Chevrolet Volt – The Perfect Compromise

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The all-new Chevrolet Volt may be the best solution today for moving to greener driving to reduce CO2 emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change. It’s an electric vehicle (EV) without the drawbacks.

The many advantages of driving an EV include smooth, quiet motoring, minimal service requirements, and the feeling that you’re part of the solution and not the problem.

The downsides of EVs include limited range and the long time it takes to recharge the batteries.

Regular hybrid vehicles combine gas engines with electric motors to extend your fuel out over more miles, but you never plug in. Plug-in hybrids provide a small all-electric range before becoming regular hybrids.

The Chevrolet Volt, which debuted for 2011, was designed as an electric car with a range extender: The Voltec electric drive system. You could charge it up, drive about 35 miles, and then its small gasoline engine kicked in to generate electricity to keep the motor moving the car along.

The totally redesigned 2016 Volt continues on this path, with huge upgrades. Generation one owners gave GM plenty of feedback. Gone are the hard plastic panels with haptic touch controls. The styling is in line with current Chevy gasoline vehicles, like the midsize Malibu. The new car looks great inside and out, with colors and metallic trim befitting a fancier vehicle.

What’s most important, though, is that the new Volt offers an electric range of 53 miles. In a week with my Mosaic Black Metallic test car, I drove in silent, serene full-electric mode for all of my commuting (18 miles each way to work and home), and all of my normal errands. On only two occasions did I need the extended range. The combined range for gas and electric is 420 miles.

When my Volt switched over to gasoline, the instrument panel indicated I had moved from battery power. I could hardly hear the engine when it engaged, and even when the battery was depleted, the car sometimes used it with power generated from braking.

An electric car is rated for MPGe. MPGe assigns a comparative value to the efficiency of different EVs, but it also stands alongside MPG. My week with the Volt generated 118.1 MPGe. The EPA’s ratings are 106 MPGe for electric mode and 42 MPG for gasoline (combined city/highway numbers). Green scores are 8 for Smog and a perfect 10 for Greenhouse Gas.

Compare that to a standard Prius, which gets 52 combined MPG. The Chevrolet Cruze, the Volt’s gasoline cousin, earns 35 MPG combined, itself a laudable number.

The electric motor puts out 149 horsepower (111 kW), and a strong 294 lb.-ft. of torque. The gas engine generates only 75 horsepower, but it’s meant to charge the car rather than drive it. Chevy claims an 8.4-second 0-60 time. I felt confident in it driving uphill on a winding road in the rain.

The Volt comes in LT and Premier levels. My Premier tester flaunted attractive two-tone interior with tan inserts and silvery trim winding around the dash. The center screen is nicely rendered and there’s a jaunty blue plastic top on the “shift” knob. The rear seat now offers a center position, but there’s not a whole lot of legroom for that person. The hatchback is convenient, although it’s a high liftover.

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The Drive Mode switch lets you configure the Voltec system. Use Normal mode for maximum efficiency, Sport mode to take advantage of the bountiful electric motor torque, or Mountain mode for maximum power on steep upgrades. The fourth mode, Hold, lets you preserve your battery charge and use only gasoline.

Regenerative braking is crucial for hybrids and EVs, but the Volt lets you prime the pump with a paddle on the left side of the steering wheel for “Regen on Demand.” Use it like a brake, while banking charge. With practice, you can drive almost without using the brake pedal at all.

The Volt has its own personality, with a greeting sound and a “wind down” tone it makes when you turn it off. Because the electric motor is silent when you start the car, the blue Power button is more like turning on your iPhone than turning over your engine.

The LT starts at $34,820 and the Premier, with heated leather seats, a Bose stereo system, and more, starts at $39,270. My tester listed for $39,850. Various leasing options, plus some Federal and State rebates, can make these cars easier to drive home.

While an all-electric car may be the ideal way to go, it’s not practical for everyone today. But if you want a compact car that’ll do pretty much everything and let you drive electric most of the time, the Volt is a great solution.

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Fiat 500e – The Cutest EV in Town

[Note: This article will appear in the San Leandro Times and Tri-City Voice newspapers soon. It’s exactly the size and style of car reviews I’ve written weekly since early 1992 (more than 1,150 of them). But this little car was special to me, both because I kept it so much longer than the others but also because I loved almost everything about it, from the color to the design to the carrying capacity to the total avoidance of gas stations.]

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Most people understand that we are facing a climate crisis. Much of global warming comes from burning carbon, which creates CO2, which accumulates and, thanks to the greenhouse effect, keeps more of the Earth’s heat in, leading to rising temperatures, and all the consequences.

Driving an electric car is a positive response to this crisis. The Fiat 500e is one of the most affordable ones, and it’s a joy to drive.

