Volt takes to the road and passes its test drive |

Volt takes to the road and passes its test drive

ORLANDO, Fla. — We’re on the road in the new Chevrolet Volt, heading up Interstate 95 at 70 mph, running entirely on electricity, using not one drop of gasoline.

The dashboard counts down how much battery power we have left — three mile’s worth, then two, then one.

“Did you feel that?” asks my passenger, Britta Gross. “The gasoline engine just started up.” No, I didn’t feel it, and neither did she. Only a change in the dashboard indicator told us that the 1.4-liter, four-cylinder gas engine had cranked up on its own, and was now powering the motor that was driving the car.

Gross, who oversees General Motors’ efforts on alternative fuels, is one of several GM executives who are taking the Chevrolet Volt on a 12-city tour, called “Volt Unplugged,” that pulled into Florida last week. Cities seven and eight on the tour were Miami and Orlando, and I was invited to drive a Volt between the two cities. I’d taken a much shorter drive in a Volt a couple of months ago, but I was anxious to see how it would work, both mechanically and ergonomically, on a longer trip.

As you likely know, the Volt is essentially an electric vehicle powered by an electric motor and a huge battery pack mounted beneath the floor. On regular household current, the batteries will recharge overnight, giving the driver about 40 miles of all-electric power before the gas engine kicks in. This makes the Volt different from pure electric vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf, which uses only battery power, and must be recharged every 100 miles or so.

So how far could we go en route to Orlando• We’ll never know. Three of the four Volts used for the Miami demonstrations were parked at the entrance to a hotel, plugged into electrical outlets to charge overnight. All three sockets were on the same electrical line, and even though the Volt draws fewer amps than other electric vehicles, the circuit blew during the night.

So at dawn, we found that the batteries had gotten only eight miles’ worth of electricity. Oh, well.

The Volt rides and drives just like any car: Press the “start” button, shift into drive, and go. This one had an excellent Bose sound system, leather upholstery, full power-operated features.

The Volt starts at $41,000, but is reduced by a $7,500 tax credit. At that price, the Volt costs about the same as the entry-level BMW 3-Series, which does not seem excessive for what Gross argues is the most complex, sophisticated car ever built for the mass market.

Our road trip, mostly up Florida’s Turnpike, was entirely uneventful. The Volt rides like a bigger car, stable in all situations and very comfortable. Acceleration is as good as most V-6 engines.

So what were the numbers• We traveled 249 miles from Miami to Walt Disney World, and used seven gallons of (premium) gas. Our gas mileage was 35 mpg.

Which, unfortunately, doesn’t show the Volt’s potential. GM notes that 76 percent of commuters average less than 80 miles a day, meaning many Volt customers could go for weeks on electric power by recharging the batteries at night at a cost of about $1.20.

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