2012 Chevrolet Volt – Two-Year Review

Twenty-seven months, forty-one thousand miles, two moves, three states.  Our Volt is a veteran of the roads now, battle-hardened with dog hair, discarded Fruit Snacks, and its second set of tires.  It’s been plugged into public charging stations in Santa Fe, Benton Harbor, Des Moines, Denver, and probably a few places I’m forgetting.  It represents our first foray into EV/Hybrid ownership, and it wasn’t by any means an inexpensive one.  It is high time to take stock of the Volt’s performance and evaluate its place in the landscape of cars for sale here in the twenty-teens.

Chargers aren't exactly common, but it's a blessing when one can find them away from home.
Chargers aren’t exactly common, so finding one while away from home is like Christmas.

First, a few assumptions and rules.  All energy cost data comes from EIA.gov.  Electricity is measured in cents per kWh, averaged monthly over the ownership period.  Gas prices are US monthly average per gallon for premium unleaded.  All data on the Volt’s performance comes from OnStar, collected from the monthly “Vehicle Diagnostic Reports” automatically sent to my inbox.  When figuring miles per gallon on dino-juice alone, the EPA combined figure of 37mpg is used.

Our Volt has traveled 20,300 EV (electric) miles and 20,372 gas-powered miles.  The average cost of a kWh of electricity during that time has been $0.1224.  The average cost of gas has been $3.73.  In EV mode, the Volt has averaged 36.55 kWh consumed per 100 miles, or $0.0447 per mile.  Under gas power, per-mile fuel cost has been $0.1008.  Overall economy is up for debate—the Volt says it has averaged 67mpg, but my calculations have resulted in 107.67mpg or 141.72mpg, depending on assumptions.

The Volt might be modestly doing its math based on the EPA estimate that 33.7 kWh is equivalent to 1 gallon of gas.  This helps the “Lifetime MPG” number avoid getting pulled into the stratosphere during EV operation.  That’s fair, but on the other side of the coin, during 24 of the 27 months of ownership I wasn’t paying for the electricity used to charge the car.  At first, we were living on a military base where we weren’t separately charged, and for some time now, we’ve been in an apartment where the garage is detached from the living space and not individually metered.  Lucky us.

Anyway, no matter how you slice it, the car is mind-bogglingly efficient.  Consider that the 2014 new-vehicle fleet in the USA averages 24.2mpg.  Even worst-case, our Volt has been nearly three times as fuel-miserly.  OnStar tells me I’ve saved 1,101 gallons of fuel…do the math with the average gas price and that’s $4,109.01 saved in just over two years.  Assuming that doesn’t improve, I’ll have saved twelve grand by the time the 72-month, zero-interest loan is up.  Also, because the gas engine has done only half the work so far, the car is only now coming due for its SECOND oil change.

The sound system is the upgraded Bose piece, which sounds excellent, especially when running silently in EV mode.  The suspension is remarkably capable, masking many of the car’s 3,781 pounds and combining with the instant-on torque of the electric motor to make the car “adequately brisk!” according to Chris Harris.  The hatchback configuration means there’s lots of cargo room, rear seats folded down or not.  And it’s good fun to play the regeneration game, trying to keep the car in EV mode for as long as possible by coasting down hills and into stops.

Hatchback practicality.
Hatchback practicality.

So what are the tradeoffs for all the efficiency?  There are a few.  The navigation system—ugh.  It’s not an eye-pleasing system; it’s not intuitive to read or understand; it’s slow to respond to inputs on the touch screen; and more than once it’s taken me the long way ‘round.  Use your phone as a backup with this thing; or use it alone at the peril of your time-and-distance expectations.  Here’s hoping the new-gen Volt doesn’t have these issues.

The car sits very low to the ground in the interest of aerodynamics, so more than a few inches of snow and there’s gonna be a problem.  The stock eco-tires are not grippy in wet conditions, and certainly not in cold and wet conditions.  You’ll want a set of winter tires—we got Goodyear Ultra Grips.

You’ll want to keep it off the B-roads when it rains, as well. Thankfully after a wash she emerged good as new.

The Volt seats four (not five), and though the kids’ child seats fit and are naturally reclined by the rake of the backrest (encouraging sleep), their feet get the backs of the front seats all dirty.  I suspect this is a common parents’ lament, more the fault of the children than their chariot, but still.  The dog fits under the rear hatch, but has to duck her head to avoid getting whacked by the overhead glass when it closes.  On a sunny day, it can get warm back there under that glass—crank the A/C up to keep your four-legged friends cool.

Snug but smiling.
Snug but smiles all around.

The abrupt rear-end of this car means it sucks up a vortex of disturbed air while in motion.  Expect rain to get the entire rear fascia of the car horrifically dirty—don’t brush up against it while wearing nice clothes and trying to get something out of the rear cargo area.  This phenomenon also makes your rearview camera useless.  The sheer enormity of the rear hatch means the struts holding it up have a tough job, so watch your head on cold days.

Speaking of cold days, expect to lose approximately 33% of the maximum electric range when the weather gets consistently colder than 32 degrees.  Sure, most people’s daily commute is under 36-40 miles round trip, but under 24?  Not likely.  Expect overall economy to take a big hit if you live somewhere that has cold winters.  Even during EV operation, the car is less efficient, with seat heaters and defrosters and climate control consuming your battery instead of the electric drive.

kWh chart
Fairly obvious when winter takes place around here.

With all of that said, the car does exactly what we need about 90% of the time.  The difficulty comes when hauling all four of us, plus the dog, plus the luggage, to relatives’ for the holidays.  It gets pretty cramped in there when we try to do that.  As a result, and also as a result of my desire for some racecar-towing capacity, our Volt will someday be replaced by a Porsche Cayenne, either the base gas V6 or the Diesel.  Still, the thought of filling up the base model’s 22.4-gallon tank every 425 miles makes me wince.

Which is why the Chevrolet Bolt concept is such an intriguing bit of kit…

Bolt Concept