The staff had a single word they favored when it comes to describing the gas engine kicking on: imperceptible. The transition is neither heard nor felt. Instead, the only clue is the gas-pump image that replaces the drained battery graphic on the digital instrument cluster. The 1.4-liter engine features dual overhead cams with variable timing, but it's a modest little mill, making just 84 hp at its peak, and it will eventually make itself heard as the revs rise to produce more electricity. It will spin as high as 4800 rpm but spends the majority of its time between 1500 rpm and 3000 rpm. Unless you're listening for it, though, the engine hum disappears behind conversation or the radio. "From the driver's seat, you just drive, with no idea -- and no real need to know -- where the power's coming from and how, exactly, it made its way to the wheels," summarized West Coast editor Jason Cammisa.
When you begin to consider the Volt's other attributes, it's important to remind yourself that the majority of your 41,000 George Washingtons is funding the research, development, and production behind the powertrain and the battery, because the Volt neither rides nor handles like a $40,000 car. Indeed, the suspension is largely lifted from the $16,995 Chevrolet Cruze compact, with a MacPherson strut-type suspension up front and a torsion-beam setup in the rear. The fact that the 435-pound battery pack sits in the central tunnel and under the rear seats is a boon to the center of gravity, but then, adding weight isn't really a recognized technique for improving handling. The chassis dynamics are neither exceptional nor offensive. They simply are. Body control and ride quality are comfortable, and handling is on par with the average compact sedan. The brakes disappoint with a slow and nonlinear pedal, particularly at low speeds. There's also no way to switch off the Volt's stability control.