2012 Chevy Volt More Miss Than Hit for This Family

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A 2011 Chevy Volt has been part of Cars.com's Chicago-based fleet for more than a year now. It was purchased to see how the Volt performed in the city's four seasons. Follow Cars.com's coverage of the Volt here.

When a 2012 version showed up at my Colorado home for a weeklong test, I wanted to see how it would handle the arduous tasks an average suburban family would put it through, including driving carpool, running errands and loading up all the kids' stuff. My family's verdict on the Volt was a mixed bag, but there were more misses than hits.

Of course since the Volt only seats four, this car will only work for small families. I have two daughters, ages 9 and 11, but every other weekend we become a family of five when my 7-year-old stepdaughter is with us. With the Volt, we had to divide and conquer. My family caravanned in two cars when we wanted to go somewhere as a family. Many families I know occasionally need that extra middle seat in the back (picking up an extra body for a sleepover, anyone?), so based on seating capacity alone, we'd lean toward the five-seat Nissan Leaf if we were going to purchase an alternative fuel vehicle.

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The Volt's four-seat design does have an upside, however. My girls enjoyed having enough space between them for some breathing room, and they liked using the center console area with its easy access to cupholders and a little storage bin for their stuff. But what they really loved about the split seat design was having easy access to the open cargo area. When climbing into the car before heading to school in the morning, they could easily slide their ginormous backpacks into the cargo area. When it was time to jump out of the car, they could just reach back and grab their bags. For a family trying to downsize their big car for a small alternative fuel car, flexible access to a large cargo space is a big plus.

The Volt's split glass hatchback cuts down on rear visibility. My test car did not come equipped with the optional backup camera, but I found that this would be a must-have for anyone driving this car, especially families. According to our friends at KidsandCars.org, more than 50 children are backed over every week in the U.S. Poor rear visibility just isn't a compromise I'm willing to risk my children's safety on.

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After driving both the Volt and Leaf, I'm convinced that an electric vehicle could fit into our lives seamlessly in terms of driving range. The Volt goes up to 35 miles on an electric charge and roughly 375 miles on a tank of gas. I loved educating my kids about the benefits of electric technology in cars, but one area I wouldn't include them in is the actual chore of charging.

The Volt's charging cable is stored under the cargo floor. When my daughter and I pulled up to a free charging station and opened up the cargo floor, she said, "What is that thing! It looks like a man tool." The cord itself is large, a little bit heavy and definitely unruly. Add to that the abundance of "Risk of Electric Shock" stickers and I quickly relegated my daughter to the position of a pouty observer rather than a participant while I figured out what to plug where.

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I look forward to the day when the charging process is simplified. I'm hoping for a retractable cord that pulls out from the vehicle itself (like it does with my $19 hair dryer) and plugs into a regular home outlet or better yet would connect to a home charging station with a satisfying, strong magnetic "click" sound, the same way the power cord attaches to my MacBook laptop.

For me, driving the Volt was just as satisfying as driving any other hybrid out there, which is to say somewhat boring. I like an exhilarating driving experience as much as anyone ... after the kids are dropped off, of course.

Add that ho-hum performance to the mixed feedback from the rest of my family and the Volt fell short in our real-world test. 6802715941_dca0ed9289_b

Comments 

Rick

Let me get this right. Two misses: You tried a four set car with a 5 person family, and you didn't have a home charger to plug into forcing you to use the 110v trunk charger? Those misses don't quite apply to real buyers, as they would be quite aware of the four seats and would have a home charger. I only have one son, car is perfect for that, and i use a home charger so the trunk 110v charger stays in the trunk for 'emergency use'.

John

If you do not have a home garage for a charging station is'nt it a bit difficult to recharge? Not sure if I want to run a power cord out to the curb.

Amuro Ray

No one says that you MUST buy a home charging unit to "own" a plug-in hybrid like the Volt. That's the beauty of it, don't you think?

Otherwise, you'll have to add a few thousand dollars to the purchasing cost - if you can either for cost or space (if you live in an apartment, then most likely unable to install), sthg that neither GM nor any one else want to "convince" the buyer during the sales.

BTW, this was a "test" drive in case you missed it. I wonder why GM didn't provide a home charging unit for the test...

The fact that Volt has only 4 seats limited its appeal, and definitely affect real buyers. Sure, you've 1 son and that fits you, but that also means no grandparents with your family (assuming you aren't divorced) in the same vehicle. Kristin is a potential one, and when her family decides that its time to dump the pump, a Volt won't be on her list for now, due to the number of seats. In fact, ANY family who wants to switch to electric or PHEV with a family size or need of 5 seats won't be shopping for a Volt, but Prius PI, LEAF, Coda, etc. I can almost guarantee that buyers who have the need for more seats - or at least they think they do - outnumber those who need less. If that's not the case, we should be seeing big SUVs and PUs in most cities driving with more than just the drivers.

