There it is – the Holden Volt joins the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG and C 63 AMG in garnering Car Showroom’s top score. Make no mistake; Holden has changed the new vehicle landscape with the Volt – a mid-size hatchback which is a ‘range-extender’ electric vehicle.
With a total range between refills of premium unleaded fuel of more than 600kms and an all-electric range of 87kms there is no doubt the Holden Volt can be the everyday car of most Australians.
Sure at $59,990 the Holden Volt is not cheap, but game-changers often aren’t. Or as Holden chief Mike Devereux put it: “It might not be the biggest or most luxurious Holden we sell, but in many ways it’s our flagship model.”
Holden Volt What You Get
For starters the four-seat Holden Volt looks fabulous. With styling unlike any other Holden, the Volt – sold in North America as a Chevrolet – has immediate ‘Street Cred’.
A cleverly-designed mid-size hatchback with a slick, contemporary interior to match its outside looks, the Holden Volt is generously equipped - luxurious even - and of course boasts a mind-boggling arsenal of technology which will have your neighbours and mates spell-bound when you pull silently into your driveway.
At 4489mm in overall length the Holden Volt is definitely a mid-sizer so it has ‘presence’ on-road - but the drivetrain is the headline act.
Petrol isn’t required for operation, but a 1.4-litre petrol engine is used to provide electric drive when the battery is depleted. The two electric motors are powered by a 288-cells lithium ion battery mounted underneath.
The Holden Volt can be re-charged from any normal power outlet and, if the battery is completely depleted, consumes 2.5MWh of electricity to re-charge (that’s less than most refrigerators use each day and is about the same as an electric hot water system). A full charge will therefore cost about $2.50.
Bet you’re wondering about service costs…Holden has that covered too. Volt comes with a full three years/100,000kms warranty plus an eight years/160,000 transferable warranty for the battery and Voltec components. There’s also capped-price servicing - $185 each for the first four scheduled services within the first three years/100,000kms.
Holden Volt Engine
Holden Volt is powered by two electric motors which provide 111kW/370Nm. As well as providing drive, one of the electric motors does double-duty as a generator.
Transmission fluid is used to cool the electric motors and their operation is covered via three clutches, one planetary gear set and a geared final drive. That means instantaneous acceleration.
A 63kW, 1.4-litre petrol engine provides power to the electric motors when the battery is depleted (that’s the ‘range-extender’ technology). This engine is a modified version (naturally aspirated) of the turbocharged engine fitted to the Holden Cruze and was selected for the Volt application because of its light weight.
Holden Volt has three driver-select drive modes. ‘Normal’ is the default mode and ‘Sport’ provides quicker torque application for better throttle response. The interesting mode is ‘Hold’ which, as the name suggests, employs the petrol generator to ‘hold’ the battery charge at the full level.
And for that we can thank London Mayor Boris Johnstone. Londoners pay an extra tax for driving cars with exhaust emissions in England’s capital city, so by maximizing the battery charge using the ‘Hold’ mode, Volt drivers can then enter London and drive for up to 87kms tax-free…or in our case here in Australia drive in the city with zero emissions. And that’s good news for Sydney residents with Lord Mayor Clover Moore a keen fan of the London tax.
A T-shaped lithium ion battery pack, with its own water cooling system, is mounted mostly under the rear seats. The 288 cell unit is rated at 165kwh. Lithium ion batteries are the best current technology and were perfect for the Holden Volt as they are less prone to lose charge when not being used and don’t have to run-down completely before being re-charged.
When the battery is depleted, using normal 240V power from home or workplace, the Holden Volt can be re-charged completely in less than six hours using a 10A point, under 10 hours using a 6A point, or the Better Place system does the job in less than four hours.
Holden Volt The Interior
Unlike some compact electric cars, the Holden Volt provides a full-size interior – albeit with four individual seats – and a deep boot with around 300-litres of cargo capacity. Volt boasts a premium interior too with nice leather seats (fronts heated) and real quality look and feel for other trim materials and carpets.