It’s certainly the cutest electric car out there. The retro design is based on the 1957-1975 500, which served as Italy’s VW Beetle or Mini—an affordable and beloved people’s car. The gasoline model arrived 2011, and in 2013, the all-electric version debuted.

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Fiat graciously sent me the Celeste Blue model with the black and steam (white) interior I ordered for a three-month test. When the car was delivered, I photographed it, and a rainbow came out. That was a good omen.

The driving experience has been wonderful. With 600 extra pounds of batteries over the gas version, the 500e sits firm and stable on the road.

The old-fashioned dash panel brings a smile. Chrome circles surround the gauges and controls, and the white plastic panels emulate the original car’s painted metal surfaces.

But this is no retro ride. It’s got full climate control, loads of airbags, heated seats, a navigation system, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Bluetooth, and much more. The white leather steering wheel gives an upscale look and feel, like something from Coach.

The 83 kW motor puts out 111 horsepower and 147 lb.-ft. of torque. It moves the nearly 3,000-pound 500e along like a mini rocket.

The standard gasoline version has more horsepower (135) but much less torque (97), so the 500e is more fun. The one-speed transmission (no shifting needed with electric motors) is a set of four push buttons on the console.

The 500e’s 24 kWh lithium-ion battery is rated at 84 miles per charge, although with careful driving, I often charged it up to a reading of as much as 109 miles. The battery comes with an 8 year, 100,000-mile warranty.

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For electrics, the EPA uses the MPGe calculation in place of MPG (no gallons). The 500e earns 121 City, 103 Highway, and 112 Combined. I averaged 138.2 MPGe driving 2,829 miles. The Smog and Greenhouse Gas numbers are both top-score 10’s.

I took my little Fiat everywhere, except on longer trips. I didn’t want to risk running out of charge. It easily handled my 18-mile-each-way commute every day and went on a variety of errands around town.

Thanks to the folding rear seats and hatchback, I carried my upright bass to orchestra rehearsals and concerts. I schlepped Blues band gear to shows. I hauled loads of groceries.

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I did most of my charging at work, on a nice set of six ChargePoint units. I plugged in when I arrived, and by late morning, the ChargePoint charger sent me a text that the battery was full. I went down and unplugged, so another EV driver could charge up.

We have an informal community of EV drivers at work, and people are excited about their cars and want to talk about them.

Charging at 240 volts (Level 2) at work takes only a few hours. At home, at 120 volts (Level 1), it takes overnight and then some. If you own an EV, you should look into installing your own Level 2 charger.

Driving is blissfully silent, with minimal road or wind noise, which means great music listening.

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The simple instrument panel features a center round gauge that prominently displays digital speed and range. On the left, there’s a graphical and numerical display of battery charge. On the right, you can monitor driving behavior with colors on a curved bar. Eco—green—is normal driving. Power—red—is when you’re accelerating hard for passing or entering the freeway. Charge—blue—indicates regenerative braking, which helps recharge the battery without plugging in.

My daily charge at work cost about $2 to $2.50. Electricity would be cheaper at night at home. The window sticker states that the estimated annual fuel cost is $600, a $6,000 savings over the average car. And maintenance costs are very low for EVs, with no oil changes and fewer moving parts to break.

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My car retailed at $33,190. However, most of these cars are leased, and some amazing deals are available. Federal and State rebates help make it affordable. Gas-powered 500s start at just $18,490.

I fell for my baby blue Fiat 500e, and named him Fidelio. I’ll truly miss having him around. He was totally charming, relaxing to commute in, and handled all my normal driving needs. And for longer trips, we just took the family car.

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Goodby to Fidelio, My Fiat 500e

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April 22 wasn’t a day I was looking forward to. After just over three months, it was time to turn in my test Fiat 500e, Fidelio. But, I did what I had to do, and handed over the keys.

I’ll publish the article that will appear in my newpaper venues and their websites in my next blog post. All of these blogs have been part of my day-to-day life with an all-electric car.

Fidelio performed just as he had to, and took care of all of my needs, except one. His range, at 84 official miles and a little more in reality, was perfect for commuting and errands, but just not enough to make him a car for all reasons. Would that be enough to keep me from running out and buying a twin of this sweet little car? Maybe. For now, I have lots of happy memories. He was completely charming and ran flawlessly.

Stevegoesgreen.com will continue to cover electric and hybrid (and alternative fuel) vehicles. Stay tuned!

His last photo.

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Hooray for Public Chargers!

As I ascended the hill on the way to Pleasanton yesterday, I looked down at my range indicator and saw that it might be a little risky making it home on the return trip. The number was in the 20’s, and with the climb back, I got a little nervous. The solution? Public charging!

Because I’ve been organized around charging at work and occasionally at home, I haven’t really used public chargers. But I was set up for it, and that’s what I did.

First, I consulted the Plugshare app on my phone. It showed me two options within a couple blocks of my brunch destination.

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I pulled in behind the old Library on Main Street, and there was a single Chargepoint station, ready for me.

