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2011 Chevy Volt in Class By Itself

Not quite a hybrid, yet not an EV

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It’s a debate that has begun to wear thin: Is the Chevy Volt really an electric car, like much of the introductory fanfare led consumers to believe, or is it truly a hybrid, the battle cry of those who dare to disagree about the identity of the Motor Trend Car of the Year.

Putting Chevy Volt to the Test

Rather than speculate too much, I decided to drive the 2011 Volt for a while and see for myself. My full review will be found elsewhere, but I found the whole identity crisis surrounding the Volt to be of interest all on its own. Prior to actually driving the Volt, I leaned toward the side in favor of labeling it a hybrid. But after being behind the wheel, I admit, I’ve changed my mind.

While I understand those who felt Chevy went a bit too far in defining the Volt as an electric vehicle, it certainly can’t be readily classified as a typical hybrid, either. I plugged in the Volt each night I drove it, a task that soon became more routine than chore. And each morning, it faithfully—and quietly—took me to my office and my kids to their school, using most of the 39-mile allotment of charge from the battery’s overnight rejuvenation.

I never worried about range, even when driving the 70-plus miles over to Louisville for the day, nor did I worry about forgetting to charge overnight. The Volt brings with it the security blanket of a gas combustion engine. So how can it best be described? Hybrid or EV? I actually like Chevy’s current description of the Volt as a “full performance and full speed electric vehicle with extended range.”

I know, falling back on the automaker’s definition of the Volt’s identify probably seems like a cop out, but after driving the Volt, I believe it is the most adequate portrayal of the vehicle. The Volt truly operates in two ways: EV or battery-powered mode and extended-range or gasoline-powered mode. I was able to get better than the advertised initial electric range of 35 miles. Extended range gives you another 375 miles before you have to either fill up or plug in. Having the option to do either is a big convenience.

The Volt stores energy on board in a 16-kWh, T-shaped lithium-ion battery. The battery powers the electric drive unit, capable of meeting full vehicle speed and acceleration performance when driving the car electrically for the initial 35 to 40 mile range without any help from the gas tank whatsoever.

If you need to go beyond that, no problem. A gas engine kicks in to work with the electric motor to keep you going. Charging again is made simple because you can do the job overnight with any standard 120V household outlet. But if you’re on the road or it’s otherwise inconvenient to plug in, you can always fill up instead.

True, you are giving up some efficiency and green points when you need the convenience of a gas engine, but most Volt owners won’t make a habit of relying solely on gas. But they can take heart in knowing that the vehicle will run smoothly either way and that unused gas stores just fine for up to a year, in case you accidentally fill up at the pump before you remember how little gasoline you use on a daily basis.

Although still carrying the convenience of a hybrid, I think Volt sets itself apart by its design of being able to travel extended distances in EV mode, something many hybrids are not designed to do. It’s also able to operate as an EV at high speeds, another path hybrids tend not to follow.

MSRP: 2011 MSRP $40,280, but there is a one-time tax credit of $7,500 that brings the base price down to $32,780.

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