2012 Chevrolet Volt Review: Introduction
After years of watching, wondering and waiting, buyers were finally able to put a Chevrolet Volt in their driveways in 2011, and the range-extended electric hatchback is back for its second model year with a few changes and a lower starting price. As electric vehicles start to pop up from just about every major automaker, the Volt's drivetrain makes it a unique vehicle that offers a sufficient zero-emission driving range with a power-generating gasoline engine available to make longer trips possible. After spending a week in the Volt for this road test and review, it was obvious that is more of a mainstream electric vehicle than anything else currently available on the market with a great zero-emission driving but the ability to also provide a longer driving range with its power-generating gasoline engine.
2012 Chevrolet Volt Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
Assembled at GM’s Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly plant, the 2012 Chevy Volt has a starting MSRP of $39,145. This is a slight price reduction from the 2011 Volt's $40,280 starting MSRP, but neither of these prices accounts for the $7,500 federal tax credit for which some buyers will be eligible. This test vehicle was fully loaded with every factory option available, and it had a final price of $45,170 including the $850 destination charge. Even though the Volt dropped $1,000, it is still priced for early adapters which comparing it to high-tech household items would be similar fashion to those who pay top dollar for an iPhone the day it comes out or bought a flat-screen television years ago. Like all technologies, the GM's Voltec drivetrain will definitely drop in price in the future allowing the car to be priced more competitively with similarly sized cars.
2012 Chevrolet Volt Review: Competition
The 2012 Chevrolet Volt goes up against a broad range of cars that range from the Volkswagen Jetta TDI up to more similar models like the Toyota Prius PHEV, but its key rival will always be the Nissan LEAF. The Leaf-Volt battle will probably end up being the Mustang-Camaro battle of the electric car segment, and in the first full calendar year of this rivalry, the Nissan has a small edge through November having sold 8,720 units versus the Volt's 6,142 output. November was another strong month for the Chevy Volt with 1,139 units sold, while the Leaf managed only 672 sales. As the Voltec drivetrain makes its way into more cars like the Opel Ampera and the Cadillac ELR, the cost will continue to drop helping the Volt's sales increase just as the EV segment begins a serious expansion in coming years.
2012 Chevrolet Volt Review: Exterior
Compared to the 2007 concept vehicle, the styling of the production Volt is much more conservative, but it still stands out from other compact sedans and hatchbacks. While many of the vehicles that make it from concept stage to actual production get very watered down, the styling of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt actually looks better than the concept thanks to more realistic lines and a sleek overall shape. The design of the Volt was aimed to optimize aerodynamics which is evident by cues up front such as the grille that is almost totally closed off and the air dam under the fascia, but the rear of the car also adds to the cars sleek shape such as the almost-vertical rear end and the underbody diffuser. In total, the Chevy Volt is the second most aerodynamic production car GM has ever made (after the GM EV1) and it is the most aerodynamic Chevrolet ever. One of the Volt's key aero components, the front air dam, sits so low that it scrapes on just about everything, but fortunately it's made of a highly pliable plastic material so nothing is actually being damaged.
The Volt’s LED running lights, 17-inch forged aluminum wheels and rear hatch spoiler all add to the car’s sporty look, while the blacked-out beltline and slim headlights and taillights are reminiscent design elements of the Volt Concept. Our test vehicle was painted in Summit White and finished off with the optional ($595) 17-inch, five-spoke polished aluminum wheels.
2012 Chevrolet Volt Review: Interior
In an attempt to offset the high starting MSRP, the 2012 Chevrolet Volt comes standard with an impressive amount of high-tech features, but as the car's price continues to drop, so too will the standard features. For its second model year, the price drop of $1,000 moved the previously standard navigation system and Bose audio into the option list, but the Volt is still a very well-equipped and comfortable car. In addition to package updates, changes were also made to the Volt for its sophomore year including a revised keyless ignition/entry system, a new horn chirp feature to warn nearby pedestrians and the addition of the MyLink system as standard equipment.
The biggest improvement on the 2012 Volt was the addition of passive entry system buttons that are located on all four doors and the liftgate. The 2011 Volt required the doors to be locked and unlocked with the key fob, but now drivers can leave the key in their pockets for entry as well as start-up for easier use. Another key change was the addition of a specific horn chirp button located on the end of the turn signal stalk that the driver can press to warn pedestrians since it is hard to hear EVs operating at low speeds; the previous design forced drivers to flash the car's high beam headlights to use this feature. Finally, instead of the in-dash navigation system, Volt drivers can now use the standard MyLink system which provides features such as Bluetooth audio streaming and voice recognition for audio and phone systems.
