Given my two year experience with what I consider to be the brilliant Toyota Camry Hybrid, I was super keen to get behind the wheel of the Holden Volt.
What a remarkable experience it turned out to be.
I never thought I’d be a hybrid man. I spent years scoffing at the dorky Prius drivers who whizzed around the trendy inner city suburbs. Just the sight of one of those ugly but frugal sewing machines annoyed me.
But then along came the Camry Hybrid, and being a motoring enthusiast it quickly became clear to me that this was a car not to be dismissed off hand. Back then I was getting around in a V8 Calais, burning at least 14 litres per 100 clicks. When I moved to the fringes of Sydney and was faced with a daily 120km round trip commute, it was time to say goodbye to my beloved 270KWs.
For me, the Camry was a similar sized car with the advantage of build quality and similar luxury appointments thrown in. The capability to get me 800km on a smaller tank of fuel than the Calais had me sold.
The Camry Hybrid has been an excellent car. I could go on and on, $130 capped price servicing, 1.8 per cent interest rate finance, 6.1L per 100 km, surprising power…
But then I sat in the Holden Volt.
It almost seems outdated calling the Volt a “car”. I have jokingly labelled it an “iCar”. As soon as I sat inside its premium cabin it became immediately obvious this is like no other vehicle I’d encountered.
From the moment you push the startup power button you’re greeted with numerous futuristic experiences, some perhaps a little gimmicky. There’s the reactor powering up or down sound effect, the two 7-inch screens coming to life with brilliant colourful HD displays one of which replaces the old hat speedo dials.
There’s the park brake switch, the all important efficiency orb which moves around glowing different palettes depending on your driving style.
For true tech geeks there’s the myriad of pages of info to scroll through on the centre console screen. It was too much for me to even absorb – I just wanted to get out on the road.
But the most amazing thing about the Volt is its claimed 80-90km electric only range. I’ve never plugged a car into my home’s mains power supply before (who has?). So standing there on my driveway doing just exactly that was a little surreal. A little green light on the dash is the only indication that after a 5 hour charge 240 volts will tomorrow propel a car heavier then a Commodore without using a drop of fuel.
All I can say is that it works brilliantly. I’m used to the stop start silence of a Hybrid, but to reverse out of my driveway then start the morning commute with not even a hint of assistance from the petrol generator (that’s right it’s not really a a typical engine) was simply remarkable.
There’s enough power and instant torque on tap to really shove you back into the supportive leather seats. It’s deceptively powerful, certainly not blindingly quick but more then enough to keep up with traffic flow. Accelerating from 60 to 80 kph occurs very quickly, and because of the complete absence of engine noise it’s actually harder to judge just how swiftly things are passing you by.
Potentially if your round trip to and from work was within the electric only range then filling up may occur about as often as a birthday. But in real world terms the Volt will extend the tank of fuel far more efficiently then other Hybrids on the market. The car I drove had a life time average of 3.4L. My best was 4.5L, but I did push it pretty hard.
When the enormous but hidden battery is drained the petrol generator will start to supply charge to the electric engine. In fact, the wheels are never driven by petrol. This is where the Volt even further removes itself from the norm. Throttle inputs do not correspond to the distant sound of the petrol engine. It only fires up when it determines the electric motor requires more charging. So basically you could floor it and hear nothing, but then sitting a set of lights it may suddenly and randomly spring to life. It may sound disconcerting but it’s not, it’s barely noticeable.
Putting all that aside to be a brilliant car it still needs to drive well. Guess what? It bloody does that too. I found the Volt to be an extremely engaging car to drive, handling was precise but perhaps a little softly sprung.
“It’s actually a fun car to drive, a lot more so then my trusty Camry.”
It really feels like a high end European car, fit and finish was very impressive. I’m in two minds about the white glossy centre stack fascia which also creeps over to the door arm rests. But I loved the dozens of touch control sensors that replaced the old fashioned click buttons. They control anything from the single zone climate control to standard sat nav and premium Bose sound system. The layout looks extremely complicated at first glance, but it’s relatively simple to grasp.
There’s numerous typical high-end options such as heated seats, although strangely electric seat adjustment was missing? There’s a collision avoidance system which sounds an alarm when the on board sensors think a disaster is imminent. Lane drifting alerts also occur when it’s forward facing camera sees you start to cross white lines without indicating, I found it calibrated a little to far on the sensitive side and turned it off.
One of the coolest functions was its pedestrian alert button at the end of the indicator stalk. All Hybrid owners will have at some stage been stuck behind some poor shopper oblivious to the fact you’re trying to silently navigate around the car park. Instead of a loud inappropriate toot of the horn you can now discreetly alert them via a serious of quick chirping sounds. It’s kind of like the modern day bike bell!
On the outside I’m also very impressed. It has a bold chrome grill at the front, appealing modern looking headlights with daytime running lights. It’s essentially a hatchback affair at the rear end with a long sloping rear window. It turned plenty of heads while I was getting around town.
The most public display of affection came from a passing tradie at a roundabout. “Mate is that all electric or a hybrid?” he asked. I responded, “Mate, it will take me a while to answer that…”
He took of and yelled “We’ll it’s a real beauty!”
And it is, simply sensational. I’d love one, but like all pioneering technology it will cost you. At 60K, perhaps I’ll wait a little while.