Continuous electric miles in 2011 Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car [photo: David Noland]Enlarge Photo
With a full charge, the range estimator showing 39 miles, and the in-dash thermometer reading 74 degrees, I very gently pulled out of my driveway and very gently accelerated toward New Paltz.
I did not use extreme hypermiling techniques for this drive. My tempo was that of a little old lady in no particular hurry. I did not disrupt traffic in any way.
I did do a bit of coasting here and there, and stayed near the speed limit in 30-mph and 40-mph zones. In the few 55 zones, I would maintain at least 45 mph.
The Volt's battery charge indicator has 10 bars, which blink off sequentially as battery charge wanes. The first bar vanished at 4.9 miles--not bad, considering that the first few miles were the hilliest part of the trip.
The second bar blinked off at 9.6 miles. I was on pace for 48 miles, but I knew things would improve as we entered the flatter part of the route.
Sure enough, I got 6.0 miles out of the third bar and an astounding 6.8 miles out of the fourth bar, a 68-mile pace. (Presumably it was a bit downhill.) As I approached New Paltz, I was still showing six bars. A 60-mile round trip looked feasible.
But the sixth bar blinked off--indicating half the battery charge remaining--about a mile short of town, at 27.9 miles. When I pulled into the parking spot, I showed five bars and 28.7 miles.
Volt Battery PackEnlarge Photo
After a pleasant open-air lunch, I returned to the Volt and was surprised and delighted to see six bars. But with the temperature now up to 81, the car had become oppressively hot sitting in the sun, and I had to briefly turn on the A/C.
The reborn Bar No. 6 disappeared almost immediately, and No. 5 shortly thereafter. I was paying the piper for the gravity-assisted 6.8 miles of Bar No.4.
I gradually came to see the inevitable: I wasn't going to make it home on the battery, and I wasn't going to hit 60 miles. But I continued my little-old-lady driving technique as the last three bars blinked off at miles 36.0, 41.9, and 47.1. The Volt's gas engine eventually kicked on at 53.5 miles, four miles from home.
With conservative driving and no A/C, at the ideal temperature over slightly hilly terrain, I'd managed to stretch my typical range by about 30 percent.
Could I hit 60 miles on dead-level terrain? I'm pretty sure I could. On a flat race track, at a steady 30 mph, 65 miles wouldn't surprise me. In a 2013 model, which has about three miles more EPA range than my 2011 model, even 70 miles might be within reach.
But I'm happy to go back to Sport mode, A/C, and 40 miles range. After all, when my engine kicked on at the end of my test run, it was the first time I'd burned gas in almost a month.
David Noland is a Tesla Model S reservation holder and freelance writer who lives north of New York City. This is his third article for High Gear Media.