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Top 12 cars of 2012: Chevrolet Volt

There was no better preparation for a year driving the Chevrolet Volt than spending a year in a Nissan Leaf. The biggest downside of the Leaf was its restricted range and prolonged recharging time. Unlike the Leaf, which relies entirely on its battery pack, the electrically driven Volt has the advantage of a back-up, petrol-powered generator. At a stroke, the Volt overcomes the problem of ‘range anxiety’ and has a potential generator range of 270 miles per (small) tank of fuel.

Although the battery pack is smaller and less powerful than the Leaf’s, the Volt should (unless it is the middle of winter) deliver a 35-mile range from the battery pack, enough for a daily round-trip commute. And it you want to take the Volt further afield, it will run happily just on the petrol engine/generator, which is why it is the first really viable car driven primarily by electricity.

Based on a heavily modified and widened version of the GM Delta platform (which is also used under the Astra), the Volt has a five-and-a-half-foot, 198kg, T-shaped battery that runs down the centre tunnel and under the rear seats. Up front, it has a transversely mounted, 1.4-litre petrol engine, good for 85bhp, driving a 72bhp generator, which can supply an electrical charge straight to the electric motor that drives the front wheels.

In terms of down-the-road performance, what really matters is the output of the electric motor. This delivers 149bhp and a very healthy 273lb ft of torque from the moment it starts running. The electric motor’s combination of silence, smoothness and fat torque curve is enhanced by the single-ratio transmission. You can’t get smoother gearchanges than no changes.

Like the Leaf before it, the Volt’s effortless pace and drivetrain refinement in battery mode would shame a serious luxury car, although the Volt doesn’t quite have the exceptional urban ride and refinement that marks out the Leaf. And when the Volt is in generator mode, the peace of the cabin is sometimes intruded upon by the engine. Compared with a typical diesel, however, the Volt is almost executive-car silent.


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