The 2011 Chevrolet Volt is a remarkable achievement for General Motors, but it does have a few features and behaviors that make us scratch our heads.
After living with the car for five days and more than 700 miles, here are five questions we'd love to get answers to.
(GM PR: You know where we live ... drop a line.)
(1) Why isn't the charging cord in a spring-loaded self-retracting housing?
The 120-Volt charging cord stores neatly in a compartment under the Volt's load space floor. But using it is a mess: The caddy is just large enough to be cumbersome, and the standardized plug mechanism that fits into the car's charging port makes it doubly unwieldy.
It gets really awkward when you're trying to wind the cord back around the plastic reel housing that holds the electronics. There's a Velcro strap, which catches on your gloves or coat, and the large plug mechanism at the end of the cord will bang on the floor or ground if you're not careful.
2011 Chevrolet Volt charging port
We suggest a visit to Home Depot or Lowe's, where any number of self-retracting extension cords in plastic housings can be studied for inspiration. Even a hand crank that turns to reel the cord back inside would be preferable. The current setup is way too cumbersome to unwind and rewind each time you charge.
Hey, Voltec guys: If you can design the world's first production series hybrid since 1920 or so, you're fully capable of designing a much better portable charging cord. Really.
(2) Why is the electric drive motor shown as a rectangular icon on the Power Flow display?
We all know that four-cylinder engines are essentially rectangular, and that's what the engine icon looks like on the Volt's Power Flow display. And the T-shaped battery pack is shown that way too.
But why is the electric motor that actually drives the front wheels shown as a flat rectangular object? We also all tend to know that electric motors are essentially cylindrical.
We suspect the answer is that the rectangle represents the power electronics box under the hood that obscure the view of the actual drive motor. But we think the Power Flow display would be more intuitively understandable if the motor were a little less literal.
(3) What's the weird lag in acceleration under high load before the battery kicks in to provide extra oomph?
Even in modern automatic-transmission cars, there's sometimes a little hesitation after you floor the accelerator before the power kicks in. But on our Volt test car, it almost felt like the power dipped and the car slowed momentarily after we floored it.
2011 Chevrolet Volt drive test, March 2011
Whether that reflects the range-extender engine spooling down to compensate for anticipated power from the battery pack, we can't say. But it felt almost like a momentary stall or misfire would in a gasoline car. And it was the one glitch in an otherwise smooth powertrain
(4) How am I supposed to flash the brights under 30 mph?
Flashing the high beams is a good way to alert other cars or pedestrians of your presence. But in the Volt, under about 30 mph, a quick flick of the indicator stalk doesn't flash the brights, but activates the pedestrian alert tone--a rapid cycling of the horn.
That's fine (and much better than the Federally mandated noisemakers that are apparently coming), but it leaves a problem: How do I flash the lights without annoying everyone around me by making noise?
(5) Are the leaves that tumble across the center display screen on startup a backhanded swipe at Nissan's battery-electric Leaf?
On this one, your guess is as good as ours.