The other noticeable difference from a typical small car lies with the braking system. The best way to shed speed in the Volt is often by lifting on the "gas" pedal. When the car is shifted into low mode, the motor serves as a generator, charging the batteries while simultaneously slowing the car. This is quite effective in low-speed, stop-and-go traffic, and might even come in handy during more spirited driving, as it increases the impact of lifting throttle in a turn, (Bob Lutz did note that he has a lot of fun driving in low mode). Unfortunately, the conventional brake pedal isn't as impressive, as it seems to take too long for hydraulic override to come in, creating a spongy, air-in-the-lines feel. Posawatz assures us this won't be an issue on the final product. "That's not one of our big technical challenges," he adds.
Otherwise, the mule feels like a normal, if slightly pudgy, compact. Acceleration is particularly impressive, even though our prototypes were providing only about 80 percent of the power of the final product. GM is aiming for launch feel on par with a 250-hp V-6 sedan, thanks to instantaneous torque, and expects a sub-nine-second 0-60 time. You'll be able to chirp the front wheels. Our mule likewise didn't have a production intent suspension setup, but the Volt's Delta II underpinnings, shared with the Cruze and the 2010 Opel Astra, already feel reasonably well composed, if a bit harsh over bumps.
Based simply on our seat time, it's impossible to say if GM will make its deadline and if the Volt will be the big hit the company desperately needs it to be. Posawatz readily admits he has a considerable list of concerns, including how well the batteries will hold up over ten years, and how customers will take to the EV experience. He also fears what might happen if one of the fledgling green car companies (i.e. Tesla, Fisker, Aptera, etc.) should have serious product issues - such as a battery that reacts dangerously in a car accident - and thus spreads a pall over the entire segment. He didn't even have to mention the possibility that his company, currently surviving on federal loans, might cease to exist.
In the areas under its control though, the Volt team remains confident.
"There is nothing in particular that is worrying me more than another thing," Weber said about the development process, while stressing that there is lots of work left to be done.
The car clearly remains a high priority for the company, such that it's safe to say that if there is a GM in five years, there will be a Volt. In the nearer term, the team says it hopes to have closer-to-production prototypes for us to drive by fall. We'll be there if it happens.