Another problem with the Volt is that it has really short electric range, meaning that you MUST plug in daily, or even a few times per day, in order to drive electric. Not a problem for the LEAF or i for many commuters, so they can charge in the garage or out on the driveway, when the owners are sleeping.

I really liked Kristin's post because we focus so much of our coverage of our longterm Volt on pure numbers and performance...and some repairs from time to time.

But all of us with families in Chicago have issues with the Volt, even me with two kids. The space inside is very cramped, its more akin to a sport sedan than a compact car. The Nissan Leaf has a more spacious feel too.

My garage is detached though and I try to keep the kids out of it. So the charging isn't really an issue there but I see that popping up. I would see my kids more likely tripping over it than anything else.

skinner

It is as simple as the right tool for the right job. The Volt is not the right tool for that family - that does not make it a bad vehicle. The Corvette is also the wrong vehicle for that family as well, but that does not make it any less of a sportscar.

cody

i agree, although i am a bit surprised that she found the performance lacking and comparable to other hybrids. i took one on a pretty extensive test drive back when i still owned a prius and found it to be much more fun to drive...it seemed to acceleration faster and had a sportier suspension.

Amuro Ray

@ cody,

Maybe she has test driven M35H or BMW Active5...?

Volt performance or driving dynamics, from what I've read, is no where compare to those ;)

(j/k there)

cody

haha, excellent point! :)

cody

i actually like that chevy went with two separate seats in the back. there are very few cars below the midsize segment (or even compact suv/crossovers) that actually seat three across comfortably. even putting three children in the back of many of these cars will illicit complaints.

WTF

There's a reason why the middle seat is called the B!#@&!

One benefit not pointed out is having the barrier keeps sibling squabbles to a minimum.

Six

Love the Volt but I can see it is not for shuttling a lot of people all the time.

Troy S.

I actually own a vehicle with 4 seats and can say that the probelem of only having 4 seats doesn't rest soley on the Volt. You won't get complaints from me on my vehicle choice though. I knew what I was buying.

I think the Volt as being marketed as a fuel efficient commuter car of sorts should have been built with seating for five. Aside from sports themed cars, what other hybrid sedan only offers seating for four?

Jordan L

To quote from the artice "My test car did not come equipped with the optional backup camera, but I found that this would be a must-have for anyone driving this car, especially families. According to our friends at KidsandCars.org, more than 50 children are backed over every week in the U.S. Poor rear visibility just isn't a compromise I'm willing to risk my children's safety on." My childern are never at risk when I back my 93 Dodge 3/4 ton, my wifes 04 Durango, or even my side by side atv up. The vehicle doesn't move in any direction unless the kids are inside the vehicle or in sight. Not to down play the usefullness of a back up camera, but you would really cross any vehicle of your list that didn't come with a camera?

Robert

@Jordan L

Parents with kids tend to drive in places with other kids. My minivan doesn't move unless my kids are strapped in, but that doesn't prevent other kids at daycare from running behind me. Plus, the backup camera is truly a life saver at night.

Nehemiah

I don't think you are accurate in saying, effectively, that you don't see much difference between the Volt's performance and that of other hybrids.

Comparing to the Honda Civic hybrid, the Volt has vastly superior performance. (civic hybrid is around 11 to 12 sec 0-60)
Sure, it's not a Tesla roadster, but what do you want? Full torque at zero mph (and did you use sport mode?) is pretty good, frankly better than many common commuter cars out there.

Actually your gripes about the Volt make you a perfect candidate for the Tesla Model X. The Tesla Model X will give you probably more neck snapping performance than you've ever dreamed of, while giving you plenty of room for all those extra people you talked about bringing along.

Drucifer

It is a great commuter car so far. I have given up my 2 door, 4 seat, convertible for it, so no complaints about the loss of a seat. For our family, "mom" has a station wagon, so when the mission calls for a 5th seat and more cargo capacity, that is the 'goto' car. I don't think of the Volt as being a good 'only' car for a family...but for singles or empty nesters it could work really well.

I let my 4 year old plug it in. There is NO VOLTAGE at the plug until the plug is secured and the car 'requests' the voltage from the unit...super safe...safer than any household appliance.

Volume Van

For a car the size of Volt, it could have been 5 Seater.

Anyway C-Max Plugin is coming with lot more space than Volt.

Meanwhile, Prius is #1 selling car in California.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-10-18/toyota-prius-dominates-california-as-state-s-no-1-model.html?cmpid=yhoo

Joel

Thanks for the review. As others pointed out: it's good to know, but not bad if you don't have 5 people in the family. Also, in reply to someone's comment, you don't need any fancy charger to charge the Volt in your garage - just a 120V outlet works fine. You can *add* the 240V special charger for faster charges but not necessary. Definitely using the emergency charger makes you look like you don't know much about the car though...

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