Mark is my car nerd accomplice. We both like strange niches in the automotive market: alternative fuels, station wagons. We attended the auto show together, critiquing and fiddling with all the dials.
Thereafter, our mutual interests mostly diverge. Mark has been looking for a new ride for quite a while, getting his mileage and money out of the 2000-something Saturn he’s had since I met him.
With his unique list of requirements, including room enough for tiered wedding cake deliveries, the search funnel mostly came down to models like the Toyota Prius, Ford C-Max, and the Chevrolet Volt.
If you follow my car postings, you know I love German models most of all. In the vein of efficient propulsion, I would choose diesel over electric, partly based on the lack of plug-in / hybrid models that excite me.Â So, I would be lying if I said I was thrilled when he said he was pulling the trigger on the Volt.
This past weekend I drove his new car, and was pleasantly surprised by its qualities.
For one, it is solid. Doors thunk shut, and the whole body feels hunkered to the ground. The steering is also weighty, far more than the shopping cart-like Prius, which has always irked me to drive. Steering too light, no feedback. Tires too thin, braking and acceleration responses too jumpy.
The Volt felt to me like a second-generation hybrid / electric, with more refinement and focus on the driving behavior rather than ultimate efficiency. Though for the record, it has excellent fuel economyâ€”38 MPG combined city/highway. Of course, there is little gas to buy, because this is a plug-in electric car with a gas motor purely to extend the range, should you go on a road trip.
You get a 38 mile range on electricity alone; 380 miles are available with a full tank of gas and fully charged battery. And you can charge it at home, out of a regular wall outlet.
The interior design of the Volt, arguably as important as its efficiency and tech, is more pleasant and futuristic than most similar models like the Nissan Leaf or Prius, while skipping the part about screwed up ergonomics. It is also less upright. Cozier too, although that may be in part due to Mark’s tinted windows.
The rear seats are single buckets only (no bench), so no third middle seat. This may be a deterrent for some, but it makes the chauffeured experience that much more pleasant. They are essentially identical “captains” chairs to those in the front row.
For around $30k, you also get an IIHS top safety pick, thanks to eight airbags and proper engineering. I was always vaguely worried about Mark getting creamed in his Saturn, which lacked side and curtain airbags.
Would I buy one, you ask? No. But not because it’s not awesome. Just because it’s not what I love. Is it perfect for some people, like my friend Mark? Absolutely.
His operating costs will decrease, he’ll have more room to haul, and be safer surrounded my modern technology. If you’re in the market, be sure not to overlook the Volt.