As a self-professed petrol-head I find it hard to come around to the idea of an electric car. I've heard all the lines: electric just isn't as fast, nor as spirited, nor as cheap, nor as fun as a petrol equivalent could ever be. Today, I found compelling evidence to prove these headlines wrong, and it's called the Holden Volt.
I sidled up to the mint green, four-door sedan that I'd been assigned for the afternoon session. Looks-wise, it isn't a huge departure from a usual suspect you might see on a Holden car lot: alloy wheels, lift-back boot, lights and wipers where they ought to be, etc, but when you open the door and slide into the leather driver's seat, everything changes.
The key is wireless. Your speedometer is an LCD panel. The seats are heated. The sound system is banging. The centre display is a 6-inch tablet. The centre console is a white slab with buttons that don't click. The brake pedal goes all the way to the floor. There's no handbrake to be found, and weirdest of all: the engine doesn't make a sound when I hit the laptop-esque power button.
Once you set off, the driving experience doesn't feel like the four-door Holden sedan you got into a minute ago. It feels light on the road, almost like it's floating along.
Your driving style is governed by a glowing green orb that tells you how much power you're using and how much power you are regenerating based on your braking style. But don't think for a second that the green eco ball is going to stop you from planting your foot squarely into the firewall when you want that rush of acceleration.
We pull onto Sydney's Anzac Bridge — a road where defensive driving is a means to not being run over by a bus — and I give the Volt the (mung) beans. My ball rises and glows bright orange, but not before the car is already up to 90km/h and I'm darting my eyes aroundt he road for speed cameras.
I slip the car out of "D" and into "L" — a mode that feels like a souped up version of first or second gear. Whenever you take your foot off the accelerator, it kicks a regenerative braking system into effect, arresting your momentum gradually, much like gearing down would. Doing this puts my green ball back where it ought to be in the middle of my meter, and I'm told during my slow pull up to the lights that already, this new mode has regenerated a lot of the power that I spent putting the foot to the floor.
My guide tells me that when he drove the Volt to the snow, he was able to regenerate about 30 kilometres of battery life just by driving in L mode and coasting down the hill.
I change the drive mode from Sport back to Normal and my guide tells me he's driving this mint green speed machine back to Melbourne in a few days, and naturally, being electric, I assume that he'll have to stop several times along the way for some juice.
He points to the dashboard, which indicates that the battery is half charged, and shows me that even with the current level of battery along with the fuel in the tank, the car will manage around 540 kilometres before it will grind to a halt.
The elephant in the back seat though, is the price. It's easy to baulk at the Volt's $59,990 price tag. That's a lot of money for a four-door sedan, despite the trimmings (heated leather seats, touchscreen navigation system, keyless entry/drive, Bose sound system to name a few), but once you drive it, you see where the money goes. It's Holden's best effort at making electric ecodriving more fun.
Before I got behind the wheel, I didn't think an electric car could be remotely fun. I thought it would be a wet imitation of a petrol version that conked out after 15 kilometres of quiet city driving. Instead, I was surprised by a tech-laden, green machine that puts a smile on your face and a warm, eco-feeling in your guts. The only drawback is that it takes a test drive or two to convince you that the Volt is a good idea.
If saving the environment is this fun, I'm in.
Stay tuned for our full review of the Holden Volt soon.