Super spec and a big price for Chevrolet's UK Volt

29 February 2012

Chevy Volt from the front

Chevrolet’s Volt will be offered in a single trim level costing from £29,995 including the government’s plug-in car grant, the company has confirmed today. The extended-range electric car will come generously equipped with an options list stretching only to an audio upgrade, shinier wheels and nicer paint.

Standard items include 17-inch wheels, heated leather seats, a leather-trimmed wheel, aircon, cruise control, keyless ignition and LED interior lighting. The centre console houses a 7-inch information screen hooked up to a reversing camera, supplemented by parking sensors front and rear. The stereo is a six-speaker DAB digital system, and there’s also a Bluetooth facility with voice recognition.

Even though the Volt carries its own on-board electricity generator, in the form of a 1.4-litre petrol engine under the bonnet, it has still been designed with an eye to energy efficiency. The glass will reflect some of the sun’s heat to minimise the need for aircon in summer, and even the stereo uses low-energy technology.

Chevrolet Volt interior

With a full charge from the mains, the Volt will manage 25 to 50 miles of pure electric motoring, depending on driving style, speed, gradients, and whether you need to use the lights, aircon and wipers.

Thereafter, the petrol engine will spin unobtrusively into life to carry on generating the electricity needed to keep you running. I’ve driven the Volt’s sister car, the Opel Ampera, and the transition from pure electric to petrol-electric power really is subtle and seamless.

“The Volt will never leave its driver stranded,” Chevrolet proclaims in its marketing blurb, “unlike some other electric cars that will only travel a finite distance between charges.”

Never is a long time coming and I wouldn’t cancel your breakdown cover just yet. Unlike some other electric cars, the Volt is not a simple electrical beast with a big bunch of cells hooked up to a motor. It has two drive motors, three clutches, a liquid-cooled battery and an entire petrol engine to go wrong.

Until we know how reliable the Volt is in the real world, the optional fixed-price servicing plan – just £349 for three years or 30,000 miles of oil changes and bolt tightening – would seem like a sensible investment. The service interval is one year or 10,000 miles.

Chevrolet Volt from the side

If anything really does go awry, Chevrolet offers a multi-stage warranty on the Volt, made up of 3-year/60,000-mile cover for the car as a whole, plus 6-year/unlimited mileage corrosion warranty, and finally 8 years or 100,000 miles of cover for the battery and drivetrain. Clearly the company is pretty confident its battery has been built to last.

To begin with, only two UK dealers will be equipped to sell and fiddle with the Volt. The pair are Cambridge Chevrolet, which unsurprisingly can be found in Cambridge, and Phoenix Chevrolet, located in Wimbledon, south-west London. Either will happily take your order today, with deliveries due to start next month.

Chevrolet’s news comes a day after Toyota coughed up some new details about its Prius Plug-in, which will vie directly with the Volt for customers. Toyota promised a starting price “below £30,000” for its mains-powered hybrid, after grants, putting it in direct financial contention with the Volt, assuming that below means about five quid under £30,000.

Toyota Prius Plug-in front view

If that’s the case, the Prius Plug-in’s price seems a little steep, given that a standard Prius starts at just £21,560. But it’s too soon to properly gauge values, as we don’t know what Toyota will include for your 30 grand. If it comes in all-boxes-ticked TSpirit spec, the price won’t seem so bad.

We can be sure that, price aside, the Toyota is a very different beast to the Volt with a much less ambitious electric-only range quoted at 15.5 miles. The upside is that the relatively puny battery in the Prius Plug-in will take only 90 minutes to recharge, while the Volt will require up to 6 hours hooked up to an ordinary socket, or 4 hours connected to an extra-cost home charging unit.

Which will be the sales winner? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to to wait and see what happens. But the Volt will get a decent head start. The Prius Plug-in won’t arrive in the UK for another six months or so.

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