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Electric Vehicle Comparison Test

A soon as the words “electric vehicle” are uttered, inevitably the question arises: “What’s the range?” Undoubtedly, this question plagues every manufacturer boardroom once an EV release is planned. No one wants to be stranded on the side of the road while their gas brethren zoom by.

Comparo Ford Chevrolet Nissan Side view
Photo: Michel Deslauriers

While manufacturers have devised a way to prevent this from happening through customer screening (stringent background checks of where you live, how far you travel to work, that sort of thing) before the purchase of an EV even happens, it seems the question still arises.

The thing is, it’s not just about range anymore, but about overall liveability. And that’s where we decided to come into the whole EV debate.

With three EVs lined up and ready to go, Matt, Mike and Miranda set out to live a day in the life of an EV owner. Granola-chewing, hemp-using, planet-saving, greenie jokes aside, we wanted to see whose electric vehicle could stand up to the onslaught of a typical day of running errands, going out for lunch and doing a little sight-seeing later in the afternoon. You didn’t think we’d do this without a little bit of friendly competition, did you?

With Mike behind the wheel of the Nissan LEAF, Matt piloting the brand new Ford Focus Electric and Miranda bringing up the rear in the Chevrolet Volt, we began our test… a week before we got the cars.

You see, we discovered that a major part of owning an electric vehicle isn’t just thumbing your nose at gas-guzzlers, it’s planning. From calling various malls and restaurants to enquire about charging stations to calculating distances throughout the city, we needed to ensure our cars really could do what we wanted them to do. And we wouldn’t be remiss to do the same if we actually owned the vehicles we were driving.

Owning an electric vehicle isn’t just about changing your driving habits, it’s often about changing your routine as well. Always shopped at a specific mall? Well, what if they don’t have charging stations, but another a town over does? Chances are, you’re going to change your routine and go to the other mall from now on so you can charge while you shop.

So, from city driving (which included a bit of highway) to plenty of stop-and-go routes, as well as hill climbs galore, and a final stop in the park to feed the squirrels (read: sea gulls) we took our EVs a total of 80 km (free of A/C, sans radio tunes and with the windows up for optimal drag reduction) throughout the day with only two charging station stops: one for approximately 1.5 hours at lunch, and another for 25 minutes in the afternoon.

Whose car rose to the position of top EV? Read on to find out.

2013 Chevrolet Volt
Truly, we wanted the Volt to do better than it did. Despite that, before we even began our comparo drive, we’d already placed the 2013 Chevrolet Volt in last place. Knowing the Volt’s smaller electric range (and we intended to keep it on electric only throughout the day), we figured we’d be running the gas motor before the day was out.

Boy, were we wrong.

2013 Chevrolet Volt side view
Photo: Michel Deslauriers

First off, the Chevrolet Volt has the highest price. Starting at over $40k, the Volt might seem expensive to some, however, it also comes with “more.” For starters, not only does it have a 111 kW drive motor, but it also has a 55 kW generator motor on top of a 1.4L ECOTEC gas-powered engine. Yup, it has all that.

Many a conversation was centered around how Chevy can get away with calling the Volt an electric vehicle when it has a gas engine. It has a long and very complicated and technical answer. The layman’s version is this: The Chevrolet Volt is an electric vehicle because the battery-powered motors power the wheels and even when the gas motor kicks in, it is only acting as a generator for the batteries feeding power to the two electric motors driving the front wheels.

Charge times in the Volt are pretty much on par with the Focus and LEAF (despite holding a much smaller charge). On a standard 120V outlet it will take the Volt approximately 10 hours to fully recharge. And if you spring for the at-home 240V charging station, a full recharge will take a reduced 4 hours.

Now that we have that out of the way: The Chevrolet Volt is a pleasure to drive. It’s comfortable and you can almost forget it’s an electric vehicle (for the approximately 60 km range) thanks to the gas generator backup (read: zero range anxiety).

We began the comparo drive with a 62 km range with a 100% charge on the Volt’s dash. I wasn’t the least bit confident that the car would comply and last the day.

Like any good electric vehicle, the 2013 Chevrolet Volt is loaded with gadgets and technological trickery. The LCD display screen is loaded with so much information (from trip odometers to showing battery usage as well as front-crash warning sensors and tire pressure), it’s a bit intimidating.

Speaking of the gauge cluster LCD screen: We lost it for a portion of the comparo drive. Yup, it just plain shut off and wouldn’t come back on. We assumed the Chevrolet Volt was doing everything in its power to conserve energy and win the drive… After about 30 minutes or so of “blind” driving (speed is also shown on this cluster, obviously), the screen miraculously reappeared.

Despite this technological glitch, the 2013 Chevrolet Volt’s interior was overall pleasing to use and sit in. While it looked to be the largest when lined up beside the 2013 Ford Focus and 2012 Nissan LEAF, it felt the smallest inside. Tight-fitting quarters in the front and back lead to some disappointment.

And don’t even get us started on the white centre stack that consists of 99% touch-everything. Touch buttons are fantastic, in theory, and they look great from a design standpoint; however, when it comes to using them they are so frustrating.

When the electric battery eventually does drain on the Chevrolet Volt (which it did not do by the end of our drive day, by the way), gas mileage readings will be similar to an average subcompact sitting in the 4-5L/100km range.

So, how much was left on the 2013 Chevrolet Volt’s range reader by the end of the day? A whopping 16 km, that’s how much. But, you know what? It managed the entire day (80 km of hills, highway, start-stop, and all) on battery alone: Bravo, Volt, bravo.
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