The 2013 Chevrolet Volt, a range-extended electric car, might only have an official all-electric range of 38 miles on the EPA test cycle, but the Gordon-Bloomfield family purchased one last year as their long-distance car and companion to the trusty 2011 Nissan LEAF already in their garage. After a year of ownership, how economical has it proven as a long-distance car, and how reliable has it been as a daily driver?
Here at Transport Evolved, we believe in driving the future of transport, not just writing about it. As a consequence, our own personal cars are some of the most popular plug-in cars on the market today. Tot up the cars owned by the editorial staff and contributors, and you’ll find a Tesla Roadster, two Nissan LEAFs, two Mitsubishi i-Mievs, a Chevrolet Volt, a BMW i3 and a Ford Focus Electric.
That’s before you account for former staff vehicles we’ve owned, ranging from a home-made Plug-in Prius to a Renault Twizy, a BMW Active E and Mini E. In each case, they’re cars personally owned by us, not by Transport Evolved. Each of us has paid our respective hard-earned cash for a chance to own and drive them, and we don’t get any special treatment from the respective dealers or automakers for buying them. As a consequence, our staff car reports are honest, open, and as unbiased as we think it’s possible to be.
Purchased on a rainy day one year ago, our 2013 Chevrolet Volt was the result of a double trade-in of our 2008 Toyota Prius hybrid and troublesome 2012 Renault Twizy. Substantially cheaper than its European cousin the Vauxhall (Opel) Ampera, we decided on the Chevrolet Volt both for financial and aesthetic reasons, but found ourselves making a 400-mile round trip to one of only two dealerships in the UK who officially stocked and sold the less-common UK-market Volt.
Identical in looks to its American brother, the European Volt shares the same features as the U.S-market Volt, but — like the Ampera — lacks the OnStar onboard Telematics system standard with the U.S. model due to a lack of OnStar coverage in Europe. As a consequence, we’ve never been able to remotely control our car’s preconditioning or charging — but thanks to the aftermarket Open Vehicle Monitoring System we’ve been able to remotely monitor state of charge, something that has proven rather useful on occasion.
Usage, fuel economy
Wider and lower down than the LEAF, the heavier Volt feels a little less easy to manoeuvre in busy urban streets, but comes into its own on motorway stretches, soaking up most bumps with ease. Despite its heavy road-trip use, we’ve even been able to keep the lifetime fuel economy around 120 mpg imperial, just shy of 100 mpg U.S. While that’s hardly the highest fuel economy of any Volt we’ve seen, it’s worth mentioning that our Volt’s duties have been evenly spread between regular weekly duties to and from work and longer weekend road trips.
In fact, for the first eight months of its life, the Volt was covering 80 miles every day, charging up in the middle of the day at a client site to give a daily driving mix of 75 miles electric, 5 miles gasoline. Nowadays however, the LEAF is being used as the long-distance commuter, travelling on average 90 miles a day while the Volt manages between 45 and 60 miles in electric mode.
At the time of writing, our car has 18,585 miles on the odometer, with the last 1,400 miles using just 1.3 imperial gallons of gasoline.
Unlike our Nissan LEAF, which is now showing some significant signs of range loss due to battery ageing, our Chevrolet Volt still seems happy to give the same kind of ranges it did when new. In fact in recent weeks, we’ve discovered that more than 50 miles of range is easily achievable at an average speed of 50 mph. On occasion, we’ve beaten that. Our only conclusion here is that the Volt’s liquid cooling system — which keeps the battery pack both warm in winter and cool in the summer — has helped the Volt’s 16.5 kilowatt-hour battery pack happy regardless of weather. Even in winter, we’ve managed more than the EPA-approved 38 miles of range with ease.
(The only time we noticed a major drop in range was after picking up the Volt after it had spent one month off the road as the result of a collision with a motorcycle. Occurring less than a month after purchase when the car only had 1,000 miles on the clock, a motorcycle approaching from the opposite direction lost control on a corner and slid into the front of our Volt, taking out both front wheels, front fender and on-board charger. Due to the car’s rarity, it took more than a month for appropriate repairs to be made. For a month or so after we picked the Volt back up, we noticed a substantial drop in EV range, but it soon returned to as-new range with use.)
Wear and tear
After a year of ownership, our Chevy Volt has fared fairly well in terms of interior and exterior wear and tear. Despite its 18,585 miles, there is still plenty of tread on the car’s original Michelin Energy Saving tyres, and windscreen wipers, lights and interior trim are still in excellent condition. Finished with two-tone leather, our Volt’s interior is easy to clean, and comes back to ‘as-new’ finish when cleaned. Despite life with two children, two dogs, and the occasional tip run, the Volt’s interior is generally fresh and unmarked.
Importantly too, the exterior finish of the Volt is superior to that found on the LEAF, with no noticeable blemishes or scratches. After a year of ownership, our Nissan LEAF was looked far from pristine, with even paint damage from the local carwash noticeable.
Like any new car, our Volt had its own share of problems during the first year of its life. Aside from the aforementioned accident with a motorcycle — something which obviously wasn’t our fault or that of our car — we’ve taken it to the dealership once for its initial 10,000 mile service and once for warranty repair.
Earlier this spring, the drivers’ side front door stopped responding to the keyless entry unlock request, requiring a replacement door handle to be ordered and replaced under warranty. At the same time, the remote pre-conditioning — activated from the key fob — stopped working and the car’s tire pressure monitoring system became confused about the location of each whee. They too were repaired under warranty.
Like every other Volt owner, we’ve also suffered problems with the remote charging port unlock mechanism. Highly temperamental, the release mechanism is particularly troublesome in cold or wet weather, although we note it has performed more reliably since the 10,000 mile service.
The only other issues we’ve experienced pertain to a persistent engine warning light which required frequent resetting during an unseasonably wet winter. Tripped after driving through a few inches of flood water, the Volt has not shown any error messages since its first service.
After one year of ownership, the Chevrolet Volt has grown on us as a family car. While it isn’t quite as cavernous as the LEAF and lacks the third rear seat, its powerful electric motor and sport mode make for fun driving, while its hold charge mode is essential for saving EV range on long trips into London’s congestion charging zone.
Like other Volt and Ampera owners we’ve talked to, the on-board 16 amp charging capabilities of the Volt lets it down, especially on longer-distance trips away from home where a 32 amp or DC charging capability would dramatically improve fuel economy. On trips between 50 and 100 miles, it’s easy to keep total fuel economy hovering at or above 60 mpg combined, but travel much more, and you’ll soon find the fuel economy drop to the low 40s.
For the audiophiles, the Volt’s impressive Bose sound system has provided many pleasant hours of in-car entertainment, managing everything from classical symphonies to steampunk and mashups with ease. Talking of comfort, the easily adjustable front seats — complete with three stage heating elements, are great on cold winter days.
But with the Chevrolet Volt due to end sales in Europe this year, followed next year by the Ampera, we think the Volt/Ampera is a car that needs a little dedication from its owner to keep it in the best possible condition. This is particularly problematic in the UK with the Volt, since only two dealers in the UK are licensed and approved to officially work on the car.
As a family car and daily driver, the Volt is refined, quiet, and easy to drive. After a year of ownership, ours is still going strong, but not everyone will like its U.S. styling and big-car feel on tiny, tight streets. If you’re willing to own a car which is going to soon end its European production however — or you’re in the U.S. — we think the Volt is certainly worth a look.
Do you have a Chevrolet Volt or Vauxhall Ampera? How is yours performing? What kind of fuel economy are you achieving, and what problems have you had? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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