It was a sad day.

After three years, 34,752 miles,  roughly 7,500 kilowatt-hours of electricity, and 327 gallons of gas, I said good-bye to my 2011 Chevy Volt last week. 

Its lease was up, and there was no one left in the family to drive it. I've been at the wheel of a Tesla Model S for the last 18 months.

My wife, a fanatical stick-shift devotee, refuses to give up her Mini Cooper. And my 18-year-old daughter--the Volt's primary driver since I got the Tesla--has gone off to college. 

DON'T MISS: Tesla Model S Vs Chevy Volt: Owner Compares Electric Cars

After three years of ownership, I've concluded that the Volt is a splendid vehicle. It's the only electric car I recommend to virtually everyone who asks.

The two friends who finally succumbed to my incessant prosyletizing are both delighted with their Volts. (Too bad I couldn't persuade my wife.) 

2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

Leaf or Volt?

Back in the Dark Ages of electric cars--2009--I had dismissed the Volt as not a "real" e-car, compromised by its gasoline-powered range-extending engine. 

I'd already put  down my $5,000 deposit on the Model S, but delivery was three or four years away. To get me through the interim period, I also put down a $99 deposit on a Nissan Leaf.

But by December 2010, when the Leaf and Volt both hit the showrooms, I was getting more and more annoyed by a total lack of communication from Nissan about when the Leaf would be available in New York state, where I lived.

ALSO SEE: 2014 BMW i3 REx Vs Chevy Volt: Range-Extended Electric Cars Compared

How much longer would I have to wait for my Leaf? A month? Six months? A year?  No word from Nissan. And every day I was driving by a  local Chevy dealer with a Volt sitting right out front.

Growing more and more frustrated with Nissan, I stopped by the Chevy dealer for a perfunctory test drive. Having expressly avoided owning a Chevy--or any American car, for that matter--for all my car-owning life, I wasn't expecting much.

2011 Chevrolet Volt 5dr HB Dashboard

2011 Chevrolet Volt 5dr HB Dashboard

But the Volt surprised me. It drove great and seemed well put together. Eventually, I signed on the dotted line. With my trade-in of a 2006 Mazda CX-7, my lease payment worked out to $247 a month.

For 18 months I drove the Volt every day, marveling at its smoothness, peppy acceleration, and remarkable efficiency.

For the first year, mostly local driving, I did maybe one six-gallon fill-up a month. Roughly 80 percent of my driving was on battery power, for an average of almost 200 mpg--all without a whiff of range anxiety.

With gas savings of about $150 per month compared to the Mazda, I figured my net lease payment was about $100 a month.

MORE: 2016 Chevrolet Volt To Launch Next Year: What We Know So Far

When the Tesla arrived, of course, it instantly became the king of my driveway. The faithful Volt was relegated to the humble role of my then-16-year-old daughter's driver-ed car.

Until, of course, I needed to make a long trip.

2011 Chevrolet Volt, before lease return, Hudson Valley, NY, Aug 2014 [photo: David Noland]

2011 Chevrolet Volt, before lease return, Hudson Valley, NY, Aug 2014 [photo: David Noland]

Volt to The Rescue 

In those dark days, during the peak of the Great Northeast Tesla Supercharger Drought, the mighty Model S was  useless for long trips.

Visiting friends in Baltimore in the winter?  Take the Volt. Going to Cape Cod for a long beach weekend? Take the Volt. Visiting my cousin in Utica? Take the Volt.

Ironically, all these long trips filling in for the Tesla ate away at the Volt's lifetime gas mileage number. By the time it went back to the dealer last week, the lifetime fuel economy was "only" 106 mpg.

To Buy Or Not?

The residual value of my Volt, which had an MSRP of $42,000, was about $26,000. That meant, according to the lease deal, that I had the option to buy it at that price.

2011 Chevrolet Volt, before lease return, Hudson Valley, NY, Aug 2014 [photo: David Noland]

2011 Chevrolet Volt, before lease return, Hudson Valley, NY, Aug 2014 [photo: David Noland]

But the economics of e-cars made that price way too high. Figure in the tax credit of $7,500, and the fact that Chevy had in the meantime lowered the Volt's base MSRP to $35,000, and I could buy a brand new 2014 Volt for a net $27,500.

Realizing this, the leasing company kept lowering its price to buy, eventually getting down to $19,000.

