If the transition to an electric car seems daunting, a test drive can allay concerns.
When I agreed to a 24-hour test drive of the new Chevy Volt, the first thing I did was search the Internet for charging stations. Not that I’d even need a charge during the test drive: The Chevy Volt is a totally new type of car technology that's not a hybrid, yet does have a gas generator so it’s not 100-percent electric. Thus, the car is suited to longer road trips than some electric cars.
Charging options in Midtown include and several plug-ins on the 12th floor of the parking garage at . So I booked a dinner reservation at on the date of my scheduled test drive in part to see how easy it is to charge the car, whether needed or not.
When I arrived at Jim Ellis Chevrolet Buick GMC Atlanta, Don Campbell provided an overview of the Volt before handing over the keys. After showing off the mechanics under the hood, he said that the Volt can get 40 miles on a full charge. So when I reached the 41st mile would I need to pull over? No. The gas generator kicks in to juice up the battery—this is where the Volt is unlike a hybrid car, because the gas assists the battery rather than fuel the car. “Switch into ‘mountain mode’ and for every 20-minutes of driving you get 15 miles of additional electric range,” says Campbell. (Future generations of the Volt will include a solar roof to help extend battery range.)
“There’s more software code in a Volt than in the space shuttle,” says Campbell. That becomes clear sitting behind the wheel for the first time. Before I even press the power button, two screens light up with graphic displays that rival my smart phone. The console boasts an array of touch-sensitive buttons reminiscent of an airplane cockpit. The car is unlike any I’ve ever seen.
After the introduction, it was time to take the Volt on the road, first around the block and then to Midtown. The car makes a sweet hissing noise when transitioning from a full stop into “go.” Once it’s moving, it makes barely a sound. There’s no engine noise, what you do hear is tires on pavement.
Driving the Volt is fun. It responds well, accelerates nicely and has a tight turn radius. It’s innovatively green, so grasping the leather steering wheel feels like grabbing the future.
The car was emblazoned with graphics, so even non-car-buffs took notice as I drove down Peachtree Street. But as significant as the curious and envious glances that the Volt drew were the number of fellow drivers and pedestrians who failed to look—because the Volt is no golf cart, scooter or hovering craft. It looks and feels like a regular car. And it handles like one, too.
Powering it is the only significantly noticeable difference from a conventional car and it couldn’t be easier. The charging stations at Loews Atlanta Hotel proved to be self-explanatory (much easier to figure out than my smart phone). If you can plug in a toaster, you can plug in a Volt. (A full charge using 120-volts takes eight hours; 240-volts takes half that time.)
After a very tasty dinner at Eleven--Chef Derek Rosen’s shrimp and grits ranks as one of my favorite interpretations of that classic Southern dish--I drove back to my condo. But I might have booked a stay with Loews Atlanta Hotel’s “Go Green, Save Green” package which includes an overnight stay in a luxurious room at a special low rate, free parking and a complimentary charge for your electric vehicle, and a welcome gift, Loews’ way of saying thanks for your earth-friendly attitude. (“Go Green, Save Green” packages start at $189 per night. For more information contact Lowes Atlanta Hotel at 404-745-4000.)
The next day I drove my usual routes, but with less guilt. A trip across town in a Volt consumes no gas, emits nothing. “A charge can cost $1.50 in electricity,” says Campbell. “How far will you get on $1.50 in gas?” Not 40 miles, that’s for sure. (The Charging Spot in Atlantic Station is free through the end of the year and will then cost $3.00 an hour—still a bargain compared to filling a gas tank.)
At the end of my test drive, when I returned the Volt to Jim Ellis Chevrolet Buick GMC Atlanta and hopped back into my car, I tweeted, “Sad my 24-hour test drive of @ChevyVolt from @ChevyLeader has ended. Feel like my chariot has turned back into a pumpkin.” This insight into the future made me sorry to go backwards.
Ever wonder what it feels like to travel in a time machine? Test-drive a Chevy Volt.