Although the 2012 Chevrolet Volt is far from cheap, selling at an average price paid of $40,024, it sits at the top of the upscale, mid-sized car class. Reviewers like the Volt because it is a comfortable, reliable, safe vehicle, but it is also a groundbreaking technological achievement. The Volt's hybrid electric form factor allows it to average 35 mpg city and 40 highway and likely represents the future of high-efficiency automotive engineering.
Rather than using the popular "hybrid" label, however, Chevrolet refers to the Volt as an "extended range vehicle," because when the car's battery is expended, the gasoline engine engages. This arrangement overcomes the limited driving capacity of all-electrics, and by-passes the current issue of no public charging station infrastructure.
Any time you say hybrid, the top of the competition heap is claimed by the Toyota Prius family, which now includes the Prius Plug-in. The Volt, however, clearly wins that show down, with an all-electric range of 35 miles compared to 15 for the Prius. However, although both will charge from a standard 120-volt outlet, the Prius needs just 3 hours to top off while the Volt requires 10 to 12.
The only other somewhat comparable choice is the all-electric Nissan Leaf, but is has no back-up gasoline engine. The Leaf will, however, go 100 miles on a single charge. All of these cars represent not only a completely new class of vehcile, but a completely new driving mindset, so in a way, it's an apples-to-oranges attempt at comparison.
The Volt has only one trim level, but there are some upgrade options. For the 2012 model year, navigation is now standard, as is a Bose audio system. The cabin only has room for four, but it's one of the best Chevrolet interiors available. Taller adults may have trouble in the backseat, but for a compact -- and a second generation of a totally new type of automobile -- the Volt is comfortable. At 10.6 cubic feet, the trunk is disappointing, but improvements in battery technology will likely ameliorate that on future versions. The dash will definitely delight tech-loving drivers. You get a 7-inch screen delivering data on speed, fuel economy, and battery consumption among other info goodies. In the center there's a touch screen for climate, audio, and navigation. Bluetooth and satellite radio are standard.
Unlike many hybrids that handle sluggishly and suffer from spongy regenerative breaking systems, the Volt is a fun drive with a sporty feel. The power train includes a lithium-ion battery, an inline four-cylinder gasoline engine, and two electric motors. The electric mode produces 149 hp; the gasoline engine 83 hp. Figuring gas mileage on this kind of car is difficult, but if you're in electric mode only? You'll basically get 95 mpg city and 93 highway.
In light of the specs, most people are surprised to find that the Volt offers good acceleration and the overall driving "feel" does not lack power. The ride is quiet and smooth, with the electric-to-gasoline transition passing by seamlessly. When the Volt is started up, it runs in electric mode for 35 miles, which is generally enough to handle day-to-day driving, making this a highly economical choice.
Add five stars for overall safety from the federal government and a nod as an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick, and there are more positives to the 2012 Chevrolet Volt than negatives. It's not for everyone, but this is a car that is a harbinger of future, ultra-efficient automobiles to come. A stunning technological achievement, and a very solid mid-sized vehicle. If you can take the price, you won't be disappointed by the Volt.