But with my daughter gone to college and  a handful of new Superchargers sprouting in the Northeast,  my Volt had lost its two primary roles: as teen-age transporter, and Tesla back-up. Utica, Cape Cod, and Balitomore in the winter are all now within range of the Model S. 

ALSO SEE: 2011 Chevy Volt Owner Takes on the Electric Range Challenge

And on a recent trip to Montreal--still beyond round-trip Supercharger range--I discovered the joys of Plugshare, the community of e-car owners who make their charging stations available to anyone passing by who needs electrons.

For me, the Volt had served its purpose, and served it very well indeed.  But it was time to go.

2011 Chevrolet Volt, before lease return, Hudson Valley, NY, Aug 2014 [photo: David Noland]

2011 Chevrolet Volt, before lease return, Hudson Valley, NY, Aug 2014 [photo: David Noland]

Looking back, here are the.....

Five Best Things About The Volt

  • No Range Anxiety. This is what sets the Volt apart from all other electric cars. It's the only full-performance range-extended electric car with no compromises.
  • Peppy acceleration.  Okay, it's no Tesla, or even a BMW i3.  But in Sport mode, the Volt feels very spritely off the line in normal driving.
  • Peppy deceleration. I loved the aggressive regenerative braking with the drive lever in L. But for highway cruising, put it in D for an ICE-car feel. It's  the best regen-adjusting system I've driven on any electric car.
  • Smoothness.  The electric motor's uncanny quiet and smoothness are matched by the Volt's plush ride. At speed on the Interstate, the Volt feels like a real luxury car.
  • Efficiency.  My lifetime efficency figure says it all: 106 mpg. That's more than twice as good as the Prius. On gas alone, I typically got 38-40 mpg.
    On electricity, efficiency varied from about 4 miles/kWh in the summer to 2.5 m/kWh in the winter. That's  3-5 cents per mile--again, about half the per-mile cost of a Prius.Translated into electric range, I typically got 40 miles in the summer and 25 miles in the dead of winter (15-20 degrees), with proportional range  at in-between temperatures.
    The best range I ever got, hypermiling on a hot day, was 54 miles.
  • Cargo room.  With its hatchback and fold-down rear seats, the Volt easily swallowed my XL-sized mountain bike without removing the front wheel. It hauled firewood and huge bags of trash for the dump. On virtually its last day in my possession, it hauled most of Callie's possessions to her college dorm room.

Okay, that's six things.  Sorry, I couldn't leave one out.

2011 Chevrolet Volt, before lease return, Hudson Valley, NY, Aug 2014 [photo: David Noland]

2011 Chevrolet Volt, before lease return, Hudson Valley, NY, Aug 2014 [photo: David Noland]

Five Worst Things About the Volt

  • Tight Rear Seat.  With the driver's seat slid all the way back, as I drove it, rear knee room was minimal. And the battery running down the middle of the car limited rear seat passengers to two.
  • Winter.  Electric range in really cold weather--15 to 20 degrees F.--declined from 40 to about 25 miles, resulting in more gas being burned  in local driving. And below about 25 degrees, the gas motor would turn on when the car was started, even with a full battery. This helped heat up the battery and cabin more quickly, but was a bit annoying for those of us to whom the burning of gasoline is an abomination.
  • Annoying Charge Port Door.  Despite a couple of visits to the dealer, the charge port door would often stick in the closed position after the release button was pushed. (The charge door release mechanism was redesigned in later models.)
  • Jumbled Control Panel.  Climate, radio, navigation, and energy monitoring controls were a confused ergonomic mess of buttons and touch-screen.
  • Lack of Energy Info.  The 2011 Volt had no readout of kWh used, or any readout of electric efficiency, such as mi/kWh or Wh/mi.  There's also no indication of how much power is being used at any time, other than a silly earth-ball that moves up and down according to how hard you press the accelerator pedal. (Duh.)

Later model years at least got a readout for kWh used for each charge, but we e-car aficionados need far more information about the electrical energy we're using.

Bottom line

The Volt is great car--smooth, efficient, nice riding, versatile, and in my case, virtually trouble-free.  It's in a class by itself: a full-performance electric car without range anxiety or compromised performance.

I heartily recommend it to anyone--and I mean anyone, not just early adapters willing to make the usual e-car compromises--contemplating a compact hatchback or sedan.

If the second-generation Volt, due out next year, can put three people in the back seat, hit 50 miles electric range, and 50 mpg in gas mode, its long-term future as the Electric Car For Everybody will be assured.


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