I have recently had the luxury of not running my current commuter car into the ground with overuse and lack of repair.  It is/was a 2001 Volvo S60, which currently has 86K miles on it.  I’ve driven it 76K miles in 10 years.  It’s been far better than any car I’ve owned or used before with respect to reliability and ease of use.

However…

It’s getting old.  It’s at an age where things start to break with increasing frequency, and I’m just not sure if I want to deal with that, as I’m getting old too.  2001 was one of the last purely European design years for Volvo, I knew Ford was getting their hands into it soon.  I knew I didn’t want a gasoline-only powered car again, but I wasn’t sure if the world had gotten anything else to work yet.

There was a lot of talk about Chevrolet’s Volt.  I anticipated a glorified golf cart.  I was wrong, and the more I found out about it, the more I liked it.

It wasn’t hard for me to justify this.  As far as the environmental stuff goes, I’m cheaper than I am green.  I don’t mind if I help save the planet, but I don’t want to pay extra just so somebody else can waste what I save.  If it’s cheaper in the total life of the car, I’m all for it.  I’ll do another post concerning the costs and benefits, but to sum up those concerns: the math worked out.

My first real problem was, “Can I get into this car?”  I mean physically.  I’m 6 foot 4 1/2 inches tall, about 3 inches over the max designed for a Volt.  However it didn’t seem a problem.

The next problem was, “Will my wife like it?”  All testosterone-related automotive jokes aside, I needed acceptance from her.  We went for a test drive, and all doubts were eliminated.  Key features: real air-conditioning, heated leather seats (premium interior package), and a very good safety rating.  We refer to the electrically heated seat feature as “butt warmers”, we got used to them on the Volvo and we weren’t giving them up.  Michigan winters can sometimes be harsh, so this is important.

I qualified for financing, and a few attempts at dealer trades later we got one.  I can’t say enough about the dealership, Suburban Chevrolet Cadillac of Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Jim did a fantastic job for me.  I highly recommend him/them.

This is the Voltec powertrain.  The engine is to the left and center, the electric motor on the right.  Inside the planetary gear transmission is the generator.  The high voltage main transport battery drops out of the car from the bottom, and is T-shaped along the center of the car and under the rear passenger seats.  It has a good amount of 12 volt power, so auxiliary functions aren’t a problem.

It’s an electric car with an electronic dash.  The center console touchscreen adequately controls climate control, audio, and other information, and the controls sufficiently access what I must assume is CAN bus architecture of the wiring.  I personally think the graphic interface might be improved, but hey, it works.

I’ve had minimal difficulty in adjusting to the new features.  The wireless key just plain rocks, I can’t believe it took this long to get this technology into cars.  In my humble opinion, Chevrolet did it exactly right.  All the normal modern features on a GM car are there, cruise control, anti-lock brakes, traction control, anti-theft, intermittent wipers, lots of air bags, power windows (including express up on the driver’s side), wireless electronic tire pressure monitoring.

You keep the key fob in your pocket and turn the car on/off with a big blue button. I still reach for a metal key that isn’t there out of habit every time I get somewhere. The door unlocks with a thumb button, then just pull the latch, still keeping the key in your pocket.  It won’t work if the key is more than about a yard away.  There’s a backup camera when you shift into reverse, a slightly expensive option, but darn well worth it.  It sounds like an electric train that takes you between terminals at the airport, there’s kind of an electric capacitor whine, then just wheel-on-road and wind noise. The OnStar hand-free bluetooth is initiated by button on the steering wheel and controlled by voice command, I just upgraded my cellular telephone to one with bluetooth on it, and it works pretty well.  AM/FM/XM radio + CD (audio or MP3), USB, and 1/8″ jack is standard, the base speaker system isn’t great, but not shabby.  I mostly listen to the news, so I didn’t bother with the upgraded speaker option.   I’m also planning on installing a 120V inverter.  I just put a load of custom bumper stickers all over the back, and screwed on the license plate.

I’ve qualified for a program from the electric company (Detroit Edison Plug-In Electric Vehicle Program) that they will install and maintain a 240V charging station in my garage, and they can watch me use juice with a smart meter at about half the normal rate if I charge off-peak, which is a feature built into the car. I’m already saving about half off the price of gas, so the technology will pay off before the battery warranty.  I’m so cheap birds feed me worms.

The Volt won Motor Trend 2011 Car of the Year, European 2012 Car of the Year (first time an American car did that) and I can see why. It’s not better than sex, but it’s pretty good.

 

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