2011 Chevrolet Volt Review

MPG-o-Matic 2011 Chevrolet Volt Review Summary: The 2011 Chevrolet Volt is both futuristic and familiar, with a range-extended Voltec drivetrain designed to provide efficiency, as well as flexibility. Top off the battery overnight and you’ll have approximately 40 miles of pure electric range in the morning. If you should exceed the Volt’s range before recharging, a fuel-efficient gasoline-powered engine will kick in to provide electricity to power the electric motor. Welcome to the future.

The game-changing 2011 Chevrolet Volt is equipped with a 111 kW electric drive motor that produces 149 horsepower (HP) and 273 foot pounds of torque. A 1.4-liter inline four cylinder engine and 55 kW generator motor are used as a range-extender.

With a full charge, the Volt’s EPA (city) electric range is 35 miles. When the battery is depleted, the Voltec system’s range-extender kicks in to provide electricity.

The official fuel economy estimates for the 2011 Chevy Volt are different from what we’ve long been accustomed to, with 93 miles per gallon (MPG) combined and 37 MPG in gas only mode.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

While rolling up close to 600 miles on our Viridian Joule Tricoat review unit, it soon became clear that the 35 mile range is conservative when the Volt is driven conscientiously. Fuel-efficiency out on the open road was the big question.

So we ran down the Volt’s battery, took to the highway for a long-distance test, and were not disappointed. The Volt turned in a very respectable 42.9 MPG in our Interstate test in late-spring/early summer temperatures. Temperatures spanned the fifties through the eighties, with Interstate highway testing temperatures running near the top of that range. The test vehicle was delivered with slightly over 5000 miles on the odometer.

The Volt is equipped with 17-inch forged aluminum alloy painted wheels clad with low-rolling resistance all-season Goodyear Fuel Max P215/55R/17 tires. Our test unit was equipped with the identically-sized polished aluminum wheels.

Interstate Mileage Testing:

  • Target Speed: 68-70 MPH (when permitting), A/C on low, windows up: 41.5 MPG
  • Target Speed: 65 MPH (when permitting), A/C on low, windows up: 44.2 MPG

The Volt is a little soft off the line, as it overcomes its nearly 3800 pound curb weight (3781 lbs., to be exact). Once rolling, however, the power delivery is linear and delivered with a wonderfully quiet whoosh.

The 10.5:1 compression-ratio gasoline engine requires premium fuel and puts out 84 HP, although none of those ponies directly power the wheels. Highway driving range is good when driven conservatively, with a 9.3 gallon fuel tank.

Four wheel anti-lock (ABS) electro-hydraulic regenerative disc brakes are standard. The vented discs measure 300 mm in the front and 292 mm in the rear.

Dual seven-inch LCD screens deliver the full Jetson’s experience, with the Driver’s Information Center’s bouncing ball displaying acceleration and regenerative charging efficiency. Drivers can conserve battery power with special climate control modes.

Driving the Volt is much like driving a conventional car … just a whole lot smoother and quieter. The Volt has three drive modes: Normal, Sport, and Mountain. Sport is designed to provide a more responsive pedal, while Mountain mode kicks in the generator to conserve charge. There are no gears, in a conventional sense, although you can drop the transmission into Low for a high-degree of golf-cart like regenerative braking.

Jane, George, Judy and Elroy would feel right at home in the Volt’s space age 2+2 cabin.

Our test unit was equipped with the Premium Trim Package, which includes:

  • Leather seating surfaces
  • Three-level heated front seats
  • Leather-wrapped steering wheel
  • “Premium” door trim

Seat adjustment is manual. Adjustable lumbar support is not available.

We highly recommend adding the Rear Camera and Park Assist option package to aid rear visibility.

The “Energy Efficient Series Sound System” features six Bose speakers. iPod support is well-done. GM’s OnStar system and hands-free Bluetooth are standard, along with XM radio (including NavTraffic and Local Forecast), with a three-month free-trial period.

There are 12-volt power outlets in the cubby at the top of the dash, in the center console (where you’ll also find the line-in and USB audio inputs), and between the rear bucket seats.

The Volt is designed to accommodate four, as the nearly six foot long thermal-controlled lithium-ion16-kWh T-shaped battery pack forces a 2+2 cabin layout. The bucket seats in the second row provide 36 inches of head room and 34.1 inches of leg room.

The Volt’s cargo area provides 10.6 cubic feet of storage. The rear bucket seats can be folded down to accommodate larger items. To reduce vehicle weight, a spare tire is not provided. The Volt’s 120V charging cable and tire compressor are located beneath the cargo area floor.

Our only big gripes are the premium fuel requirement and the front air dam’s low clearance. Folks with sloped driveways, take note … the flexible air dam was designed to scrape bottom.

