By Ian Johnson
IT is easy to see why the Chevrolet Volt was voted European Car of the Year 2012 as this is one of the few electric cars that is completely practical due to its range-extending capabilities.
The Volt provides planet-friendly driving with the performance and usability of conventional cars.
The beauty of it is that if you have to travel a great distance or go somewhere in an emergency there is an on-board generator or range extending engine that provides the electric power.
This means that you do not have to worry about charging points or fret over the dwindling number of miles left on the display. Whatever happens, the Volt gets you home.
I had first hand experience of this in the recent snowy conditions when the driveway to the power point at my home was completely blocked by snow.
With a normal electric vehicle this would have grounded me but the Volt soldiered on generating its own power to keep me mobile.
There are many concerns about electric cars at the moment and limited range is foremost.
Another concern is road manners and this is where Volt shines again. With 99mph on tap and 0-60mph in 9.0 seconds, this is a very nimble vehicle and worthy of comparison with a conventionally powered large hatchback.
On a single battery charge, the car is capable of covering 25-50 miles using solely its internally stored electrical energy. Independent studies have shown this is sufficient to meet the daily needs of 80 per cent of European drivers.
In extended-range mode, which activates whenever the battery has reached its minimum charge, motive power from a generator is seamlessly inverted to the electric drive unit.
In short it combines the efficiency and carbon footprint of an electric vehicle with a range and degree of flexibility previously unthinkable in this segment and has been hailed as the best solution on the planet for worry-free electric driving.
On a full charge and a full tank of petrol the range is 300 miles which is adequate for most people's needs.
A sample of early Volt customers in the US, where the car has been on sale since late 2010, indicates that they drive 1,000 miles before filling up the fuel tank which suggests a very responsible environmental attitude.
Whether British Volt drivers can attain such results remains to be seen.
In Europe, meanwhile, the Volt qualifies for government subsidies in many countries and cities. In the UK, the Volt is eligible for the government’s Plug-In Car Grant worth up to £5,000, while it is exempt from road tax and the daily congestion charge in London, saving owners up to a further £2,000 per year.
With its low slung four seat only design and sculpted shoulder line the Volt looks sporty, but I do have a concern about the front skirt which is too low to the ground for my liking and can brush the ground when descending steep car car park ramps or the like.
With a drag coefficient of 0.28, its aerodynamic performance is on a par with the Chevrolet's supercar, the Corvette.
Inside, the Volt is futuristic all the way with sweeping design housing touch controls.
Altogether, it is one of the most interesting and significant cars on the road today.
Mechanical: 151ps, 1,398cc, plug-in electric motor plus on-board generator driving front wheels via automatic gearbox
Max speed: 99mph
0-60mph: 9.0 seconds
Range: Up to 300 miles
Insurance group: 22
CO2 emissions: 27g/km
BIK rating: 5%
Warranty: 3yrs/100,000 miles