by Brad Leach - 29/01/13
During the ‘Car Of The Year’ awards time we've seen no mention of the Holden Volt and frankly that astounds us.
Holden chief Mike Devereux calls the extended-range electric Volt a “game changer” and, after a week behind the wheel, Car Showroom agrees – hence we’ve given it our 4.5-star rating…so the $59, 990 Volt sits alongside some six-figure supercars in that rarified league. This is a mid-size four-door hatchback, suitable for families and commercial operators which brings every-day convenience other electric cars can’t match.
We gave our Volt a full battery charge overnight and the next day did some local-area running around (school pickup/drop-off, shopping and out to dinner). With no subsequent re-charge, the next day we did an 80kms round-trip to golf and on the way home the battery was depleted so the Volt’s 1.4-litre petrol generator engine kicked-in.
That’s a normal two days so what was our fuel consumption average? That would be 2.1l/100kms.
And that’s the point…that and zero exhaust emissions for the time we were pure electric – which was most of the time.
Behind all the electric car hype, the Holden Volt is a mid-size four-door hatchback. The battery and ancillary equipment is housed underneath in a t-shaped arrangement restricts the Volt to a four-seater but in terms of rear-seat legroom, it’s on-par with other mid-sizers.
Styling is modern and distinctive and inside Holden Volt breaks new ground with a very contemporary look. Equipment levels are upscale with standard features like leather upholstery, heated front seats, cruise control, satellite navigation and lane departure warning.
Holden Volt is not a hybrid – it’s a ‘range-extender’ electric car. Power comes from General Motors’ ‘Voltec’ system which comprises a 16.5kWh lithium-ion battery pack and an electric drive unit.
It’s called a ‘range-extender’ because a 1.4-litre petrol engine is used purely as a generator to provide charge for the battery when it is depleted. So the Holden Volt is permanently electric drive.
During electric operation (up to 87kms) the petrol engine does not operate, but when the battery is depleted it cuts-in seamlessly.
With 370Nm of torque, the Holden Volt accelerates rapidly, offers good overtaking and cruises quietly.
As we proved, re-charging can be done easily at home with a normal household plug or Holden can facilitate home or workplace installation of a higher-speed (four-hour) ‘Charge Spot’. We simply plugged-in our Volt at home around 8:00pm and by 8:00am the next morning it was fully charged.
There’s no shortage of creature comfort, entertainment or technology inside the Holden Volt. Styling is contemporary and very well done – our test car sporting a nice white colour scheme for the dashboard trim highlights.
The sporty leather-wrapped steering wheel provided rake and reach adjustment and combined with the sculptured, leather-trimmed seats to provide a nice driving position.
Naturally the instrumentation is different to conventional vehicles. The basic information (speed etc) is there, accompanied by colourful displays aimed at optimizing driving style for maximum energy efficiency and also constantly monitoring electric and petrol range (when the Volt switches from battery to petrol generator the display changes seamlessly).
To the left, a seven-inch colour LCD display contains climate information and energy details – for example you’re advised how efficiently you are driving and also how efficient your climate-control setting is. This screen doubles for the reversing camera image.
Underneath are slick, modern touch panels for the six-speaker 30GB hard-drive Bose audio system which comes with the expected connectivity including Bluetooth. Of course the system is from Bose’s Energy Efficiency Series which uses 50 per-cent less energy than conventional systems.
The two individual rear seats are also nicely sculptured and supportive and by necessity are separated by a relatively high centre console under which is housed some of the electronics.
Behind, the luggage area is a tad shallow but offers sufficient space for a couple of full-size suitcases and more.
Even if the Holden Volt was just a conventional internal combustion hatchback it’s one of GM’s best current styling jobs. We like the modern looks – a nice proportion and a very dynamic front-end with lots of obvious aero tweaking (for example vertical blades at the front-end to re-direct airflow).
At the rear, the large glasshouse for the hatchback is well supported by nicely shaped rear bodywork and modern design tail-lights.
It’s no surprise the mid-size Volt delivers a very slippery drag coefficient of just 0.28.
Holden Volt accelerates rapidly with the usual electric car quietness. Throttle response is just like say a similarly sized conventional 2.0-litre hatchback – and that’s the key…it’s just so normal you don’t feel like you’re driving an electric car.
So in the weekday work commute Holden Volt had all the urge needed for freeway merging and inner city driving (except no exhaust pipe emissions on pure electric). A slight change to conventional cars was felt under braking – with no ‘engine braking’ you do brake harder for example in slow-moving traffic, but you soon adjust and it becomes second nature.
Same story on pure electric over our high speed mountain roads test loop (in ‘Sport’ mode). The Holden Volt turned in precisely, delivered good mid-corner balance, little body roll and accelerated strongly…again just as fast as a petrol-powered hatchback of similar size. However monitoring the energy use display when pressing on hard in sport mode showed we were consuming battery charge considerably faster than cruising down the freeway.
Combined range is over 600kms so that would just about get you from Sydney to Albury on one tank of unleaded.
We deducted points from the Volt for the battery charge cord set. It’s housed snugly under the cargo area floor in a specific box next to the tyre inflation kit, but once out and used we found it difficult to quickly wrap the cords back into place so it would fit back into its box.
We were very impressed. Holden Volt as an all-rounder is the best electric car so far. Audi has similar technology headed our way and it will have to be good to match the $59,990 Holden Volt.
Families of four could easily swap their conventional internal combustion powered hatchback or sedan to a Holden Volt with and enjoy the savings in fuel and exhaust emissions.
And the dollars make sense. The word is a full battery re-charge costs about four cents in electricity charges and Holden backs the Volt with capped-price servicing ($185 each for the first four standard services) and an eight year/160,000kms warranty for the battery and related electronics.
Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi iMiev are the only other similar cars but they’re pure electric so they don’t offer the range-extender capabilities of the Holden Volt.
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