I was reading the newspaper on Saturday morning, truly a rare occurrence, when I happened upon an article stating that there was a test drive session from 10am-2pm. Needless to say, I quickly hopped in the car and headed over to the Best Buy parking lot where the event was taking place. After exiting the freeway onto the access road I exclaimed to my girlfriend "Look! There's one right there!"
Since we were riding to the event in an SUV with a 4.6 liter V8, the irony of the comparison was quite funny. There were actually two Volts in the three cars ahead of us in our lane, and we followed them both into the parking lot as they finished their test drive circuit.
We signed our names on two brief release forms and I got a wristband which identified me as a driver, then we walked over to get in line. There were a couple of Chevy engineers chatting with the people waiting and answering technical and development questions that people happened to have. I asked about a solar panel for the roof of the vehicle and he mentioned that they actually installed a rather large array on a building up in Detroit and were contemplating equipping dealerships with them in order to power their Volts. The line wasn't too long, and it was only about 15 minutes before we we invited to the White one!
There were 4 Volts in total, a black one and a white one and two gunmetal gray ones. Personally the look of the black one really caught my attention, but the white one looked great as well. The specs on the cars varied as well; Black with black leather (with yellow-green leather seat inserts) Gray with black/gray cloth interior, Gray with white leather interior and finally White with black leather interior. I really liked the white leather choice:
Additionally the center consoles came in two color choices:
Our white car was a little more upscale with the leather and it had some sort of luxury package with a rear-view parking camera. As I got in I wanted to plug the key fob into some hole in the dash, but the ride-along guy said to let it sit in the cavity beneath the "shifter." I depressed the brake and pushed the little blue start button...
And seemingly nothing happened! The start up is extremely quiet and there is very little feedback to indicate that the car is even on! The "gauges" screen changed its display and the "console" screen illuminated and there was a little pulsing on the brake pedal (Scott, the ride-along engineer said that was from a vacuum system on the brakes) but there was no audible noise from the motor whatsoever.
After performing test drive duties for about 3 hours without charging, the batteries were understandably depleted so the car was operating under extended range mode. The dashboard screen provides all the information you could want, and then a little more. There was a small icon with two people seated next to each other which was red at first, then half red and half green... it turns green when each backseat passenger has their belt on; I know it's just a little thing, but those always seem to go over well.
The drive itself was remarkable in how unremarkable it all was! The car ran very smoothly, no doubt helped by the ~450 lbs of batteries on board and had no trouble dealing with the weekend traffic or the weekend drivers. The circuit was pretty brief, a couple of surface streets and then the aforementioned interstate access road. I got a chance to chat with Scott about the controversy over the combustion engine powering the wheels at times and not the electric motors and he made a good point; the fewer times you convert one form of energy to another (e.g. chemical to mechanical, as opposed to chemical to electrical to mechanical) the system is inherently more efficient.
On the test drive as a whole the Volt seemed to be on all fronts a very well put together typical car. Had I not known that it was a unique automobile, I could never have picked it out of traffic for being different; and perhaps that's my biggest take-away from the day. It drove like any other ICE car I've driven, but in the back of my mind I always knew it was a little bit more.
There aren't any pictures from the drive itself, though this is certainly not for lack of ride comfort! I was intensely focused on not crashing the car, so I sadly did not have a chance to fiddle with many of the auxiliary features on this trial run. I did make note of the split rear glass, as a friend of mine whose family had an Aztek back in the day bemoaned the fact that the horizontal bar would easily block out police cruiser roof lights. Not only was the horizontal bar very low in the rear view, GM has designed the mirror with a trapezoidal shape to the bottom instead of just being simple and flat. It allows you to use the full height of the rear glass to see through, and is perfectly shaped to not waste any mirror space showing you the back seat rests. It may be a small touch, but it showed me that the car itself was very well thought out.
After the drive we had some complementary tacos for lunch, provided to us from Chevrolet! We looked at Halloween costumes, then were walking back to the car when I wanted to check out the Volts one more time. They were parked and had the doors open for inspection, so I hopped in the back seat of one of them:
Not the best fit! It should be noted that I am about 6'2" tall, and there was a very large (round) man in front with the driver's seat ALLLLL the way back, but it is definitely a reminder that this is a smaller car so legroom and headroom can be at a premium. The information cards that were passed out listed the trunk space as 10.6 cubic feet, which seemed a little small to me, but the proof is in the pudding. While it's certainly no Town Car in volume, there is a lot of usable space back here:
I know that GM has been working hard on this vehicle for a while now, and it really shows. The event itself was painless and doubly rewarding (time with the Volt and a free lunch!) which spoke well of GM and their hopes for marketing the Volt. I would guess that the group out there with us was like-minded and likely similarly informed about the car, but I think that more events such as this one would be a real help in getting people into the Volt once the initial "excitement buyers" are gone.
The way that this car has turned out is really fantastic. I think that when people start seeing them in the real world and understand the significance of this new car they're going to be really excited. I'm hoping that GM has a big hit on their hands here, and from the time I spent with the Volt I would say that they definitely should.