Holden Volt - First Impressions


volt01I was on location recently filming a story for Neutral and someone noticed I’d rocked up in a Holden Volt. They remarked that I must be way down on Holden’s list of priorities because they'd given me a Volt. The truth is I requested long term access to the car and for good reason.

I watched a documentary a few years ago called who killed the electric car and was intrigued by the EV1.

So when Holden introduced the Volt here in Australia I wanted to get my hands on one to experience an electric car for myself. 

Over the next few weeks I’ll write about my experiences with the Volt, I’ll share my thoughts on the car, its technology and how it stacks up on both short and long trips. But for now I wanted to share my first impressions.

The first thing I noticed is that the Volt looks like a car, so much so that in the first week of driving it I didn’t notice any other drivers checking it out as they drove past. That may sound like a strange observation but I believe it to be an important one. Just because a car is electric doesn't mean it should look, drive or perform any different from petrol cars we use today.

volt04So the outside looks relatively normal but it’s the interior that gives you the feel that this car is different. The first thing I noticed is the full glass dash, there are no instruments. The dash has a screen where the standard speedo and other gauges would be. The centre console also has a large screen. 

The interior looks like Apple had a hand in the design. There are high gloss white panels in the doors and the dash is dominated by this same high gloss white trim. The leather seats have a matching white insert that carries the white through the cabin. Oh and by the way there are only four seats in the Volt. The two rear seats are bucket seats with a centre arm rest. 

It feels like driving an iPad. When you put your foot on the brake and press the start button the car comes to life. The screens light up and you are greeted with silence. There is no engine noise, place the car in drive release the electric brake and you silently drive off.

It reminds me of K.I.T. from Knight Rider and its silent mode. Apart from the lack of noise the car drives like any other automatic. The steering wheel and indicator stalks are just like those in my Cruze. For all intensive purposes this is just another car with an electric drivetrain instead of a petrol engine.

The digital dash is configurable and allows control of the digital gauges, it not only shows the Volts speed and the efficiency gauge, but it also shows range and charge status for electric mode. You can pull up trip odometers, oil life, tyre pressures, forward collision alert settings and navigation directions on this digital dash or driver display has Holden calls it.

The console screen is the interface into everything else including energy information, satellite navigation, radio, dvd, air conditioning, phone and car settings. The console has a massive array of buttons that just look like printed text on the high gloss white paneling. 

Too many buttons in my opinion, at first it’s over whelming but after some time you learn whats where and it becomes somewhat acceptable.

volt02My first drive of the Volt delivered a few surprises. The electric motors deliver incredible torque allowing you to accelerate, not only from a standing start but also while at speed. I’ve been caught out a few times, it doesn't take much to go from 100 to higher speeds quickly.

The trade off of course is the harder you push the go fast pedal the faster you deplete the batteries. This is where the efficiency gauge comes in handy. Its a simple idea, a ball that rises the harder you accelerate and spins green when you are driving efficiently. It also drops when you brake. It’s a fun game to drive while trying to keep the efficiency gauge green. The Volt can do up to 80km on a full charge before the 1.4ltr petrol engine kicks in to generate electricity to keep charge in the battery. This is what makes the Volt unique. 

It is not a hybrid where and electric and petrol engine share a drive train, nor is it a pure electric car. The Volt always drives on the electric motor and the petrol engine helps make the Volt a long range electric vehicle. I guess in practice it works like a diesel electric train. 

volt09The one thing that does take a little getting used to is driving when the petrol engine kicks in. This may be another odd observation but let me explain. The petrol engine runs to generate charge so it doesn't change its revs under acceleration and braking as you would expect.

The engine can sit at a constant rpm from 100kph to a complete stop. This plays tricks on your brain. It can sound like you are riding a clutch while still revving the engine and braking at the same time. You just have to remember the petrol engine isn't connected to the wheels.

My first impressions of the Volt are positive, it drives well, it is comfortable and has all the entertainment and safety features you would expect from a modern car.

Stay tuned for the next Volt update.

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