2013 Chevrolet Volt, Catskill Mountains, Oct 2012Enlarge Photo
It had been almost two years since we'd driven a Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car, and the new 2013 model has been slightly modified to boost its electric range.
We took a new 2013 Chevy Volt on our usual weekend test route, which covered 360 miles that included about two-thirds freeway driving and one-third local errands.
That's not an ideal duty cycle for a Volt, which can run electrically for weeks on end if you keep your trips between recharges to 30 miles or less.
But it's probably reflective of why many owners buy a Volt; it's the electric car that you can jump into and drive a few hundred miles.
After the 16-kilowatt-hour battery pack is depleted, the Volt's range-extending 1.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine switches on to generate electricity that keeps the car running indefinitely.
The EPA says the 2013 Volt's electric range is 38 miles, and it rates the gas mileage at 37 mpg in gasoline mode--which adds 342 more miles per tank.
The bottom line is that temperature and driving style mattered vastly more than the slightly bigger battery, which raised this year's Volt range to 38 miles from the 35-mile rating of the 2011 and 2012 models.
Heading out of New York City, we were able to travel 33.1 miles electrically before the engine switched on, almost imperceptibly.
We recharged overnight at home on 110-Volt power, all but refilled the pack at a theoretically-closed but perfectly functional Chargepoint Level 2 charging station nearby, and then twice more at home.
The maximum electric range projected in the Volt's dash display with a completely full battery rose from 36 to 41 miles after a long downhill stretch (the projection is based on recent driving).
And after covering 25 miles, we had used 19 miles of that "range," leaving us with 22 miles remaining (which is when we plugged into the Level 2 charging station during lunch).
In weather from about 50 degrees F at night to a mild 65 degrees in the day, a full battery gave us from 33 to 39 miles--especially when we were able to recharge at the top of the hill.
The overall gas mileage for our 360 miles, combined between electric and gasoline modes, was 67.2 mpg.
For the record, that's better than a conventional Toyota Prius hybrid will deliver; it's rated at 50 mpg.
While some readers feel we shouldn't derive overall gas mileage from blending the two modes, we think it's fair.
It is, frankly, the amount of gasoline (5.3 gallons) we used to cover 360 miles. That gas would have cost us roughly $20, whereas our multiple recharging sessions cost less than $3.
We can't yet compare our real-world 2013 Volt efficiency to the plug-in Prius just launched this year by Toyota; that's this weekend's test, though our routes won't compare identically.
But based on having driven both cars several times, we can confidently say the Volt was nicer inside and more fun to drive than the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid.
And many, many Volt owners who confine their use to shorter trips report lifetime gas mileage of "250+ mpg," which is the most that will show on the Volt's in-dash display.
Our 2013 Volt test car had four options, which brought the base price of $39,995 up to a bottom-line sticker price of $43,275.
They were the Premium Trim Package, at $1,395, which not only covers the seats and steering wheel in leather but adds heated front seats and a rear-seat armrest; a navigation and MyLink radio, at $895; a Bose premium speaker system at $495; and the striking Crystal Red Tincoat paint, at $495.
Chevy has also sporadically offered generous dealer incentives to help Volt sales, so if you're interested in a Volt, do your research to see what lease or purchase deals are out there.
The car qualifies for a $7,500 Federal income-tax credit, a California electric-car purchase rebate of $1,500, and a variety of other state, regional, local, and corporate incentives.