The Volt’s four-passenger configuration is a result of the T-shaped battery pack that is mounted underneath the center console and rear seat area. There is also plenty of room for cargo, too, as the Volt’s hatchback design accommodates 10.6 cubic feet of cargo and even more with the split rear seat folded down (although GM has yet to announce this figure). The hatchback design not only gives the Volt its unique shape and roofline, it also makes it easy to get cargo in and out of the car.
2012 Chevrolet Volt Review: Interior Packages and Options
Since some of the standard equipment has been removed from the 2012 Chevrolet Volt, there are a few new option packages to check out. As mentioned earlier, the previously standard navigation system and Bose audio systems are now offered as options, but the Volt is still available with the $1,395 Premium Trim Package and the $695 Rear Camera and Park Assist Package. The Premium Trim Package is available in five different color combinations for the cabin, and it brings full leather interior (including the steering wheel) and heated front seats.
2012 Chevrolet Volt Review: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
In most new cars, the engine and transmission are the key drivetrain components, but in the case of the Chevrolet Volt, the internal combustion engine plays a secondary role to the Voltec electric drive system. This system pairs an electric drive motor and a generator motor with a 16 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that gives the Volt a peak output of 149 horsepower and 368 lb-ft of torque. As for the range-extending engine, the Volt uses a 1.4-liter DOHC inline-four that comes on to power the generator motor when the battery dips low enough. In order for consumers to make an accurate apples-to-apples comparison between electric vehicles like the Volt and conventional cars, the EPA came up with a rating system called "miles per gallon equivalent" (or MPGe) which uses 33.7 kwh of electricity in place of one gallon of gasoline. In the case of the Volt, it was rated at 94 MPGe in charge-depletion mode (when the car is running off stored battery power only) with an estimated driving range of 35 miles. When the engine is running to provide additional power to the batteries, the EPA rates the Volt at 37 mpg in combined driving as well as adding another 344 miles of driving range for a total range estimated at 389 miles.
2012 Chevrolet Volt Review: Driving Impressions
Despite the EPA's 35-mile electric driving range on the 2012 Chevrolet Volt, most drivers should have no problem going well over 40 miles before needing the gasoline engine to kick in. Over the week we had this test vehicle, our range varied from the upper 30-mile range to into the mid 40s, but as an extreme test, we drove it as inefficiently as possible (in Sport mode with quick take-offs and stops), and the car was still able to go 34 miles in charge-depletion mode. When the engine does kick on, it is almost hard to tell, but in some driving instances in can be a little weird to hear the engine racing at higher-than-expected rpms even though the car is traveling at a low speed.
As great as it is travelling under full-electric, zero-emission power, the 2012 Chevrolet Volt is surprisingly fun to drive, too. Despite having a curb weight of 3,781 pounds, the Volt feels nimble on the road thanks to the suspension components shared with the Chevrolet Cruze and a low center of gravity courtesy of the 435-pound, T-shaped battery pack positioned in the center of the car.
The controversy swirling around the Volt since its introduction last year has been the fact that in certain situations, engine power can be sent directly to the wheels at "highway speeds." While there is no direct number constituting highway speeds, this only happens to make the Volt more efficient.
2012 Chevrolet Volt Review: Safety
Although the 2012 Chevrolet Volt has received some negative attention recently for possible fire issues weeks after a collision, the car has still received top safety ratings from both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The NHTSA gave the Volt a five-star overall rating which included a four-star frontal rating and five-star side and rollover ratings, while the IIHS named it a 2012 Top Safety Pick. Standard safety features in all 2012 Chevrolet Volt models include eight airbags, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, StabiliTrak stability control system, traction control and tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
2012 Chevrolet Volt Review: Final Thoughts
In its second model year, the Chevrolet Volt hasn't lost any of its exciting luster with its unique ability to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels without sacrificing the freedom to drive anywhere that many American drivers expect. Although the Volt represents just a bridge between the technology gap between the cars of today and the cars that will be available in the future, it still provides a technology that improves upon what current drivers know about hybrid and electric vehicles. The Volt one-ups hybrid vehicles by offering such a lengthy zero-emission driving while those who want to own an electric vehicle can make the Chevy Volt their primary car instead of making the EV a second or third vehicle. While the price still puts it out of the reach of some buyers (for now), the practicality of the Chevrolet Volt is impossible to overlook.
2012 Chevrolet Volt Review: Pros and Cons
- no range anxiety like other EVs
- exterior design combines stylish with sleek aerodynamics
- great cabin technology even in base form
- lower price for 2012
- decontented interior for 2012
- still priced for early adapters
- front air dam scrapes on just about everything
Chevrolet provided the vehicle for this review
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross