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Going with the current

High on the highway: A 1.4-litre petrol engine charges the battery in the Volt once itís low on electric charge

The Volt was built by GM solely to address anxiety issues. Engineered to override the nagging fear you have in an electric car, when the charge in your battery is running low, the Volt is an electric car whose range can be infinitely extended by using a petrol engine as an electric generator.

Powered by GM’s unique Voltec propulsion system, which consists of a lithium-ion battery pack and electric drive unit coupled together, the Volt can be driven as a pure electric car for around 40km to 80km. Once the charge is partially depleted however ó and here’s the unique part ó a 1.4-litre petrol engine kicks in, charges the battery and extends the range by a massive 550km. And if you want to travel even further, just top up the tank.

The Volt’s battery can be charged using a household electrical outlet, or much faster via purpose-built 240V charging posts, which are being set up at convenient locations across the US (we use 240 volts in India in any case). Once the vehicle is plugged in, owners can schedule either immediate or delayed charges (to take advantage of off-peak electricity rates). The Volt can even be monitored remotely via a computer on myvolt.com or through an exclusive Smartphone application.

While you could argue that the Volt is similar to a hybrid in some ways, one key differentiator is that GM claims there is no direct connection between the petrol engine and the car’s wheels. This makes a huge difference to the car’s architecture. The Volt’s largest component is the battery, which is more than 5ft long. The 16kWh lithium-ion battery pack weighs almost 200kg, is T-shaped and actually sits in a spine between the seats, allowing the Volt to have a real boot. The petrol motor is mounted in the nose and drive from the electric motors is sent to the front wheels.

Up, close and in the flesh, the Volt looks impressively cutting-edge. The faux grille instantly tells you that all is not normal here. It’s clear that a lot of attention has been paid to refining aerodynamics and, truth be told, this really is a well-balanced, good looking car with no odd quirks included just to make the design stand out as something different.

There are all sorts of three-dimensional graphics on the touchscreens, plenty of new controls and options to learn, and several driving modes to understand. There are Normal and Sport modes, but since this is an electric, I stuck it in Normal and set off seamlessly. This Chevy pulls away easily, as any torque-rich electric should. The relaxed demeanour continues even when you pull the car harder; this must have something to do with all the millions of relaxed-but-potent V8s Chevy has built in the past. In comparison, something like a Toyota Prius feels strained and wheezy.

Only under hard acceleration above, say, 80kph, does the engine cut in and become quite audible. It’s not got the nicest of engine notes and sounds strained and a bit long in the tooth, which doesn’t really fit the character of this car-of-the-future. And the engine doesn’t just chug along at one speed. Pull the Volt hard and the revs rise, the second motor also cutting in at higher speeds and adding to the whine. The performance, however, is quite strong and the Volt easily breezes along at speeds in excess of 120kph.

What makes the experience even more rewarding is the fact the Volt actually drives quite nicely. The car is based on GM’s new Delta platform, which also underpins the Chevy Cruze, and it uses the same basic MacPherson suspension. The Volt also gets lightweight wheels and specific Goodyear low-friction tyres for a lower rolling resistance.

The car’s central spine of lithium-ion batteries means the Volt can only be had with two seats in the rear, but they are comfortable enough for average passengers. What you do get is a large boot that makes it quite practical to own.

A right hand drive version has been made for countries like the UK and Japan, and the car will soon be in China. Chevrolet India is working on a plan to get the car here as well and we can’t wait.

Chevrolet volt

Spec Check

Price: Rs 34 lakh (est; ex-showroom)
Engine: Two electric motors plus 1398cc DOHC, petrol generator/ front transverse, FWD
Power: 111kw (149bhp) at 4800rpm
Torque: 27.83kgm
Gearbox: Two-ratio planetary
L/W/H: 4498/1788/1430mm
Weight: 1715kg
0-100kph: 9 seconds