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Review: 2014 Chevrolet Volt

Monday January 6th, 2014 at 2:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Bonanza for Cutting Edge Arrivistes
Gripes: Lose the CVT Tranny

Parking the Volt in the reserved spot of a recharging station at Sausalito’s Molly Stone grocery was a treat I had never before had the opportunity to enjoy. While food shopping for 35 minutes, the Volt supplied itself with 3.2kH of energy at no cost to me. This two slot charging station, which has been active for nearly a year, provides your first hour of charge free of cost, with subsequent time available at minimal expense. Going into overtime gives new meaning to the word “charge” card. It takes 4 hours at 240V to give this Chevy a full blast of electrical energy.

Free refills constitute the highpoint of Volt ownership. And there’s a lot to be said for letting someone else pick up your energy bill. In fact, those beneficent unseen others start picking up the slack for you the instant you buy a Volt because doing so qualifies you for a $7,500 federal tax credit. The dividends continue in the form of access to road surfaces others can’t use, like driving solo in HOV lanes at times of the day that would normally get you ticketed.

The downside of Volt ownership is the simple fact that this heavy, somewhat lethargic vehicle isn’t exactly a blast to drive when you’ve selected the “Normal” rather than the “Sport” setting on the Driving Mode selector switch. In Normal Mode, overall performance is adequate for most drivers. Acceleration is modest. The CVT transmission is the culprit in this equation. It gives you a choice of just two ranges: Drive and Low. Unless you are moving very slowly, Low is useless for increasing momentum, so you’re stuck with the Drive range only. But if you select Sport Mode, acceleration is notably spunkier, and the Volt becomes a pleasure to drive instead of a chore. Of course, you’ll pay the price in increased fuel usage, but the Volt is so much more fun in Sport that you’ll want to select this setting every time you climb behind the wheel.

The Volt’s Owner’s Manual is poorly segmented and indexed. It’s especially difficult to find any information about transmission usage, since there are no listings in the index for ”transmission.” or “shifting.” The only reference appears in a chapter mysteriously headed “Electric Drive Unit.” Call outs for dashboard and instrument panel controls are inexplicably identified by number on one page, with functions keyed to those numbers on a following page. This causes you to flip back and forth constantly from page to page in order to decipher the diagrams.

Unlike the Owner’s Manual, Volt itself is a triumph of engineering. Unlike Nissan’s Leaf, which goes dead when its battery expires, the Volt will keep chugging long after the battery has died. The Xanax tablet for that range anxiety is the presence of Volt’s tiny displacement gasoline engine which Chevy calls a “Range Extender.” When the 1.4 liter gas engine propels the Volt without benefit of electrical power, you’re still good for 37 MPG, or just 2.7 gallons per 100 miles. In pure electric mode, the Volt posts a stunning figure of 98MPGe, or 35kH per 100 miles.

Thanks in part to its 5.5 foot long, 435 pound, lithium-ion battery pack, the Volt weighs 3,781 pounds. That near two ton curb burden becomes noticeable when you attack a series of corners on a back road. The low rolling resistance 16 inch tires don’t provide a lot of grip, so the front end tends to wash out early on corner entry. This behavior makes you lift throttle as the tires lose grip. In case you are slow to respond to the message from your contact patches, Chevy has th (oughtfully supplied the Volt with traction control and Stabilitrak stability management. Worst case scenario backs you up in the event of a collision with no fewer than 8 airbags and 3 years of free On Star auto crash response.

Inside the survival cell, the Volt is easy to love. It affords great sightlines in all direction. Even the somewhat veiled lower rear view benefits from a strategically placed glass panel. Our test Volt enjoyed augmented vision thanks to 2 optional Safety Packages. The first ($575) provided a useful beeper and camera to discern rear proximity issues, while the second ($595) included Front Park Assist and Camera, Lane Departure Warning, and Front Collision Alert. Chevy does a nice job of integrating these aids into your daily driving routine. Unlike so many similar offerings from other manufacturers, these Safety Packages never become intrusive.

The instrument binnacle of the Volt is intimidating. If you’re the kind of person who can read every piece of information on CNBC’s Squawk on the Street at the same time, you’ll love the Volt’s information center, because Chevy has crammed 35 separate pieces of news into your viewfinder. I learned to ignore 90 percent of them and was quite happy to do so.

The Volt is a marvel of technology. Its drive train is an engineering dream, a real home run. It’s still early enough in the model cycle to be the first on your block to claim admission to the 21st century. That you can do so for just $39,545, guarantees you a spot in the Acumen Hall of Fame.

2014 Chevrolet Volt

  • Engine: 1.4 liter inline 4 + Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 149hp
  • Torque: 273 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 98MPGe/37 MPG Gasoline Only
  • Price as Tested: $39,545
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

Posted in Chevrolet, Electric, Expert Reviews, Feature Articles |Tags:, , , || 1 Comment »


Tested: 2013 Mitsubishi i-MIEV

Tuesday August 27th, 2013 at 8:88 AM
Posted by: Francois

What is it

The Miev is an electric car suitable for short trips in the city. It is small and tall and is zippy around town with its high torque electric motor. It is roomy enough with 5 doors and a high roof line.

