Holden Volt: Australian First Drive

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.

Not so.

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.



    Oh man that dashboard interface is nasty

      and the price wtf
      buy a toyota 86 for that money

        lol, toyota 86.... I'd rather the volt

          +1 - so sick of that gutless car with Prius tyres!

    Great article, good to see someone who is willing to have his expectations overturned. I think Volt is undoubtedly the most innovative mainstream car on the road. That it comes from a company like GM is extraordinary.

    What rubbish is this?

    "He points to the dashboard, which indicates that the battery is half charged, and shows me that even with the current level of battery, the car will manage around 540 kilometres before it will grind to a halt."

    It won't go 540km on battery power alone. With fully charged batteries, it will travel at best 80km. It will grind to a half after 540km when the petrol engine runs out of fuel. You'll then need to fill it up with fuel and/or plug it in to a power source.

      It doesn't say anywhere that it would go that far on battery power alone, although technically it will because the petrol engine continuously recharges the batteries, running at a constant speed, regardless of what the car itself is doing. Just think how strange that would be - to hear the engine speed never vary, no matter if you were cruising on the F3 at 110 or stringing together hairpins on the Galston Gorge, with your speed varying from 10km/h to 80 between switchbacks.

    I think I would want a bit more assurance than a battery meter before I took a decent highway trip in an electric car. You would want a pretty decent buffer to allow you to find a charging source as I suspect it's not as simple as run a standard extension lead out to the car from a powerpoint in the highway McDonald's...

      The volt has a petrol engine inbuilt to charge the battery if you need it, so you can fill it up like a regular car :)

      lol, do you realise that the Volt series (worldwide) has a petrol motor, it's electric drive but you can drive it as far as you can drive any other petrol vehicle if you need to.

      People rely on those trip computers like it's gospel! I'm not one of them, but I'd trust it to be correct to within 100Km barest minimum.
      That fact alone changes my perception of an electric car.

    The dashboard seems to show a L/100km reading? I thought this car is entirely electric? Why is it showing you how much fuel per 100kms you have used?

      Ah, so it's not puirely electric at all... hence the L/100km
      see bdc's comment above

        I'm guessing it's electric drive only with an onboard petrol generator to charge on the go.

          Yes. Holden don't publicise it much, but the engine still directly drives the wheels in some situations. Just like the Prius, only with a bigger battery and a power plug.

          Don't get me wrong, I kinda like them - it's a very intriguing car. Around town it makes a lot of sense. On a long country trip however, it will use more fuel than a regular car once the battery is depleted.

            No, nothing at all like the Prius. The only time the engine might drive the wheels is when your speed is more than 110km/h for an extended period, because the engine can't charge the batteries fast enough to keep everything going at that kind of speed. But as the fastest you can legally go in every state in Australia is 110, it should never happen here. GM could just as easily not allowed that and limited the top speed at 100 if they were only interested in making a pure EV but they were smarter than that and made the best car they could.

            There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that a Volt will "will use more fuel than a regular car once the battery is depleted". One of the Herald/Age guys just got back from a family trip to Broken Hill in one and averaged 6.9l/100km over the whole trip. I don't know about your car but mine wouldn't get close to that and the Volt has the opposite problem to other cars - it is least economical on long trips and does it's best work around town, where 99% of us do 99% of our driving.

              Hi, I work in HR for Holden but was lucky enough to be handed the keys to a Volt. On a road trip I drove it 797.8km including city , highway and mountain driving and used a total of 47.13 liters of fuel for the trip. I stopped once for fuel but did not recharge after the electric only range was depleted. That's about 5.9 liters per 100km . Not too shabby considering I drove up a mountain and went skiing! I am now driving it to and from work every day and don't use a drop of fuel. It's a fantastic car. Electric when you want it with the benefits of petrol when you need it!

              only over 110km/h when in charge sustain mode is not quite correct. The above 70 mph light loading only statement is how GM explained things at the Volt's release, as can be found in those related power train videos and blog commentary on the net. That's what everyone thought was led to understand was the complete story.

              However, some have looked more closely at the operating modes using Dashdaq data acquisition. In short the tighter coupling with the ICE occurs at combinations of roadspeed/load required/and ICE efficiency curves where it is more efficient do do so. As we know this is what makes the Volt such a clever design - it's a flexible architecture able to make the most efficient use of available energy sources and the efficiency curves of electric motors.

              Ref: on gm-volt.com see blogs by Walter Crowe (saghost on the forum) and George S. Bower

              PS. That trip to Broken Hill must have been driven like a fire engine - the electric ranges quoted indicated anything but an energy efficent travel and very cold conditions affecting available battery capacity.

              Never been to NT then Motormouth - 130km/h.

              I use public transport and only drive my dinosaur car on long trips, and despite making 600hp+, weighing 1.8t, averages 9l/100 km on the freeway. So volt doesn't impress me at all. It's worse than my 7 year old Golf on the freeway. Yes great car for a city runabout, but how many spend $60K on a city runbabout?

                many spend $60K on a city runbabout? - Many Volkswagon, Audi, BMW, Lexus, Merc, and Toyota owners do in this city. And none of them have the advanced power train that provides the superior driving experience that the Volt provides.

