I voted wholeheartedly for the Volt as AOY, and I still feel good about that decision six months later. With a Leaf and a Volt both recently in the office, it's interesting to take another look at the pros and cons of each. The fact that my wife wants to replace her aging minivan with something smaller and dramatically more efficient makes this even more personally relevant. I have to look hard at how each car would fit into our lives and how it would meet her needs.
I must say that the exterior styling of the Volt has grown on me, and I'm always in favor of the utility of a four-door hatchback. The interior, while over-stylized, is pleasant enough. I thought much of the criticism of it among the staff last fall was unduly harsh. This example's two-tone black and champagne color scheme is more appealing than the white console and funky patterned door inserts in our previous Volt. There's decent passenger space all around, and the seats are comfortable. Visibility is not great, and my wife felt a bit claustrophobic with the high sills and center tunnel.
On the road, the Volt is exactly like any other compact passenger car. The regenerative brakes are probably the sole element most drivers will need to adjust to. The handling is not bad. The negative of the low-rolling resistance tires is countered by the car's near total lack of body roll. The transition from electric to gas-assisted power is seamless and nearly undetectable, and on most drives it wouldn't even occur. The fact that one can get all the way through a day of running around without plugging in or fear of being stranded is a terrific advantage for the Volt over the Leaf. With some forethought and planning, one could use as little gas in a Volt as in a Leaf most days, but still be able to drive out of town when required. As poor a tagline as I think it is, the Volt is, in fact, more car than electric.
My issues with the Volt are primarily subjective and stem from the car's styling -- but function comes into play as a result...
First, I'll jump on the bandwagon and register my complaints about the center stack. The big problem with the stack is the tiny touch buttons are widely spaced across an acre of glossy painted plastic. And that glossy finish makes the small control labels difficult to read. Until one memorizes the location of the controls this thing is an ergonomic nightmare, and even then makes use while driving more challenging and dangerous than it should be. To be fair, the Volt is not alone in this: more and more cars are ditching knobs and pushbuttons in favor of touch screens and layered control menus.
Next, the fact that this car lacks three-across seating in back makes it less than ideal for our use. A family of four likes the option to add a bonus passenger on occasion, and that person will usually be a kid, riding along for a short distance. Even the most rudimentary third seating position would be better than a rear console.
The other problem I have with this car's interior is the melding of passenger and cargo areas. The twin bucket seats in back are inexplicably left wide open to the cargo area. There's no cargo cover, and there is a sizeable gap between the seats for a clear visual and physical path to the trunk. This means the miscellany that resides in the back of most family cars (stroller, bags of Target returns, et cetera) are right there junking up the interior of the car every day. To make matters worse, this isn't just a visual issue, but a safety one. There is no means to restrain anything in the hatch from nailing passengers in the head in a panic stop or an accident. The bonus of having a hatchback is tempered by this layout. I don't want a trunk, but I want a more clear separation from my baggage.
(UPDATE: Chevy offers a $99 "Rear Seat Storage Organizer/Barrier" that closes the gap between the seats. No details on a cover for the cargo area on the web site.)
All of those flaws are absent on the Leaf -- and that's significant. But the reality is that the Leaf and its limited range won't work for us. There's just no way to sufficiently consolidate all the trips and conserve driving range effectively with two kids and all the activities and demands involved. Range anxiety with the Leaf is genuine, and justified. The unpredictability of the range, coupled with the scarcity of charging stations and length of time to recharge are serious hurdles. For most Americans I suspect the Volt would be an easier transition from gas-guzzling as well. The Leaf is more of an urban commuter with serious limitations, while the Volt has the capability to step in and be a somewhat flawed, but effective, everyday vehicle.
Matt Tierney, Art Director