2014 Chevrolet Volt

The Chevrolet Volt is a compact plug-in hybrid hatchback with one of the most technologically advanced powertrains ever installed in a passenger vehicle. Though it is relatively expensive given its size and only offers seating for four, the Volt's big upside is nearly infinite fuel economy under certain driving conditions.

Recent Changes
The Volt is mechanically unchanged for the latest model year, although it does benefit from a significant price reduction.

Overview
Half of the Volt's powertrain consists of an electric motor with 150 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque and a 220-cell, 16 kWh lithium ion battery pack. This electric drive unit gives the Volt a 38-mile electric only range; if your commute or amount of daily driving is shorter than this distance, you could theoretically never have to put gas in the Volt, making it a financially and environmentally sensible car for customers with short-range driving needs.

For the previous year, the Volt received a few battery tweaks - GM describes them as "minor changes to the material composition of the battery cell chemistry" - that are sufficient to increase its EV-only range to 38 miles (up from 35) on a full charge. The EPA officially rates the Volt at 98 MPGe - miles per gallon equivalent - in pure electric mode, an increase of four over the last model year.

The downside to recent changes is that battery charging times are up slightly. Using a standard 120V household outlet, the Volt will now take 10.5 hours (compared to 10 hours), while a 240V charging unit now takes 4.25 hours (compared to 4 hours).

However, when the Volt is driven for more than 38 miles, the other half of its powertrain comes into play - a 1.4-liter gasoline engine that fires up to recharge the batteries and send power to the wheels under certain high-speed driving conditions. With the gas engine running, the Volt is rated at 35 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway - decent, but not spectacular numbers in comparison to normal hybrid vehicles, which often average in the mid fourties. Still, having the gasoline engine gives the Volt a useful total range of 380 miles before needing to fill up or recharge the batteries.

One of the compromises necessitated by the Volt's powertrain is seating for four occupants rather than the normal five - the T-shaped battery pack takes up the space normally occupied by the rear middle seat. Otherwise, the Volt's interior is small but fairly conventional in an intentional move to make the transition from gas-powered vehicles to the Volt less dramatic.

The center stack features a 7-inch touch screen that functions as both a navigation unit and a vehicle information display point. The climate controls are touch-sensitive, and relatively few traditional push buttons or turning knobs populate the dashboard. The digital instrument cluster is futuristic but easily decipherable and features a display that aids in building efficient driving habits.

The Volt's hatchback design is useful for loading cargo, but the trunk area only contains 10.6 cubic feet of stowage space - a function of space taken up by the battery pack as well as the car's sloping roofline.

Outside, the Volt's styling is mostly dictated by aerodynamics. A normal-looking grille is actually closed upon further inspection - its present for looks but isn't actually needed to help with cooling.

Standard and Optional Features
Standard features on the Volt include a keyless ignition/entry system, remote start, automatic climate control, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cBluetooth, OnStar with turn-by-turn navigation, MyLink includes Bluetooth smartphone integration, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system with an iPod jack and a touchscreen interface.

The options list includes a navigation system with voice commands, real-time traffic updates and 30 GB of music storage space and a Bose premium audio system. The Premium Trim package includes leather upholstery, heated front seats and a leather steering wheel, while the Rear Camera and Park Assist package brings a rearview camera along with front and rear parking sensors.

New interior accent colors include white and spiced red, while Summit White and Blue Topaz Metallic have been added to the exterior palette.

Occupant Safety
Every Volt comes standard with dual front and side airbags, dual front and rear head airbags and traction and stability control systems.

Key Competitors
Those looking for an ultra-green alternative to the Volt with bleeding-edge technology should consider all-electric cars like the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i and Ford Focus Electric as well as the upcoming Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid.