How To Make Your 2011 Chevy Volt Drive Like a Tesla Roadster

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2011 Chevrolet Volt test drive, Michigan, October 2010

2011 Chevrolet Volt test drive, Michigan, October 2010

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Pretty much anyone who's driven one loves the performance of the Tesla Roadster, the first modern electric car with a lithium-ion battery pack.

The 2011 Chevrolet Volt is a much less radical electric car than the Roadster in certain ways, and one of them is its accelerator response.

Volt: Just like an automatic

GM's engineers have tuned the control software to mimic the behavior of a standard gasoline-engine car fitted with an automatic transmission. There's the standard idle creep at a stoplight, and if you lift off the accelerator, the car coasts freely, with little regenerative braking.

That's not how the Tesla works. Its regenerative braking kicks in as soon as you lift off the accelerator, and taking your foot off completely slows the car almost as rapidly as braking.

Single-pedal driving

While different to a combustion-engined car, it's easy to get used to--on our road test, it took less than five minutes--and it lets drivers operate the Tesla Roadster essentially with a single pedal.

Its friction brakes are required only below 10 miles per hour, to bring the car to a full stop at traffic lights and stop signs as regenerative braking dies away with speed.

But Chevrolet's engineers have provided a similar ability in its Voltec powertrain: It's the "Low" setting on the "transmission selector". And when it's paired with the "Sport" power mode, which gives more aggressive accelerator response, it's the best way to turn your Volt into a mini-Tesla.

Similar drive feel, not-so-similar acceleration

The Volt's 0-to-60-mph acceleration, of course, isn't anywhere near a standard Tesla's: We observed about 9 seconds, compared to the Roadster's stunning 3.9 seconds, a speed that humbles some supercars costing twice the Roadster's $109,000.

But if you get a chance to test-drive a 2011 Chevrolet Volt, we recommend that you try it first in the standard "Drive" mode.

Then, after 10 minutes or so, switch over to the mix of "Low" and "Power," and see which you like better.

The Volt's "Tesla setting"

Our preference? We like aggressive regenerative braking, and on our 2011 Volt test drives last week, we preferred to use what we came to call the "Tesla combination" of settings.

That said, we think Tesla still has the best accelerator software going. We noticed a slight abruptness on liftoff in the Volt, as its regeneration kicked in rather suddenly.

It wasn't a lurch--nowhere near the experience of being slammed forward into the seatbelt that the unpleasant Mini E provided--but it could use a bit more work on the blending.

Perhaps that'll come in the Volt, Revision 1.1?

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Comments (5)
  1. I would want a "hill" setting for that. Cars with minimal rolling resistance (and the resulting transmission parameters) already tend to bleed off speed way faster than expected going uphill (and gain it going down, of course).

  2. I don't like the creep; why simulate an automatic? What's next, sudden jolts through the transmission to simulate gear changes?
    Lloyd: Us normal folk get used to it in seconds, it's just like massive engine braking. Drive a gas car in 2nd gear to get an idea of what it feels like.

  3. GM yet again attempts to deliver a car that nobody wants.
    Isn't that why they went bankrupt to begin with?

  4. John,
    Yes, I always use "L" and most of the Volt drivers at our recent "drive-in" also prefer the "L" setting. When I remember I also set the drive option to "sport," but I cannot yet fully differentiate exactly how that changes the drive feel from the "standard" setting.

    The regen drag is sharper in "L" at low speeds than at speeds in excess of 50 mph, at least that is the consensus of those I have talked with about this distinction. Several of us have suggested to GM that when driving in "L" and lifting off the go pedal, perhaps the brake lights should at least flicker, as the speed drop is virtually like a touch of the brake pedal...

  5. For some reason (seems counter-intuitive) I seem to get less milage when I run it like that. I would think greater regen would create greater miles, but it does not appear to be the case, possibly because you need to use the accelerator even at times you could be coasting...

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