A Winter in the Chevy Volt

There is one thing today that separates an electric car from a gasoline car. Its power comes from a battery, and that battery needs to be recharged.

This fundamental shift in how car owners think about refueling their vehicles is why Cars.com purchased a 2011 Chevy Volt in January and a 2011 Nissan Leaf a month later.

We drove these cars in temperatures ranging from minus 2 to 67 degrees in the Volt and 24 to 82 degrees in the Leaf, and both lived up to their billing. But after recording driving data from each outing with both vehicles, we discovered two significant issues an owner will face: how cold weather affects them, and how much you’ll need to rely on a somewhat erratic car computer telling you how far you can drive.

Chevy says the Volt’s range on battery alone — it also features a gasoline engine that works as a generator to power the electric motor when the battery is emptied — is between 25 and 50 miles.

When we picked it up from the dealer in sunny California on Jan. 3, its range was 33 miles. We didn’t see that number again in Chicago until March.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

The lowest predicted range on a full charge we saw was 24 miles when it was 36 degrees out, but the Volt traveled 28.8 miles that day. It took 20-degree temps to bring the actual-miles-driven number lower.

On four different occasions of temperatures registering 25, 27, 25 and 26 degrees on the car’s computer, the Volt traveled 23.8, 26, 23.3 and 21.3 miles, respectively. All of these ranges were lower than the prediction, but three were within 10%, and one was within 20%-- tighter than the variances we witnessed with the Leaf.

Both cars allow owners to turn on the heat or air conditioning while still plugged in to get the cabin to an optimum temperature before being unplugged, so the overall range won’t be diminished by the energy-sucking environmental systems. In one of the examples above, when we achieved 26 miles, the car had been pre-conditioned, and that led to the most accurate prediction.

What about the minus 2 day? The range was listed at 32 when I unplugged the pre-conditioned Volt from my garage outlet. It dipped to 31 before it left the driveway and ended up traveling 20.9 miles on battery power.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

When the weather was in the mid-30s, the predicted and actual ranges averaged around 30 miles, with smaller errors than we saw when it was less than 30 degrees.

We reached ranges of 34.5 and 33.6 miles — our best — when it was 56 and 67 degrees, respectively, near optimum weather for driving any vehicle. However, the starting range had been 38 and 30 miles, respectively. That’s nearly a 10% swing.

Chevy Volt

  • Highest predicted range: 38 miles (56 degrees)
  • Lowest predicted range: 24 miles (36 degrees)
  • Highest actual range: 34.5 miles (56 degrees)
  • Lowest actual range: 20.9 miles (-2 degrees)

The difference in predicted and observed range isn’t going to stop a Volt owner, but if you drive an all-electric Leaf, you have but one powertrain to rely on and the range means everything. However, in our testing, the Leaf didn’t turn out to be as predictable as the Volt, and out of the two, it needs to be.

This spring we’ll be able to observe how both cars make the transition to a pleasant spring — we can hope — and into a hot, humid summer that requires air conditioning. Will these two cars go through a similar reversal in range? Stay tuned.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Read More
A Winter in the Nissan Leaf
Continuing coverage of our long-term Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf



That range speaks volumes why electrics have never made it big in America.


Why not give it a real test of the -40 temperatures we get in Canada...


How much do the Volt and Leaf cost compared to a fuel efficient car (30+mpg)?

IMO; Electric only cars are a non starter, (too expensive) I think the future is hybrid or diesel hybrid at that.

Troy S.

Too little electric range to justify the high price tag of the Volt.


I agree Troy that the price is too high on the Volt. However, you can lease one for $2500 and $350 a month for 3 years. Considering the fact you'll save a fortune on Gas, this is the way to get into a Chevy Volt.

Thanks David... Living in Upstate NY, I've always had this nagging doubt about owning the Volt. I knew there must be a significant performance deficit in deep winter, but now it's real (and that's easier to handle than the unknown). Not as bad as I thought. Thanks again.

The predicted range on the Volt is based on your driving in the past 150 miles. If you are consistent like I am, I find the prediction to be very close. My Volt adjusted to my driving, and it is running at 50 mile range average. For my driving I have seen 44 to 54 mile range in the summer.
Since my summer driving is 12 miles higher than your range, I am hoping my winter average is also higher. Will see soon.
The Volt in my opinion is the Holy Grail. I don't use gas anymore.
The Volt also drives better than a regular car.


What a load of horse dropping. Drive it like a real person. 30 mile round trip. Half the trip would be with no preheat/cool because it sits at 5 degrees or 120 degrees in a parking lot. In the real world we need vehicles that go when and where we need them to without costing the owner and government 50% more.


I have had my Volt since June...getting 44-50 on electric...depending on commute...braking etc. LOVE IT...I realize winter will be different..wondering what are the best tires in my region with heavy snow


If you lease a Volt the savings in gas for a large percentage of the population make it one of the most economical to drive for those 3 years. And the Volt drives and handles very well.


I have read a lot of reviews about EVs, and no one comments about the one thing that gives me the most heartburn. As a taxpayer, I object to funding yet another "green" project in which the math doesn't add up. Neither the economic or environmental benefits are worth the tax credit. If someone want to "feel good" about something, is it too much to ask that person to pay for it themselves?

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