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Under the Hood: Questioning purchase of the new Chevy Volt

Under the Hood: Questioning purchase of the new Chevy Volt

January 8th, 2017 by Tribune News Service in Features

Q: I'm considering getting a new car and am leaning toward a hybrid or possibly an electric. I remember you mentioning you had acquired a Chevy Volt and am wondering what you think of it.
— Sandra M.

A: In October, I completed a three-year lease on a 2013 Fiat 500e EV and decided to try another take on the electric vehicle. As a result, I got a 2017 Chevy Volt, which like the Fiat, is on a lease. The Fiat was an absolute blast to drive and, despite looking tiny from the exterior, could schlep quite a few groceries in the rear compartment with the essentially useless back seat folded down. Its 100 hundred miles of range was adequate for my daily commute but made post-return-trip dinners out an impossibility. I found the car to be very well executed but was glad to return it before the warranty expired.
The Volt is a different animal. It offers about 50 miles of pure electric driving and, after that, several hundred additional miles via a gas-powered generator.
I picked the Volt for the increased range and its more grandbaby-friendly back seat. Another factor: how fun it made my windy mountain-road-to-city commute.
In 4,800 miles of driving, I've averaged 142 mpg. The car can just barely make the trip to work on battery only. Once there, I plug it in and am then able to get home, but as with the Fiat, side trips are a no-no. There are times when gasoline is needed, such as on busy errand days or on round trips to San Francisco in which there is no time or convenient place for charging before returning home.
I think the Volt's most impressive features are its brilliant chassis and road handling. It's also fun to drive and is comfortable. Its electric-drive peppiness is almost thrilling, whether running on battery or engine assist. I'm disappointed, though, with the occasional buzz of the gas engine as it spools up for high loads. Sometimes, it bumps or grunts during transitions. Chevy's powertrain folks should eat lunch more often with the chassis gurus!
The car does have some quirks.
I have noticed three different odd odors that seem to come and go. One is a burning coolant smell that, even though there are no noticeable leaks anywhere, crops up during engine operation. Another is a burning rubber odor emitted when the heated steering wheel is used. I've also detected an occasional burning electronics odor coming from the instrument panel.
One thing that absolutely makes me crazy is that, on occasion, practically no heat is pumped into the cabin. This is especially irksome during 25-degree mornings on which the car's wimpy defrosting system proves particularly inept.
Taking it in for service will be inconvenient, and I'm skeptical the intermittent problems will be fixed in one visit. I'll wait a little longer to see what else crops up before making an appointment.
I'm not much of an infotainment guy but I do enjoy the Volt's Bluetooth interface, which I'll connect to my smartphone for calls. It's much more stable than the Fiat's. I tried the Android Auto app to see how it'd do in bringing up the smartphone's navigation on the car's display but lost interest quickly after the app got in my way excessively during other phone use. I'll study this more and give it another try sometime down the road.
All in all, I believe the Volt, at this time, may be the best option for those seeking a useful, fun to drive, stylish EV with unlimited range. Had the Chevy Bolt been ready at the time I was signing my new lease, I believe it would have been a more ideal choice. I could easily live with its more than 200-mile electric range and simplified powertrain. One of the things I enjoy most about driving an EV is the thought of how few mechanical things are whirling, spinning and potentially wearing at any given moment. Leasing makes sense to me as I'm not keen on owning such a techy and potentially expensive-to-fix vehicle after the warranty expires.

Brad Bergholdt is an automotive technology instructor at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, Calif. Readers may send him email at under-the-hood@earthlink.net; he cannot make personal replies.

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