A lot has been written about the General Motors' green darling, the 2011 Chevrolet Volt--it's been poked, prodded and picked apart by every automotive pundit on the planet.
But up to this point, most of the stories about the Volt have been based on drives conducted under the watchful and overprotective eye of the General. Individual consumers' impressions have been largely colored by their pride of ownership and their righteous zeal to wring the maximum level of efficiency from their shiny electric chariots.
Now, with 2,000 Volts built since last December's start of production, and 1,000 in consumer's driveways in seven states, a pretty red Volt landed in our test fleet for some real-world driving. We decided to push the limits, steadily driving for a day up Michigan's mitten and back.
For an added twist, we tossed an empty gas can in the hatchback (hermetically sealed in a trash bag) with the deliberate intention of running our Volt out of fuel. GM told us we wouldn't hurt the car, and that in fact, we'd get a pleasant surprise of a few extra battery miles once the on-board gasoline generator went tango uniform.
A bit of gas gets the Volt back on the road after we intentionally ran down the fuel tank and the battery pack.
Sure enough, when the Volt ran out of its 9.3 gallons of premium fuel, the gasoline-powered generator shut down, the instruments issued warnings, but the speedometer never wavered from 70 mph as the car immediately tapped into the battery for extra power. Think of it as an electric "reserve" tank, designed to provide an extra three or four miles of range if you run out of gas. About three miles later, we ran low on reserve battery power and safely slowed to a stop on the shoulder of the road.
We sent a chase car for gas, poured in two gallons on the roadside, turned the key, and we were on our way again. The generator ran at maximum capacity for the next three miles to replenish the battery before the powertrain settled back into normal operating mode. Very little drama.
On our one-day adventure, we posted 36.5 mpg, including the initial 26 miles on battery power alone, over a 560-mile trip.
Our little experiment showed us that while Chevy's little electric sedan might seem like a pricey science project, for us it's earned its real-world stripes.
2011 Chevrolet Volt
On Sale: Now in seven states, 50 by year end
Base Price: $41,000
Drivetrain: 111-kilowatt, 149-hp, 273-lb-ft electric motor, 1.4-liter, 84-hp I4; FWD
Curb Weight: 3,781 lb
Fuel Economy: 93 mpg-e all electric/37 mpg gas only/60 mpg-e combined composite
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