All-in-all, the 2011 Chevy Volt delivers on the promise that we’ve been hearing for years. With a gasoline engine on tap for backup power, the Volt’s drivetrain eliminates the aura of range-anxiety. While we do have some minor quibbles, the Volt is a stunning effort overall. If you’re in the market, the question is not whether to buy a Volt … it’s whether to buy or lease … and we lean heavily towards leasing.

We expect development to proceed at a rapid pace in coming model years, as GM will be producing more of the Volt’s components here in the United States. Adding FlexFuel compatibility to the current 1.4-liter range-extending engine would be a significant step.

Parts Content Information
US/Canadian Parts Content: 40%
Major Sources of Foreign Parts Content: Korea 20% (Batteries)
Final Assembly Point: Detroit, MI
Country of Origin:
Engine: Austria
Transmission (Electric Drive Unit): Japan

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14 thoughts on “2011 Chevrolet Volt Review”

  1. Dan,

    I sure like your review style. And this car does look exciting and promising. Do you think it would handle well in snow country and the mountains? It’s not going to be available in my area (western Colorado) , but I can keep dreaming!


  2. Thanks for the kind words, Kit! Chevy is rolling out the Volt slowly across the country, focusing first on areas with higher populations of likely first adopters. It would be interesting to see how the Volt tackles dramatic changes in elevation … the perfect test for Mountain mode. There’s plenty of torque on tap for the battery draining uphill runs and the ride downhill should put the juice back in the pack. Hmmm …

  3. Firstly, the cost of the car is prohibitive to most middle-class drivers…and to only go 40 miles…WOW, a truely metropolitan and suburbanite car for sure. Secondly, forget about traveling any distances, there are too many hybrids and gasoline vehicles which can do both of the aforementioned at a more economical cost. Looks like an old repeat of the Evolt. Come on America, if other foreign countries are doing it better, why don’t we? Patiotism and “buy American” just won’t di it anymore.

  4. @FLAkers – The Volt is expensive to purchase, no doubt about that. But as a $350 per month lease, it’s quite an interesting proposition … if it fits into an individual’s specific needs. And that’s the GREAT thing about America … we are free to choose the transportation devices that best suit our own needs …

  5. Great job as always with the Volt, you answered the one question most reviewers have failed to: highway mpg after battery depletion, which is very important on a long trip and the main advantage that Volt has over other EV.s , with the leaf, it is almost mandatory that you need a second car, with the Volt, you don’t.

  6. I do not believe this review is accurate. The ICE does power directly the drivetrain at highway speeds. It is not an electic vehicle, it is a hybrid in every sense of the word which is ok… just misleading. Bottomline is its a rube goldberg design at a time when America is clamoring for affordable reliable simplicity. The Prius is still the best choice for the hybrid buyer and the Leaf is a superior consumer electric. Lets see what Ford has to offer… I trust Mullaly

  7. @Rick – Are you basing this on actual seat time in the cars or what you have read? Exactly what in the review is not accurate?

    The Leaf can be driven for eighty miles or so on a full charge. The Volt can be driven for roughly half that on a full charge. The Volt’s internal combustion engine (ICE) will run when the battery charge is depleted – or – if it is switched into “Mountain” mode. Simply put: the Volt’s ICE does not have to run at highway speeds when there’s enough juice in the battery.

    The Prius, the Leaf, the Volt, the Mitsubishi i, the Ford hybrids and electrics … they’re all cool and fit different needs.

    To generalize and say that one vehicle is best for “the hybrid buyer” ignores the specific requirements of the majority of folks.

  8. Hello Dan, Good job on the review. I’m basing this on the actual mechanical design of the vehicle. The transmission consists of a complex planetary gear system which GM has patented. There are three source of power to that gear system: ICE, Motor/Generator driven by ICE and Electric Motor. GM has a complicated power delivery logic base on an efficiency map that might be difficult for a non-ME to understand. I’ll try to explain it. Under certain torque requirements the ICE is delivering torque directly to that planetary gear set (steep hills at highway speeds for instance). Where it gets complicated is that in order for the torque from the ICE to be delivered directly to the planetary gear “transmission” the electric field of the electric motor must also be energized (to provide resistance… something for the ICE to push against).

    I think what happend is GM promised and electric and delivered a hybrid. Now they’re dancing around the issue claiming it is an electric (for 40 miles). Sort of. If you pulled the ICE and its motor/generator the electric motor would simply spin the planetary gear and the vehicle would go nowhere. It needs the ICE/motorgenset for resistance just like the ICE/motorgenset needs it… ITS A SYSTEM… a complex hybrid system not a pure EV in any sense of the words.

    For me the bottomline is: Too heavy (3800 lbs!) too expensive too complex… It tries to be all things to all people and ends up… well to each their own but I’ll pass

    Is it simply not true to say the ICE ponies are never delivered directly to the wheels. Any GM engineer will confirm.

