2013 Chevrolet Volt Charging to the Future

The 2013 Chevrolet Volt is a step up from the struggles of its recent past.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

Don’t look now, but the Chevy Volt is improving.

When introduced, it was a novel concept much different than the Prius or other hybrids. Essentially a fully electric car with a gas engine that kicks in after the charge is gone, the Volt promised significantly reduced emissions and hundreds of miles between fill-ups. With combined MPG in the high 90s, some considered it the future of motoring.

The Volt had its problems – some serious. A handful caught fire – without a clear explanation of what caused the problem from the battery, the engine or another element. Chevy worked to resolver that for 2013.

A software glitch in many models caused the electric engines to cut out while the car was in motion. Chevy fixed that. You get the idea. Even once the Volt emerged from the testing and manufacturing period and arrived in showrooms, it had a long way to go.

I don’t think I’m talking out of school when I suggest that sales of the first edition Volt were at the level Chevy might’ve liked. Worldwide sales averaged in the low four digits per month – despite a big media push and constant hype from an Obama Administration desperate to prove the GM Bailout was effective and eager to show to its base that it was serious about green cars.

Part of those downbeat sales numbers were due to the original Volt’s staggering MSRP of around $41,000. If you’re not living in a Yoga-induced haze in Santa Monica or worshiping a craven idol of Al Gore on Knob Hill, you can buy a hell of a lot of car or SUV for 41 large. Yes, the Volt will earn some of that money back as you charge its electric motor and skip $4 per gallon gas prices. But, such savings are long way down the road at that price point.

Still, the Volt hums along – literally. Chevy had and still has a lot of work to do on the car. We had a chance to do a week-long test drive of the 2013 model and found that the car is already improved. It’s pleasant to drive. The question for any prospective buyer will be: Does the effectiveness of the driving experience outweigh the cost and complications of owning the Volt?

If a buyer can get past the sticker price, the major challenge to owning a Volt is the charging station. Suffice to say, there aren’t a lot of young apartment dwellers with the capacity to charge a Volt conveniently or to install the charging station needed to do so. I imagine many condo owners might face similar problems if space doesn’t allow for that plug.

We reviewed the car in green-friendly Los Angeles. Without a handy charger at home, we had to drive miles out of our way to find a public charger. So, we ended up driving it mainly on gas – which defeats the purpose of owning the car. If you buy one, you must have the space and capacity to own the charging unit.

With a 149 horsepower, the drive is smooth and indistinguishable from any gas-powered, small hatchback. Despite the fact that additional electric engine and battery setup adds weight to the car over a standard hatchback, its acceleration is adequate and handling smooth. Yes, it feels a little soft. That’s to be expected for a car that’s marketed to families, women and green car fans,

The 2013 styling improved over the previous year with an aggressive, angled nose and a showy grill. It may not turn heads driving by, but the previous styling choices were ugly enough to turn gazes the other way.

When it debuted, the Volt was new, groundbreaking technology. It took an approach to the Green Car/Hybrid/Charger movement that hadn’t been pursued by many automakers. Like all new technology, it had its share of struggles and (in a few cases) failures even one it was out of the design and test stage and out on the market.