I drove to Orillia and back at the weekend in the Chevrolet Volt. It was a trip down Memory Lane.
I started in the newspaper business 50 years ago this summer (yes, that’s correct: fifty) at the Orillia Packet & Times. I was a reporter and photographer and I did everything, from writing about traffic
accidents to reporting on hockey and baseball.
I particularly liked being sent out to do “Man on the Street” interviews, in which I would ask pretty girls the questions and then convince them to give me their phone numbers.
I had a great time in that town.
I loved the Volt. I particularly liked the get-up-and-go. You hit the throttle and it feels like there’s a 12-cylinder engine under the hood. So the power is terrific.
Now, I’m tall and it’s not easy for me to get into cars that are low to the ground like the Volt (which is why I’ve always favoured vans or SUVs for my personal vehicles — you climb up into them, rather than down). But once you’re into the Volt’s cockpit, it’s cozy. The steering wheel and the seat can both be adjusted for maximum comfort and the controls are functional and within easy reach.
My wife and my youngest son are both tall – Duncan is more than six feet and still growing – yet found the back seats to have plenty of room, which can be a real plus. They particularly liked the “bucket”
seats in the back, which gave them a sense of security as well as comfort.
The reason they were in the back was because my Aunt Jean was beside me in the front seat. Aunt Jean – Jean Snell, retired secretary to the principal at the long-gone Duke of York Public School in downtown Toronto – was born in 1917 and has known about cars her entire life. In fact, she’s owned four of her own (and drove them herself until three years ago, when she decided to pack in that part of her life). She was very impressed with the electric Volt but wasn’t sure if she would buy one.
I drove the Volt around Toronto all day Saturday and plugged it into my 110-volt garage outlet when I got home to Mississauga around 7 on Saturday evening. When I went out Saturday morning at 9:30, it was fully charged.
However, and here come the negatives, the full charge was only good for 69 kilometres. Orillia is a lot farther away than 69 kilometres – 140 kms, to be precise. Yes, I had a tank of gas and I know that an onboard gas generator produces electricity to keep the car going. But the point – for me, anyway – of driving an electric car is to not use any gasoline, period.
So my full charge of 69 kilometres was only good to get me about halfway up Highway 400 to Barrie
before I was out of juice and had to go on the gas. Now, the transition is seamless and that’s good but
when I got to Orillia I couldn’t find a charging station, so after I walked around for four or five hours I drove all the way back to Mississauga on gasoline. I wasn’t really saving any fossil fuels, or so I felt.
In an event, I plugged in the Volt at 7 p.m. when I got home and when I went out the next morning at 6:30 a.m. to take the car into Toronto for work, it only had 62 kilometres of power stored. So a 110-volt current isn’t enough to fully charge a Volt battery in under 12 hours and I wonder about that.
I know EV batteries are works in progress but somebody’s going to have to pick up the pace if these things are ever going to become popular.
I wasn’t crazy about the jumble of information presented on the dashboard; in fact, I found it distracting. And the centre console needs a redesign because I kept hitting my coffee cup with my elbow (I’m not making that up; the beverage holders are so far back you’d think they were really there for the back-seat passengers).
But at the end of the day, I was impressed with the Volt. I was pre-disposed to not like it, but the positives outweighed the negatives for me.
I’m still not sold on an EV as my primary vehicle – my round-trip commute from home to the Toronto Star is 70 kilometres, so I couldn’t do the trip in the Volt on electricity alone – but for two-car families in which the second is primarily used to take the kids to ballet or the family to the mall or grocery shopping, I don’t think you could beat an electric car.
At the end of the day, that’s maybe how they’ll be marketed:
“Chevrolet Volt EV – the perfect second car.”
NORRIS McDONALD, Wheels Editor