Extended range electric something to talk about

Iím not going to be so bold as to say I have driven the future of transportation, but after spending a week behind the wheel of Chevroletís new Volt extended range electric car, I feel confident in saying Iíve had a sneak peak at whatís down the road.

The Chevy Volt is definitely worthy of all the publicity this vehicle has generated during the past three years of its development.

It is truly unlike anything thatís on the road today.

It is not a hybrid vehicle, although it does have both an electric motor and a gas engine.

And you do plug it in.

On a full charge, the Volt is capable of operating in full electric mode for up to 40 miles. Thatís 40 miles without using any gasoline or burning any emissions.

If you need to drive beyond the range of the vehicleís batteries, the 1.4-liter gasoline engine powers the vehicle for a combined range of up to 379 miles before you need to fill it up with gas ó just like a regular car.

And since everyone asks this question, it has a top speed of 100 mph, even in electric mode.

The Volt actually performs and handles more like a sports car, opposed to the perception that most folks have of alternative fuel vehicles.

The concept behind the four-passenger, front-wheel drive Volt is to provide a fuel-efficient, nearly zero emissions mode of transportation that also gives owners the flexibility of not being totally dependent on an available power outlet.

For those who drive 40 or fewer miles a day, it is possible to never use a drop of gas by operating in total electric mode. Just plug it into the outlet in the garage at night and youíre good to go with a full charge the next morning. (A full charge using 120V outlet takes 10-12 hours while using a 240V outlet takes about four hours).

Based on current electric rates, it comes out to about 4-cents a mile in electric only mode ó or an EPA equivalent rating of 93 mpg for electric only driving.

In full gas-engine mode, the Volt has an EPA fuel economy rating of 37 mpg.

In real world driving, most users will need to operate beyond the 40-mile electric only range, requiring both electric motor and gas engine, resulting in a combined EPA fuel economy rating of 60 mpg.

And yes, when it comes to recharging, thereís an ap for that.

You can actually plug in the Volt and using the Volt ap on your smart phone, instruct the car when to charge in case you want to take advantage of lower electric rates during certain periods of the day and even monitor the progress.

And if you can recharge your smart phone, you can recharge the Volt.

Inside, the four seats are roomy and comfortable. The interior is very sleek ó Iíd even go so far as to say luxurious. It even features a state-of-the-art touch sensitive power stack that controls all the vehicleís systems ó including an amazing Bose audio system that not only sounds great, but also uses less energy than most traditional auto sound systems.

And yes, it is loaded with safety features, including eight standard airbags, stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes and OnStar, to name but a few.

It also comes with an eight-year100,000-mile warranty on the battery system (five-years on the gas engine).

The Volt has a base price of $41,000 ($33,500 after the $7,500 federal income tax credit). Some states offer additional tax credits.

While the base model is nicely equipped, buyers also have the option of two packages: Premium Trim Package and a Rear Camera and Park Assist Package.

Iím impressed. For car owners looking for ways to spend less at the pump, the Volt is in a class by itself. It is certainly an impressive vehicle and should be at the top of the list for anyone considering an alternative fuel vehicle.

Neal White has been covering the automotive industry for more than 20 years and is affiliated with the Texas Auto Writers Association.

MODEL:

2011 Chevrolet Volt

4-seat extended range electric vehicle†

Front-wheel drive

PRICE RANGE:

$41,000-$44,000 (before $7,500 federal tax credit)

ENGINE:

Electric motor powered by rechargable lithium-ion batteries with 40-mile range on full charge (149 hp/368 torque)

1.4-L I4 gas engine with combined range of up to 379 miles

TRANSMISSION:

Electric drive (automatic)

EPA: 93/37/60 mpg (electric only/gas only/combined)

FUEL: Premium unleaded

SUSPENSION:† Independent MacPherson strut-type with side-loaded strut modules, specially tuned coil springs, direct-acting hollow stabilizer bar, hydraulic ride bushings (front); specially adapted compound crank (torsion beam) with double-walled, U-shaped profile at the rear, specifically tuned coil springs, hydraulic bushings (rear).

TRACTION CONTROL:

StabiliTrak stability control with traction control

BRAKES: ABS

LENGTH: 177.1 inches

WHEELBASE: 105.7 inches

WIDTH: 70.4 inches

HEIGHT: 56.3 inches

WEIGHT: 3,781 lbs.

TRACK: 61.2/62.1

(front/rear)

FUEL TANK: 9.3 gallons

TIRES: 17-inch

CARGO: 10.6 cubic feet

TOP SPEED: 100 mph

MADE AT: GMís Hamtramck Assembly Plant in Hamtramck, Mich.