volt

The Decision

For about a year, I had been thinking about getting a new car.  The car I had been driving, a 2007 Subaru Outback LL Bean edition, got poor gas mileage (22 MPG on average, with a v6 engine), and had 120k miles on it. It was time for something newer, and more fuel efficient.

Goodbye, Subie!
I can plug-in and recharge at work for free, so something of the plug-in variety made a lot of sense.  I also wanted an ICE (gas engine) on board for longer road-trips (which eliminated the Leaf from comparison).  That criteria narrowed my choices down to: Plug-in Prius, BMW 3i, Chevy Volt, or a Tesla. The Tesla is too much money to spend on a car that depreciates; the BMW 3i felt cheap on the inside when I did a test drive.
The BMW i3 interior felt cheap.
And uncomfortable.
The exterior was nice though.
A plug-in Prius doesn't have quite enough battery range (~11 miles) for what I'd like (my daily commute is 18 miles each way), so a Chevy Volt was ideal.

Initial Impression

I did several test drives in a Volt, and I was very impressed with the handling, steering, quick and powerful acceleration when I floored it, and the safety features of the two safety packages (warning bells if I'm approaching the car in front too fast, or swerving out of my lane, as well as parking assist and a rear-view camera).

I was not impressed with the center stack controls, which seem to duplicate the touch screen controls, and seem somewhat randomly placed, with touch surfaces rather than buttons.  I also could not find an ideal place to mount my cell phone (which I use for navigation).

Purchase

I purchased the car from Phi Le at Courtesy Chevrolet in San Jose. It was a generally good purchasing experience as far as buying a car goes. I financed the car at 0% interest for 48 months.

What Did I Get?

Basically, I got a fully-loaded car.
  • 2014 Volt
  • Black exterior
  • Jet black leather seats, black accents, black leather trim
  • 17" sport alloy wheels with black inserts
  • Premium trim package (leather seats, heated seats, rear seat armrest storage)
  • Enhanced safety package 1 (auto dimming mirror, rear park assist, rear camera)
  • Enhanced safety package 2 (front park assist, lane departure warning, collision avoidance)
  • Chevy MyLink Radio with Nav (I didn't want navigation since I use Waze on my phone, but that wasn't an easy configuration to get at my dealership, so I gave in on navigation)
  • Premium Bose sound system (7 speakers - the subwoofer is in the cargo area near the 12v battery)
  • Extended warranty (60 months / 100k miles for $1,995) (purchased from dealer)


(photos from Chevy Volt website)

Aftermarket & Add-On's

I purchased most of these accessories and add-on's from Amazon.
  • All weather floor mats (GM # 19243441)
  • All weather cargo mat (I also lay down a mover's pad for additional protection) (GM # 20917118)
  • Cargo net (item GM # 19244300 - this came with the car)
  • Door sill plates (GM # 19244297)
  • Door edge guards (3M tape - this came with the car)
  • Stubby antenna
  • Cabin air filter (did you know the Volt does not come with one?) - the TYC 800149C Buick Lacrosse Replacement Cabin Air Filter fits perfectly, and is inexpensive and available on Amazon. The air flows from top to bottom (this is important for installing correctly).
  • Wheel locks (dealer provided)
  • Tinted windows (50% on the front windows, 20% on the back windows and rear window)
  • 150w power inverter (just in case I need to plug in my laptop)
  • Several 12v USB adapters for cell phone charging
  • Bumper guards/protectors
  • Blind spot mirrors (both sides)
  • Black vinyl  (EaseV0036 from Amazon) over the Chevy emblem on the front and back (idea from this YouTube video).
  • Blacked out the two front grilles using black Plasti-Dip (from Home Depot). I used 3 coats.
  • OBD Diagnostic Interface (bluetooth) scan tool with Torque Pro for Android for diagnosing problems (like check engine light)
Charging

At work, we have Chargepoint charging stations, so I signed up for an account so that I could charge at work (free), and also use public Chargepoint charging stations if I want to (some are free, some cost money).  The Chargepoint website and app make finding charging stations easy.  Also, the PlugShare website and app are very useful for finding a broader set of charging stations.

At home, using the 110v charger that comes with the car takes about 10-12 hours to recharge fully (from an empty battery).  I ordered a Level 2 charging station from ClipperCreek (the LCS-25), which I had Willow Glen Electric install in the garage.  From talking with an electrician, this is a much less expensive route versus the GM Voltec charger sold by Boche (the chargers themselves are around the same price, but Boche requires their installers to pull permits, and marks-up the labor costs).  The installation was fairy simple as the charger could be located on the interior side of the main electrical panel.  The charger was just under $500, and the installation was just under $500, for a total of approximately $1,000.
 

My utility provider is PG&E, and my default electrical rate plan is E-1 (basic residential service). The E-1 base rate is about 13.2 cents per kWh, regardless of time of use or season.  The rate is tiered, and therefore increases when certain baseline amounts are exceeded.  PG&E's website said I would benefit from switching to the E-6-Smart rate plan, which is still tiered, but the rate varies by time-of-use (rates as of October 2013).  I switched to this plan.  If I exceed the tiering thresholds into the more expensive rates, then I will have to switch to the EVA rate plan, which provides for higher peak power costs, but does not increase the rates in higher tiers. I programmed my Volt's charging system to respect the off-peak times and only charge during that time (unless I manually override).


