It wasn't a shoo-in. Quite the opposite, in fact. On its way to becoming Automobile Magazine's 2011 Automobile of the Year, the Chevrolet Volt endured more scrutiny and skepticism than any of the nine other semifinalists. From the unprecedented levels of publicity, we knew the Volt as a green-as-grass image builder, but we also couldn't ignore that it's a car built by a historically inconsistent automaker around unproven technology. The foreign aura is furthered by the fact that the Volt has no obvious competition and no real predecessor. It is genuinely an all-new car, in the most simplistic sense as well as in the greater notion that the Volt is unlike any vehicle we have ever driven. No apologies if we were a bit circumspect.
In its metamorphosis from 2007 concept car to 2011 production car, the Volt has gone through a reckoning. The turbocharged three-cylinder engine and chunky, Camaro-esque styling have been traded for a normally aspirated four-cylinder and a decidedly pedestrian shape. Claims of 0 to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, a 120-mph top speed, and a total driving range of 640 miles turned out to be the usual concept-car lore. The true numbers are 9.0 seconds, 102 mph, and 350 miles. But the Volt is far deeper than an eco-numbers car. In fact, it's more than just a car. It's an idea. And during the past three years, that idea -- blend the environmental benefits of electric driving with the convenience of gasoline -- didn't change at all.