cost of charging from a coal-derived power source, the Volt just plain makes sense as a commuter car.
In fact, it’s the perfect transport solution for anyone who has to drive to work.
The Volt has more than enough grunt, is loaded with mod-cons, handles well, is comfortable and will take you to work and back (and then some) for less than the cost of a cup of coffee.
Heading out of town? No problem, the petrol engine gives you the flexibility to do so. Range anxiety? Never heard of it.
But there’s no glossing over the fact that at $59,990, the Volt is mighty expensive for a small car. That sure limits its appeal.
Holden, align the price with the up-specced Prius and consumers will flock to this car. Otherwise - despite its enormously appealing capabilities - the Volt will forever be a minority choice for the well-heeled.
...at least until that more-affordable next-generation Volt arrives.