Cost

MSRP: $39,605
Tax: $3,472
Extended warranty (5 years/100k miles): $1,995
Dealer fees: $464
Total Cost: $45,536
Tax Credits: ($9,000)
Subaru Trade-In: ($8,500)
Total: $28,036

Tinting: $375
Accessories: $TBD
Charger+Installation: $1,000

The federal tax credit of $7,500 is applied for through the federal tax return.  The California credit of $1,500 is applied for through a form, that must be submitted with some information from the purchase.  The application information is at www.energycenter.org.

One of the lessons I learned is to not trade-in a car.  The dealership listed my trade-in for sale at nearly double my trade-in value.  I doubt they can sell it for that, but clearly I left some money on the table by doing a trade-in.

Detailed Review
  • Look and Feel
    • The car has comfortable bucket seats (although it only seats 4), and the interior feels sturdy.  The material is hard plastic and leather, and doesn't feel cheap or overly flexible.
    • Trunk security: The one criticism I have of the car is the cargo area in back is not very hidden from view.  My prior car had a retractable cover that completely covered the cargo area contents.  The Volt has a thin black fabric that does not even entirely cover the cargo area contents.  I solved this problem with 3 yards of thick black fabric from the local fabric store, which I installed from the rear bottom of the back passenger seats, up to the fabric cover, across to the back of the car, and then down to the bottom of the cargo area.  This completely shields the contents from view.
    • Control stack: The control stack initially seemed confusing to me, with a lot of buttons that seemed randomly placed.  But with some use I can see that I'll get used to where the buttons are that I need.  The buttons are all duplicative of controls in the touch-screen system, and I wish they had just relied on the touch-screen interface vs. duplicating the controls.
    • Front air dam is very low and scrapes on driveways, speed bumps, etc.  I've read on line that the air dam is responsible for some of the MPG efficiency, so I don't plan to remove it or have the dealership swap it out for a shorter one.
    • There isn't much dashboard space to mount a cell phone. I solved this with a small patch of Velcro placed below the power button, to which I affix my cell phone (which has Velcro on the back).  The charging cord comes from the armrest area.  I put a plastic dot above the Velcro, below the power button, so that the phone did not accidentally turn off the power to the car if I pushed it.
  • Driving and Handling
    • Fast acceleration:  On my test drives, I floored the accelerator to see how quickly the car accelerated.  The accelerator was very responsive, as much as my former v6 Subaru. Of course, fast acceleration isn't efficient use of power, but I'm glad to know it is there if I need it.
    • Steering: The steering is very responsive, and has a tight turning radius.  It handles really well. The power steering is powerful, and doesn't require much effort to turn the wheel.
    • I had read on some online forums to drive in "L" (low) vs. "D" (drive) for more efficient regeneration on braking. I can see why. In L mode the regenerating engine really slows down the car fast once the accelerator is lifted.  It's good for heavy traffic, and going down hills. 
  • Features
    • OnStar: The car comes with 3 years of OnStar service included. I don't envision using the live operator much - except possibly in an emergency.  But what is amazingly useful is the web interface and phone app, both of which allow the driver to unlock the car remotely, lock it, look up battery and gas tank status, charging status, maintenance status, etc.  The app and website are quite powerful in terms of information about the car.  
    • Back-up camera: Very useful. This was one of my requirements for a new car.
    • Safety packages: Front and rear parking assist, warning if the driver swerves out of the lane, and warning if the driver is approaching the car in front too fast.  
    • Efficiency guide (green ball): The driver's display has a driving guide that indicates how efficient the driver's acceleration and braking is.  Keep the ball close to the center, and the efficiency is high.  It makes it very easy to see what driving behavior is more vs. less efficient.  
    • The driver's display has a rotating information display that shows things like tire pressure, % left until the next oil change, navigation directions, trip odometer, and energy flows between the battery, electric engine, and gas engine.  It's really a wealth of information about how to drive efficiently.
    • Audio: The audio system is strong. The subwoofer helps with the bass. The volume is adequate. The equalizer is basic (just bass, middle, and treble), and seems to have trouble remembering a custom setting, but for my primitive audio tastes it is acceptable.  I've certainly experienced much worse. 
  • Efficiency
    • Gas engine:  Typically gets 40-41 MPG.
    • Electric engine:  Efficiency varies considerably based on driving conditions (fast/slow) and terrain (flat/hilly).  The sweet spot seems to be around 50 MPH on flat terrain (e.g., driving slowly in the rightmost lane of a freeway).
      • Average: 4 miles per kWh.
      • Best: Approx. 50 miles on a full charge, driving consistently at 50-55 MPH on flat freeway.
Click to view my Volt photos.


Websites
  • ChargePoint - sign up for an account for charging at the ChargePoint terminals. Also has a mobile app.
  • PlugShare - Database/map of charging stations. Also has a mobile app.
  • GM-Volt - discussion forum for Volt owners (lots of good information)
  • MyVolt - OnStar-powered connection to the car (this is powered by OnStar, and essentially the same as the OnStar site/app).
  • OnStar - OnStar powered connection to the car.  Also has a mobile app.
  • VoltStats - a leaderboard of mileage data (here's mine)
Stats

Also: My profile on VoltStats


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