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I backed in, and plugged in and that was that. With Plugshare, I was able to check in, and even post a photo of Fidelio getting his electricity.

We had a relaxed brunch at Nonni’s Bistro, a favorite destination, and walked around a bit in downtown Pleasanton, a place that deserves its name. I checked the progress of my charge using the ChargePoint app. Notice at the bottom, the progress–miles of charge–is displayed.

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By the time I got back to the car, it was 100% charged. Now that’s the way it’s supposed to work. And it cost me $1.00 an hour.

It was a happy story, but I wondered what would have happened if the charger was occupied? What if there wasn’t one nearby? We need to build out the infrastructure as more and more EVs hit the roads, just for this purpose. Charging at home and at work is great, but sometimes you need it on-the-go.

 

Fidelio the Fiat 500e — Coming Soon to Video

There’s one week left on my little blue Fiat 500e’s visit, and what better time than to record a video review!

It’s going to take some time while Chet Wehe, master videographer, edits the rough take down to a perfect final version, but you can count on seeing a link to it here soon. Here’s Chet setting up the shot.

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You can see some of my old video reviews on Youtube. The ones with me in them there are my work from 2013.

Standing in the back parking lot off the community golf course on a warm Spring morning, I got to say what I think–out loud–about this car. I love it, and am sad to know it’s going to be gone soon. Unlike a weekly press car, this one has made itself at home. My goal of living with an EV has been accomplished, and I know how great they are for me.

Electric cars are wonderful for short trips (up to 30 miles or so), because of their charging and recharging limitations, but life is good when you’re cruising down any road under electric power. No vibration, little sound, strong torque, and a sense of just moving forward, not of forcing an engine to do it. Motors are like that.

I gave Fidelio a bath for his movie debut, and enjoyed removing the accumulated dirt from his little blue body.IMG_4636

As I say in the video, this is certainly the cutest EV out there. Turns out it’s a really effective one, too. No problems, plenty of comfort, generous carrying capacity (despite its diminutive size), clear and full audio, fine brakes. The controls connect you directly to the tires, so you sense where you are. Who would have thought it would be so much fun?

I need to consider what to do next. I’d love to own a 500e, but should I hold out for a car with more range? Do I really need another car? Is it important that you love your car? (I certainly think so).

 

Enough Charge for that Extra Trip

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Part of the deal with using your EV for daily commuting is that you know you have enough charge to get home. But what if you need to take an extra side trip?

Yesterday, I got a chance to meet up with a favorite former boss–but it was 24 miles away–in the opposite direction from my house! I headed south on Interstate 101 from San Mateo to Santa Clara in precommute traffic with a full charge, and was pleased to see 85 miles on the range counter sit there for quite a while. Even with mostly free-flowing traffic, I got to my destination with a comfortable cushion.

Heading north along Interstate 880 later, I completed my 33-mile homeward trip and pulled into the driveway with 22 miles left on the clock. Whew.

What this meant was twofold: First, I had enough to get where I needed to go, and second, I had to make sure to put my Fiat 500e on the home charger ASAP to be sure there’d be plenty of charge for tomorrow. And that’s what I did.

While the major downside to most EVs is limited range, it doesn’t have to be a big deal–if you charge when you can, and for the longer trips–take your other car. It didn’t limit me yesterday, for which I’m grateful.

 

 

EVs and their Sociable Drivers

Call it a cult, but EV drivers, I’ve found, are a sociable bunch. We love to talk about our cars, look at each other’s rides, and learn more about the EVs we don’t have yet, such as the Tesla Model 3, which has received more than 325,000 $1,000 deposits in just a few days.

I like to group my little Fiat, Fidelio, with other cars, too. Then, I talk with the owners. Sometimes, I just park him near the other EVs and snap away. Here are a few recent shots.

This one just happened – One Fiat, two Nissan Leafs, in repose.

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And for good measure, here’s Fidelio with one  of his Tesla friends–also at the office.

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And, tonight, three members of the Castro Valley Chamber Orchestra brought their cars together for a photo after a two-hour rehearsal. From left to right, Esteban’s 2016 Tesla, Bev’s 2016 Chevy Volt, and Fidelio, my 2016 Fiat 500e.

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They’re lucky. Although we all just started driving these shiny new cars, they get to keep theirs. But Fidelio has to go  back to the fleet in 10 days. I’m sad. When you live with an EV for months, it grows on you. The smooth, quiet ride, the silent cabin where the radio plays so clearly. The never stopping at the gas station. The torque.

The Tesla and Fiat 500e are pure electrics, while the Volt–in the center above–is a plug-in hybrid. But the Volt will go up to 53 miles on a charge, so if you don’t travel too far, you can use it as an electric car virtually all the time. In fact, Bev tells me that the new Volt will burn off the gas automatically if it gets too old!