With a sane driver at the helm, the Volt should never experience reduced power mode in a state as flat as Michigan. But we're hardly sane, so we kicked the air conditioning on, dropped the temperature to low, cranked the fan, tapped the heated seats, activated the rear defroster, and raised the stereo volume. Then we lowered the windows to increase the aerodynamic drag. With the accessories set to full power suck, we set about consuming as many kilowatts as safely possible with our right foot. To reduce the amount of energy captured from regenerative braking when it was necessary to brake, we used firm pedal applications to call on the hydraulic binders.
After a few miles of futility in traffic, an open stretch of road presented itself and we hammered the accelerator. A few strong stops and accelerations later, a warning on the instrument cluster declared, "Propulsion Power is Reduced," but there's no immediate sensation to convince you of that fact. Calling it a "limp" mode would be utterly inaccurate. At least on the flat, Michigan roads, we had no trouble passing a car travelling at 50 mph or accelerating to and maintaining extralegal speeds. Those actions simply required a touch of additional patience -- no big deal in a car that's not exactly fast to begin with. Bring the Volt to a stop, though, and flatfooted acceleration is substantially slower than with full power. Returning to the full power mode requires just a mile or two of relaxed driving, or less than a minute stopped on the side of the road.
While we found the reduced power scenario to be rather inoffensive, Chevy has included a mountain mode for customers who might knowingly or frequently encounter a battery-draining stretch of pavement. It sets "customer empty" at a higher level, so there's a larger buffer to accommodate high loads for a sustained period. Obviously, it'll reduce the pure electric operating range for that particular battery charge and it does require the customer to activate the setting well before they're at the foot of the grade. "It's a feature that's there when you have to drive over something that has the word 'pass' in the name," says Fletcher, referring to roads like Eisenhower Pass and Loveland Pass in Colorado.