As you would expect, instrumentation is cutting-edge and includes two seven-inch colour LCD screens which provide information overload including real-time displays of power flows and a clever ball-type graph to encourage optimized, energy-efficient driving styles.
The steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach and the driver enjoys a sporty position, snugly held in the sporty seat.
Infotainment is a 30BG hard-drive system with satellite navigation, DVD player, voice recognition and the usual connectivity. There’s also a rear-view camera, cruise control and a couple of firsts for Holden – lane departure warning and forward collision alert.
Legroom for the two rear seats is impressive and with a gap between them, Holden Volt can handle longer items stored in the luggage compartment.
Eight airbags are standard and the Holden Volt scored the maximum five-star safety rating in the ANCAP barrier test.
Holden Volt Exterior & Styling
The Holden Volt has an immediate on-road presence with a unique look which is dynamic and contemporary.
Naturally optimized aerodynamics were crucial (Cd 0.28) and you don’t have to look far to see some examples. The front fascia is flush, the grille and front corners are tapered, the front and rear glass are both prominently raked and there’s a stylish rear spoiler.
The rear hatch itself is a stylish masterpiece and the large glasshouse affords a light/airy feel for the interior.
Holden Volt rides on good-looking, lightweight 17-inch alloy wheels.
Holden Volt On The Road
Here’s the exciting part. While we weren’t able to put the Holden Volt through the normal Car Showroom test procedure – we will shortly – our brief drive around Sydney showed overseas reports haven’t stretched the truth…it’s the real deal.
Holden Volt runs a sophisticated McPherson strut front suspension system which makes extensive use of alloy components and a hollow 26.5mm anti-roll bar to save weight. At the rear a similarly complex torsion beam independent layout is deployed (the latter enabling fitment of the 35.2-litre pressurized fuel tank).
With a long wheelbase (2685mm), wide track (1554/1577mm) and a ride height some 40mm lower than conventional hatchbacks, the Holden Volt adopts a sporty suspension calibration which is part of the reason behind its slick driving dynamics.
As expected, acceleration is brisk – the Volt gets out of the blocks fast with an impressive surge. A couple of times we needed to crack the whip for mid-range acceleration to merge into fast-moving freeway traffic and again the Holden Volt’s response was instantaneous, probably on-par with a V6-powered conventional vehicle – very impressive.
Of course this is all done silently with a hushed whine from the electric motors and minimal tyre noise.
Although we didn’t do any high-speed stuff, we liked the way the Volt turned-in with high-standard directness and good feedback from the ZF-developed power steering.
Similar story over bumps and pot-holes. In fact, while the absence of mechanical noise sometimes brings excess suspension noise into the picture with electric vehicles, good sound-proofing in the Holden Volt alleviated that potential negative.
Holden Volt Challenges
Holden says the Volt’s four-seat capacity is dictated by storage of the lithium ion battery pack. But that four individual seat layout may be a deal-breaker for some buyers.
Holden Volt Verdict
For electric vehicles to deliver sales in significant numbers, the ‘range-extender’ technology - which is the heart of the Holden Volt - is the key. Driving the Holden Volt from Sydney to Melbourne is a one-stopper for re-fuelling – it’s as simple as that.
No more ‘range-anxiety’ as they say. Of course 80 per-cent of us live in metropolitan areas so realistically the Holden Volt – like the Nisan LEAF and Mitsubishi i-MiEV – can handle the daily commute purely on electric power.
But it’s more than that. The Holden Volt looks good and provides driving dynamics even enthusiast drivers will appreciate.
In many ways the Holden Volt is the most significant car we’ll drive in 2012. This is the future of the automotive industry.
Holden Volt The Competition
As the only extended range electric vehicle currently available in Australia, the Holden Volt has no peers.
Of course entry to electric vehicles is Mitsubishi’s compact i-MiEV hatchback at $48,800.
Nissan’s electric LEAF hatchback has more space than the i-MiEV and is priced at $51,500.