Here’s a round-up of reviews about Chevy’s flagship plug-in electric vehicle hybrid, the 2011 edition of the Volt.
Edmunds – 2011 Chevrolet Volt
Edmunds does a good job of explaining exactly what the Volt is:
“The Volt is a four-seat, four-door ‘series-parallel plug-in hybrid’ hatchback with a lithium-ion battery pack that can power the car’s 149-horsepower (111-kilowatt) electric motor by itself for an estimated 40 miles in the city. After that, the gasoline-powered inline-4 engine primarily supplies electricity to the motor for as many as 300 additional miles. All told, the Volt is the most advanced hybrid to date and quite possibly the most fuel-efficient car you will be able to buy.”
They note that there is no standard way to determine fuel-efficiency. If you never fully deplete the battery (by going a short distance at an easy clip and recharging the car every night) then you may never use any fuel. But over longer distances, you’ll use gas. Edmunds measured the fuel economy of the Volt with an empty battery and found it to be 31.4 mpg. In their long-term road test, they found the Volt varied between 47.9 and 111.5 in “apparent” MPG.
The Nissan Leaf is a major attempt at delivering the prototypical electric car that will revolutionize green personal transportation. Let’s see what the automotive press has to say about this year’s model.
MotorTrend – Full Drive: 2011 Nissan Leaf (10/27/10)
The review team at MotorTrend has this to say about the Leaf: “It’s mostly unremarkable as a ‘Car of the Future.’ And while that may seem like damning it with faint praise, it’s really the highest praise this car can be given.” The point being is that this is an approachable car for the mass car-buying demographic. In fact, they say that driving the Leaf is just like driving any other gas-powered four-cylinder hatchback and the electric car learning curve was painless.
The review spends some time discussing the Leaf’s range (averaging 100 miles, but dropping to 60 in difficult conditions like winter rush hour) and charging time (20 hours at 120 volts, 8 hours at 240 volts). They note that “Nissan is banking on the advent of ‘Quick Charge’ stations wired to commercial-grade 440-volt power supplies that can give you an 80-percent charge in just 30 minutes.” How much would it cost to charge? Charging prices are difficult to gauge, because electricity utility rates vary by location and even time of day. In Los Angeles, they estimate, “It works out to anywhere from $1.10 to $3.84 for a full charge.”
The BMW 335d is a diesel-burning luxury mid-size sedan. Originally released in 2009, this car has garnered breathless reviews. It’s apparently a lot of fun to drive. Unfortunately, 2011 will be the last production year for this car, as BMW makes way for its next generation of the 3-series. Apart from a new Sport package and better stereo equipment, the car has remained the same since 2009. All the reviews mentioned are for 2009, except for Automobile’s, which covers 2010.
MotorTrend – First Drive: 2009 BMW 335d (October 2008)
MotorTrend is practically panting when its review starts: “Prepare to have your prejudices shattered and your perceptions altered. Prepare to relearn everything you thought you knew about performance cars. Prepare to drive the 2009 BMW 335d.”
What drives every red-blooded reviewer crazy is the 335d’s engine, which MotorTrend describes as “a twin-turbo, 3.0L straight-six that delivers 265 hp… and a thumping 425 lb-ft of torque between 1750 and 2250 rpm.” It’s paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, going from 0 to 60 mph in six seconds. And, because it’s a diesel, fuel efficiency is 23 mpg city and 36 mpg on the highway.
To the average American car buyer, diesel is synonymous with truckers, farm equipment, and an upscale clothing brand. For Europeans however, diesel is the must-have fuel for those who can’t stomach the $8.70/gal (current average price in Germany) for gasoline. With diesel selling for $1 less per gallon and providing greater fuel economy, it’s no wonder more Europeans prefer diesel cars. While American fuel prices remain far cheaper, recent price hikes have had more people asking: where’s our diesel option?
A host of factors have contributed to the dearth of diesel cars here in the United States. Until 2007, the allowable sulfur content in American diesel fuel was far higher than in Europe, requiring manufacturers to completely re-engineer engines for our market. While the sulfur content is now the same, American limits on NOx and NO2 emissions are still significantly lower than their European counterparts, demanding use of an expensive urea-injection additive such as AdBlue to meet standards. Higher labor costs have also been an issue, as most diesels built in European countries suffer from unfavorable exchange rates when exported overseas. Building a diesel engine factory in either the U.S. or Mexico would reduce labor cost – if buyers can be found for the 350,000 units a year a typical $350 million factory puts out. Finally, EPA certification for a new engine adds even more to the bottom line.