But get it on the open road and it is not happy. It’s small wheels and high wind profile make it jittery on the freeway. And the range is no joke as 60 miles is really just a best case guideline. Get on throttle or tackle some hills and this can easily drop below 50 miles. So charging stations are your friend and like the Nissan Leaf, you will get to know them and your fellow electric car drivers well.

YouTube Preview Image Video: The Charging Point Test Drive

The Japanese domestic market (JDM) version of the i has been on sale in Japan as the i-MiEV since July 2009. Mitsubishi put the popular i on a bodybuilder program to beef it up for the U.S. market and to meet North American crash regulations and make it more suitable for freeway driving. Adding 4.3 inches through the longitudinal center of the i pushes the width to 62.4 inches. It’s still about two inches narrower than a Fiat 500, but the gains in width translate into much more elbow room than the Japanese version has. Additional front and rear crash structure adds about nine inches of overall length but no additional interior room. The North American i weighs in at a feathery 2500 pounds despite carrying 88 steel-encased lithium-ion batteries under the floor.

Strengths

The North American Miev enjoys a larger beam that makes the already-tall interior genuinely comfortable for four. Stretching an interior is tough and expensive, but Mitsubishi engineers devised a clever cost-saving move that frames the dash from the skinnier left-hand drive version sold in Europe with another layer of dashboard that makes the extra width appear like it was planned from the car’s outset, which it wasn’t. Look for the telltale gap filler at the base of the A-pillars.

Weaknesses

Understeer and squealing front tires greet drivers who push the i hard into corners. The car’s staggered tires (145/65R15 front, 175/65R15 rear) and softly sprung chassis exacerbate the plowing, a trait that sucks the driving fun from the i’s otherwise cheery countenance.
And the 60 mile range really makes it difficult on US roads. Cities may be ok, but the sprawling peninsulas often require more range and buffer than 60 miles.

YouTube Preview Image Video: Making of i-MIEV

Tech Details

If you’ve ever driven an electric golf car, you probably remember the jumpy throttle response, a characteristic of electric motors producing maximum torque at zero rpm. The Miev’s Smooth Start Control electronically regulates torque from a stop to eliminate jolting starts, making the car feel more polished than some EVs.

YouTube Preview Image Video: Kelley Blue Book Review

Driving Character

While the Miev’s electric propulsion may seem advanced, driving it is simple as a golf cart. Turning the conventional column-mounted key activates the circuitry. Putting the car in drive engages the motor. Flooring the amp pedal moves the car out smoothly with linear thrust. The lack of gear changes or a traditional powertrain noise adds refinement. The electrically assisted power steering feels light, as do the vacuum-assisted front disc and rear drum brakes. (Since there is no intake manifold vacuum to power the brakes as on the JDM gasoline-powered i, Mitsubishi uses an electric vacuum pump for boosting duties on the EVs.) The seamless transition between regenerative and mechanical braking also deserves kudos. Unfortunately, the lack of excitement is palpable, with 0-60 mph clocking in at about 15 seconds. We saw 81 mph as the governed top speed.

Other Cars to Consider

Nissan Leaf

The Bottom Line

With a price that undercuts the Nissan Leaf by more than $5000 and superior efficiency, Mitsubishi’s North American version of the Miev electric vehicle may attract a broader audience than simply urban-dwelling environmentalists who view personal transportation as a necessary evil. The EPA estimates that drivers will spend just $495 dollars to drive the i 15,000 miles—though putting 15,000 miles on this car is a formidable task, as the i’s practical range is just 62 miles. And that distance must vary quite a bit depending how you use the i: Just 15 minutes of hard driving at Mitsubishi’s Nagoya proving grounds erased four of the 16 energy bars in the i’s “fuel” gauge. Still, Mitsubishi’s management is fixated on helping the world become a greener place, and the practical changes they’ve made to the i will make the $27,990 car more palatable for American drivers and driving environs.

But in the end, this car can use a few hundred pounds more of battery weight and range. The car is a bit fidgety on the freeway and the 80 mph top speed can barely get you out of some tricky merging situations.

The range is the most difficult pill to swallow of all. 60 mile round trip commutes are out of the question without a lunch time charge. And on weekend jaunts, the 60 mile range can drop to 40 miles when going through some hills and mountains. Just like a petrol car, mileage drops significantly when climbing a hill. But if you don’t make it back to the descent because of the range, then you won’t get that lost mileage back to descend the hill.

Specifications

  • Price: $27,990 – $33,230
  • Powertrain: 49 kw (66 hp) AC synchronous electric motor; 16 kwh lithium-ion battery pack; RWD
  • EPA Fuel Economy/Range: 112 mpge; 62 miles

Posted in Electric, Expert Reviews, Feature Articles, Mitsubishi |Tags:, , || No Comments »




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