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Test Drive: 2012 Chevrolet Volt

When the Chevrolet Volt first came out, I remember all the exciting hype surrounding it. A plug-in electric car with a gas engine to extend its range is a good idea in theory. And while I really wanted to like the 2012 Chevrolet Volt, I was disappointed.

The Volt’s technology is impressive, and if green driving is important to you, this is a good car for you to consider. After a full overnight battery charge, I drove the Chevy Volt from Washington, D.C. to Ellenville, N.Y. The 313-mile trip took about six hours. The battery ran out of juice after the first 30 miles and the remaining 283 miles were driven using the gas engine. This isn’t disappointing though, since the EPA says battery-only power should last for about 35 miles.

The Volt requires premium gas, and upon arrival in New York, I noticed that the fuel gauge was low. After adding some gas, I realized that at 9.3 gallons, the Volt has a smaller gas tank than other midsize cars. The only negative with a small gas tank is that you’ll be filling up more often on long road trips. For daily driving, it’s fine. The Volt’s fuel economy is impressive. The EPA says the 2012 Volt should get 95/93 mpg city/highway using only the electric battery, and 35/40 mpg city/highway using only the gas engine. I achieved a little less, but I was driving through the mountains.

One of the high-tech features in the Volt is its regenerative brakes. While I understand that they perform an additional function besides stopping the car (recharging the battery), I hated them. The pedal pulsated every time I was stopped at a red light, and it drove me crazy. They also feel like they’re grinding when you push the pedal, and it definitely takes some getting used to.

While my test Chevrolet Volt was packed with all the bells and whistles, I had a hard time using them. Instead of buttons and knobs to control the climate and audio functions, the Volt has a flat-surface center stack with touch-screen-like capabilities. When I couldn’t figure out how to turn the air conditioning on, I knew the Volt’s controls were less-than user-friendly. Navigation, satellite radio and climate controls were all confusing and counter-intuitive.

Overall, the Chevrolet Volt is good for people with a garage or somewhere to charge it overnight, as well as people who prioritize green driving. It’s also good for people who are willing to spend a lot on their next car because it’s not cheap. The 2012 Volt starts at $39,145 (before a federal tax credit of up to $7,500) and my test model was optioned to $46,165. For that price, I could buy two small cars, like the Chevrolet Cruze, or an upscale car, like the Cadillac CTS Coupe.

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