  9. @Rick – Thx. While that may be true, does it really matter in the long run? 🙂 The Volt is what it is, and for a great many people, it’s a relatively pain-free entrance into the realm of electric plug-ins. We will see rapid improvements in the coming years, and “we’ll look back and this will all seem funny …”

    The Volt is undeniably heavy … which is one reason why it rides well. (Coincidence, not design?) A Cadillac version, with a higher price tag, would allow for the use of carbon fiber and other lightweight materials. It’s best to experience the car firsthand. I highly recommend taking a Volt out for a test drive (on the highway, even!).

    Neil Young’s LincVolt has an interesting spin on the generator, using a Capstone micro-turbine running on biofuel … a rather radical idea.

    I would love to own a pure electric like the Leaf or Focus EV, but it simply doesn’t work for my family, right now. We can’t get in and out of Manhattan or to the beach and back on one charge. Once the charging infrastructure is built, it’ll be a different story.

    I’ve taken a quick spin in the Leaf, but haven’t had the opportunity to drive the Focus EV yet … although that may change in the coming weeks … stay tuned …

  10. Yes Dan… I think it does matter.

    Anyway… yes a turbognerator range extender like the capstone is to my mind the ideal solution to the range anxiety issue. They are light weight, they don’t care what fuel you feed them, products of combustion are thoroughly diffused and best of all, judicious design of the air intake and exhaust could enhance the aerodynamics of the vehicle considerably when operated underway! I believe their micro turbine is 30 kw which would be about right for highway assist then onsite recharging after having reached the destination. If I were Alan Mullaly I’d by Capstone outright and he being from Boeing should be quite familiar with the reliability (and simplicity… it has only one moving part) of a turbogenerator since they grew out of aircraft APU technology.

    These automotive developments are indeed exciting but we find ourselves yet again at a critical crossroad where the transition will either be made or not. Unfortunately I do not share your excitement about the Volt. I do not see the Volt as a success. Its way to complex, expensive and heavy. The weight has got to come down … like the guys at RMI with their Hypercar concept keep preaching. I was hoping for real change out of GM but having watch the demise of the EV1 cannot say I’m surprised. There’s too much money to be made selling Hummers instead. 🙁

  11. @Rick – Keep in mind that Hummer is long gone.

    Take a look at lincvolt.com, if you haven’t. Neil’s crew is unencumbered by corporate structure. They are free to build and experiment at will. I spent a bit of time crawling over the car at SEMA last year, before it went up in flames in the warehouse fire. I had planned to produce a video segment, but unfortunately, Neil’s agent wouldn’t grant me five minutes of camera time with his client.

    I am a HUGE believer in light-weighting. The Tesla Roadster is a heavy pig, compared to the Lotus Elise, on which it is (largely) based.

    You might enjoy our segment on the Automotive X-Prize winning Edison2 Very Light Car (VLC) from SEMA …


    The VLC is powered by a turbo-charged 250cc engine running E85.

  12. The form promises to be futuristic, but is it eco-friendly or sustainable? Not that I’m preaching it’s the right thing. It’s just that you can never afford to not do eco-friendly these days.

  13. Rick did not understand how the Volt transmission works at all. Saying that the main motor needs the “resistance” of the generator in order to put any power to the wheels is flat wrong. He totally missed the fact that there is a clutch to lock the ring gear to the case, which allows the main motor to push power to the wheels al by it’s lonesome on one-motor mode… Another clutch connects the generator to the ring gear, and the third connects the gas engine to the generator. He’s also confused about the role of the generator, which acts as a motor when two-motor mode is used to lower the RPM of the main motor. This is where the “resistance” is used, as a means of bringing the main motor RPM down into it’s most efficient band during low power cruising. IF the engine is spinning the generator to maintain battery charge, and IF power levels are low enough to be in two-motor mode there will be torque from the gas engine applied to the ring gear, the same as when the generator is being driven as a motor to reduce the main motor RPM. Saying that the engine is used for more power is wrong, it will actually be disconnected from the ring gear and the ring gear locked to allow the main motor to produce the higher power.

  14. Just an update on our 2011 Volt. We are in the middle of our third year driving this wonderful car. So far we have used 14.8 gallons to drive almost 19,000 miles. The tank has had 3 gallons in it since last August, and it will hopefully last till this August, when it will need to be used up. Our black Volt is slowly collecting little scrapes and dings, and black is very hard to keep clean. We will eventually trade it for a lighter color Volt, perhaps once Volt 2.0 has been available for a year or three. We are finally getting over the “Gas Anxiety” that comes with a 40 mile battery range, such that now we don’t sweat the fact that we are 3 miles from home with only 2 miles of battery range left. Twice this year so far, we have burned a teaspoon or two of gas to make it home, and it was not the big deal it was in years past…

    We are now contemplating adding a Spark EV to our garage, just waiting till the full range of exterior colors is available (and for the interior to NOT be Blue on every car).

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