Three days into owning our new Chevy Volt and it’s time for a road trip. This will be an interesting jaunt which will give us a good sense of what this car can do on the road. It will be a (roughly) 200 mile round trip which means it will not be all on electric power.
On this day we planned to take a day trip to Cumberland Mountain State Park. For the trip we briefly pondered whether to take the new Volt or drive our second car, an older SUV. It was really not a hard choice at all since even when running on the gas generator for power, the Volt should give us double the fuel mileage of the SUV.
Decision made, we loaded up four of us in the Volt and headed out. This would be our first trip to this destination so first order of business was to get some directions. One simple touch of the OnStar button was all it took. In a moment we had an OnStar representative asking how she could be of help. We told her where we wanted to go and in a matter of seconds we were hearing first navigation direction over the car stereo while the instructions were also shown on the 7″ screen in the center console stack. Easy peasy!
So off we went and just as expected we made the first part of our trip on electric power alone. No gas (yet). My boys got a kick of watching the available battery power drain away and anticipating the switch over to power coming from the gasoline fueled generator on-board. The Volt predicted this switch over with remarkable accuracy. At the beginning of our trip the dash indicated we had 41 miles of range available from the battery. Just after we reached 40 miles in our trip the switch happened.
This brings me to one big thing I really love about the Volt as compared to most hybrid vehicles I have had a chance to experience. The switch from electric power (A) comes AFTER 40 miles of travel on electric power and (B) is virtually transparent. If I weren’t watching for the change to come I could well have missed that it happened at all. It was virtually imperceivable. In recent years I have had the chance to drive a number of hybrid vehicles (which the Volt is often compared to) and did not come away with the same experience. In those hybrids (parallel hybrid) the vehicle switches over to using the gasoline power plant quite quickly. It was hard to even clear an intersection from a stop light without triggering the gas burning engine. Also, I have always found it quite obvious when that switch happens. You can feel the gas engine take over quite readily. Not the driving experience I would prefer.
So from this point forward in our trip we would be running the gas powered generator to provide the energy needed to drive the car. Sort of… The Volt has a few different modes available in which it can operate. There is “Normal”, 40-ish miles of electric drive (from a full charge) followed by gas generator power, “Sport”, same as Normal but with more Kick and less electric range, “Mountain” which I will explain in a moment and new with the 2013’s is “Hold” which forces the gas powered generator to run and provide the energy to drive the car while maintaining what ever charge is in the battery when you choose this mode. Lots of options.
I chose to activate the “Mountain” mode. My understanding of Mountain mode is that it sets the car to rebuild charge into the battery when your battery is mostly depleted. The point is to create a buffer of available energy in the battery to handle more challenging driving conditions like driving up a mountain for example. In my case however, I wanted to have some battery power available to use when I was off the highway and tooling around the state park. I mentioned earlier that it was virtually imperceivable when the car switched over from pure battery power to running the gas powered generator. That was true when running at highway speeds with some wind and tire noises going on. Truth be told though, when you are off the highway and driving around town at lower speeds, you can hear the gas powered engine running. It is not loud and obnoxious mind you, but you can hear it. Once you have experienced the incredible silence of a Volt running on electric power, even the soft hum of the gas powered engine under the hood feels noticeable at times.
So, I activated Mountain mode when I was about 15 miles from reaching my destination. By the time I got to my destination the Volt had built up 9 miles of available range in the on-board battery! Very nice! With that I was able to run around town in near silence from the battery’s energy. It was enjoyable.
Now let me sum up with some statistics from this little day trip in our Volt. The trip was just short of 200 miles in all. The first 40 miles were driven completely from the battery’s stored power. The rest of the trip was powered by the gasoline powered generator creating electricity to drive the car. For the entire trip I used 4.23 gallons of gas and covered 194.5 miles. That means overall I got 45.9mpg from the trip. However, if you back out the miles I benefited from on electric power to get an indication of mpg from gasoline alone, it would be 154.5 miles on 4.23 gallons of gas giving 36.5mpg. Over time as we grow accustomed to driving the Volt I expect all of these numbers to get better and better.
As a basis of comparison if I were driving the car which was replaced by this new Chevy Volt, a Nissan Maxima, we would have needed roughly double the volume of gasoline to cover the same ground. Consider too that most of our driving is NOT with long trips of this type but rather shorter trips to and from work or around town and the difference between the two scenarios in terms of fuel costs is much greater. We’ll get a better picture of that over time with normal use.
Overall our first day trip with the Chevy Volt was very pleasurable indeed. From OnStar to fuel savings to the great driving experience in the Volt, I wouldn’t hesitate to take this car on any extended drive at all.