2014 Chevrolet Volt First Drive
Finding Out How Well Our 2011 Car of the Year Has Aged
When the 2011 Chevrolet Volt debuted, the extended-range plug-in hybrid set off everyone's radar. The Volt became the 2011 Motor Trend car of the year, was the subject of misguided politically charged debates, and dominated the news cycle for a while. After the dust settled, Chevrolet's game-changing engineering was met by new-car market indifference -- the 2011 car's $41,000 base price dropped by a thousand bucks the following year, and was cut again for 2014 to about $35,000, with sales of 13,146 units through the first eight months of 2014. After spending some time in a 2014 Chevrolet Volt, we discovered that in many ways, the car is still a match for newer plug-in hybrid competitors including the Ford Fusion Energi sedan, Toyota Prius Plug-In hatchback, and Honda Accord PHEV sedan.
The base price of this first-generation Volt has gone down from 2011 through 2014 (it's up slightly for 2015), and the four-door hatchback's EV range has increased. For 2013, the Volt's EV range was bumped up three miles to 38 miles, and for 2015, Chevrolet says an engineering change in the battery cell will increase the range just a bit, too. The car's EPA-rated 38-mile EV range remains its top selling feature, an incredible piece of engineering to which no other automaker comes close in this price range. In most circumstances, once the Volt's EV-only range is depleted, the car automatically switches over to the gas engine and the car operates like a conventional hybrid, just like other plug-ins. So if your roundtrip daily commute is fewer than 38 miles, you could use the Volt without a drop of gas for weeks at a time, plugging it in at night in your garage. And if you one day decided to drive across the country, the car can do that too, refueling at gas stations and essentially operating like a non-plug-in hybrid.
In EV mode, the 2014 Chevrolet Volt is in a class of one, allowing you to avoid the range anxiety of fully electric cars while still offering a very respectable 38 miles of "your mileage may vary" EV range before the gas engine kicks in. Compare that to the 2015 Ford Fusion Energi's recently re-rated 20 miles of EV range, the 2014 Honda Accord PHEV's 13 miles, and 11 miles from the 2015 Toyota Prius Plug-In. Those cars have a far longer driving range than the Volt when combining the EV and gas engine, but the Chevrolet wins on efficiency for those who drove about 21 to 38 miles a day. Beyond the EV-only range, Volt drivers must work with a small 9.3-gallon fuel tank and EPA-rated gas-engine efficiency of 37 mpg combined, not as good as the Ford's 38 mpg, the Honda's 46 mpg, or the Toyota's 50 mpg.
Had enough of the numbers? Let's hit the road. Our 2014 Chevrolet Volt test car drove well, with good steering feel that provided confidence on winding roads. The eco-minded tires, on the other hand, proved to be some of the loudest in recent memory when pushed even just a little. Still, given this car's true focus, we wouldn't have it any other way if a switch from the Goodyear Fuel Max 215/55R/17s sacrificed too much efficiency.
Step on the throttle from a stop and, in full EV mode, there's a slight delay before you get moving. After that, the Volt feels swift enough -- in any of its driving modes, the car never really feels slow. We hope the next-generation 2016 Volt has a quicker way of switching drive modes, as the response time from pressing the center-stack button to seeing a change in the instrument cluster display (after hitting the button, it defaults to Normal, then changing to Sport, Mountain, or Hold modes) is too slow. By the time the car is ready to switch to Sport mode, impatient drivers might feel the "I'm in the mood for faster responses" moment has already passed.
We previously tested a 2012 Chevrolet Volt accelerating from 0-60 mph in 8.8 seconds in EV mode, or 8.5 seconds with the gas engine. That's quicker than two 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-Ins we've tested, but slower than a 2014 Ford Fusion Energi. The regenerative braking system feels normal most of the time -- not something that's true for all hybrids or plug-ins -- but brake feel is uneven at low speeds, such as when you're edging forward in a parking space. Even so, when the car switches from EV mode and the 149-hp drive motor to the 84-hp 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, the transition is mostly seamless. You might hear the engine turn on, but if you're on the highway, only just barely. The engine can be buzzy at times after you've depleted your EV range, but not more than in other plug-ins we've driven.
What sets apart the Chevrolet Volt from those plug-ins -- and not in a good way -- is its cabin. The Volt remains great for someone who wants a technologically advanced and efficient ride instead of lots of interior space. The Volt only seats four, and it's snug back there -- Chevrolet was smart to stick with a generous storage area instead of a fifth seat on this generation. All of the Volt's competitors offer more rear-seat space, but the Prius Plug-In is the only car in the segment besides the Volt with rear seats that fold down for extra cargo capacity.
The 2014 Chevrolet Volt we tested carried a $38,950 MSRP with destination, including leather seats (three-stage heated in front), an efficient Bose sound system, navigation on a 7-inch touchscreen with SiriusXM NavTraffic, and the options we couldn't do without: the two safety packages. We're not sure how many people buy new cars costing $30,000-plus in 2014 without a rearview camera, but that's part of the $575 Safety Package 1 that also includes an auto-dimming rearview mirror and rear parking sensors. The $595 Safety Package 2 has Chevrolet's helpful forward collision alert, as well as lane departure warning and front parking sensors. The forward collision alert won't apply the brakes for you, but could easily be renamed the Tailgaiting Warning Alert. In a nonintrusive way, the adjustable system visually warns you when you're too close to another car, and there's even an available screen that shows how far you are behind the car ahead of you to the nearest tenth of a second.
It's helpful technology on an advanced car that recently became an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick + and received a five-star (out of five stars) overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. So, the Chevrolet Volt is safe and boasts a class-leading 38-mile EV range no one in the price segment has matched. While the extended-range plug-in hybrid technology is still in its first generation, the 2014 and 2015 Chevrolet Volt are best suited for a tech nut or environmentally focused driver living in a two-car household. Use your significant other's larger, five-passenger vehicle when you need to carry around another two or three people in comfort, but take the Volt when it's just you and another person. The Volt is just as relevant as it was when it became our 2011 car of the year, so if you can stand the four-passenger layout and drive about 30-40 miles a day, consider the Chevrolet as we approach the debut of the new-for-2016 second-generation model.
|2014 Chevrolet Volt|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$38,950|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 4-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|ENGINES||1.4L/84-hp DOHC 16-valve I-4 plus 149-hp electric drive motor|
|TRANSMISSIONS||Cont. variable auto|
|CURB WEIGHT||3800 lb (est)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||177.1 x 70.4 x 56.6 in|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||37 mpg comb. (gas); 98 MPGe comb. (EV)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||91; 34 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.52; 0.20 lb/mile|
|CHARGING TIME||10-16 hours at 120V; 4 hours at 240V|