When the Chevrolet Volt is running on electricity, it is a world-class car. When the batteries are exhausted and the car shifts to its gasoline engine, there is a sense of disappointment. Not that the Volt is a disappointing car while running on gasoline. But rather, the Volt is so smooth, quiet and quick in electric mode that as a driver you feel like you are taking a step back when it is running on its gasoline engine.
This last article in this four-part series on my experiences test-driving the Volt looks toward the future of electric cars. History may look back at the Volt like we do 20th-century Apple products. Those Apple products were cool at the time, but when the iPhone arrived it made everything from computers to tablets appear constrained by a lack of mobility. That may be the next step for the Volt with the anticipated launch of Chevy’s all-electric Bolt with a 200-mile range priced at less than $30,000 after tax incentives.
Driving to Palm Desert in the Volt
Palm Desert/Palm Springs in the winter may be one of the world’s most beautiful locations. I drove the approximately 90 miles over the mountains from San Diego to Palm Desert to test the Volt on a round-trip of over 200 miles.
Palm Desert is a valley filled with stunning palm trees, vibrant flowers and abundant succulent landscapes. Palm Springs adjoins Palms Desert. A tourist would have a hard time figuring out where one town begins and the other ends.
Here is a two-minute video of my experience driving the Volt into Palm Desert:
A major Palm Springs tourist attraction is its colony of mid-century modern homes. A fun activity is to buy a map of the town’s most famous mid-century modern homes, including Frank Sinatra’s, at the Palm Springs Tourist Center and then do a self-driving tour. Do it on a Saturday and you can visit open houses of mid-century modern homes for sale.
Palm Springs trip reveals Volt’s split personalities
None of Palm Springs/Palm Desert’s beauty should be there. This is a desert made to bloom through irrigation from water pumped out of a massive aquifer created by mountain snow runoff. This area’s ability to sustain its water needs is at risk from climate change that is threatening California with a prolonged drought. This sense of fragility has made Palm Springs a pioneer in adopting rooftop solar energy and using property taxes to finance solar.
Now the city is exploring water-saving innovations to address a daily water use per person of 221 gallons that is three times the statewide average of 77 gallons per person.
This same duality is evident in the Volt. The Volt running off electricity is a fun, smooth and quiet driving experience. That ended as I entered the high desert on the way to Palm Desert. The batteries were exhausted, and the gasoline motor took over. The driving experience was less smooth, less quiet and less quick.
Fuel efficiency also dramatically changed. Driving just in urban San Diego for less than 56 miles resulted in the Volt achieving 250+ MPG. By the time I arrived in Palm Desert after a 90-mile trip, the Volt registered 70 MPG. By the time I arrived back in San Diego, the MPG for the round-trip was 50 MPG.
50 MPG achieved by the Volt in over 200 miles of driving is more than TWICE the MPG of the average new car sold in America. So, this is not a bad result. And driving the Volt in gasoline mode is still a pleasant experience. It is just not as pleasing, exciting, cool or fuel-efficient as electric.
Will the Bolt be our car technology future?
My experience driving the Volt on electricity has generated a strong lust for the future launch of the all-electric Bolt. The Bolt promises 200+ miles of all-electric range compared to the Volt’s 56. That is over 3.5 times more electric miles in a car that is anticipated to be as smooth, quiet and quick as the Volt in electric mode.
Please GM, sign me up for a test drive of the Bolt as soon as it is launched! I can’t wait to drive the next big step in car technology. Wouldn’t it be cool if the Bolt was as pioneering as the iPhone in 2007 by fulfilling the electric car’s promise of lower costs, zero tailpipe emissions and acceleration at the speed of electrons?
Image credit: Bill Roth