                The Volt is also on the architectual pathway to the decarboning our transportation systems, and over time will be reducing carbon emissions.

    Engine: 1.4 litre 16-valve petrol 4cyl, two electric drive motors, 16.5kW/h battery.
    Torque: 111kW/370Nm | Fuel consumption (listed): 6.3 l/100km

    I like it ! I may visit my local Holden disty for a go !

    SIXTY ... THOUSAND ... DOLLARS??? No wonder the US factory stopped production due to no demand (Google it)


        You do know that there is a lot more competition in the US; you have countless options to choose from making the chevy volt even more an interesting choice among the sea of other electric/hybrid cars. You can not even argue that price is an issue over there because it costs only $35k over there (with the govt. incentives). Here in AUS there is neither competition nor incentive through government grants...bang $60k pricing.

        Hell they don't even expect this thing to sell overly well; probably only expecting one a month to ship out from each dealer. Even worse, even at that price tag, they are STILL losing money on each car.

    Buy a diesel, between the cheaper purchase price & better mileage you'd be a fool not to.

    Also, the Holden/Chevy Volt is a hybrid - it has a petrol engine.

      Really? I think Jay Leno would disagree with you. He's been driving his Volt to work every day for a year and has never had to put any petrol in it. What disiesel car can match that? In fact, last November he estimated his 30 litre fuel tank was still half full after 11 months and more than 16,000km. I can also think of plenty of disiesel cars that are a lot more expensive than a Volt. e.g. A base model BMW 3 Series disiesel - not just more expensive but nowhere near as well equipped.

        This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

    This is a hybrid car.. It is only electric insofar as the drive is electric and the petrol engine generates the electricity.. The article could have been more clear about this. As such it is efficient, but not purely "green". From a petrol car manufacturer it is a step in the right direction and much cheaper than a pure green solution (Nissan Leaf, Blade Electric Vehicle or MiEV with solar or 100% green power is the only way to be purely green and avoid dirty coal or fossil fuel)

    I had a discussion with a Holden sales guy when the car was still branded otherwise and in LHD config. He showed me under the bonnet.
    I said: "That's a petrol engine - this car isn't electric, touting it as such is a lie. It's a modified hybrid"
    Him: "Please don't tell anyone..."

    It's a hybrid, pure and simple. It still uses petrol! The only difference is the petrol engine isn't directly connected to the drive train like it is on other hybrids, and instead the petrol engine is used purely for generating more electricity.

      This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

      So it's a charged hybrid. I'm sure we're going to see a lot more of them, it's a good idea and a much better compromise than the normal hybrid (which is a big fail IMHO).

      I would buy one as an "electric" car and be happy that it wouldn't leave me stranded.

      If that is a hybrid then so is a Nissan Leaf or a Mitsubishi i-MIEV, because they use steam power to generate electricity to recharge the battery (via a coal-fired power station). The tag "hybrid" refers to a car that uses multiple sources of motive power. Technically that is the case with Volt but it is equally true that you never need to put petrol in it if you choose not to.

        Not true as it automatically uses up fuel in the tank after a period as the fuel will go off otherwise.

    if you charge it in the garage over night it should have enough electricity to get you to work and back.

    6.3 l/100 Km you say.
    I get that in a Hyundai Excel!

      my jazz is sitting on 5.5L per 100 at the moment, and mums jazz runs constantly at 5.1L per 100


        My Jazz in urban/city commuting gets 8-9 lt/100km. My Commodore Sportwagon gets 14 for the same drive cycle. The Volt is extremely efficient with a US EPA rating of 98 mpge. The Honda Fit EV gets 118 mpge

        6.3 in a Hyundai Excel, why would you when you could instead use a 1960 Fiat 500 that would be far cheaper.

      Sometimes, under ideal conditions. What do you get on the way to/from work? Because Volt will get 0 l/100km on the daily commute, unless you are commuting from the Central Coast or somewhere equally extra-urban.

      Motor report have it wrong. The listed fuel consumption is 1.2L/100km. If course you can also use 0 fuel at all., something no Hyundai can do.

    Hmmm.... Holden does make a point of distinguishing between "Electric", "Hybrid" and "Long-range Electric" on the Volt page: http://www.holden.com.au/vehicles/volt#/overview

    Is this just GM's own marketing BS or is it accepted industry jargon? In any case, while the focus on "electric" may be technically correct it still means "no petrol engine" to Joe Public (me included). They will have to be very careful to ensure everyone is on-message about the kind of car this is.

    Me hears the factory in the US has scaled back production as the expected 45000 sales have fallen short by 20000+ sales...
    hmm seems no one is buying them and yeah not too impressed myself. Kind of feel cheated by the ~60km electric distance usage.

      What? 20,000 customers is "no-one"? In case you haven't noticed, the US economy is in the toilet and Volt is hardly the only car not selling to expectations over there.

        Agree, its actually one of the better selling GM vehicles and is a very large revenue stream for GM and is good for all those workers at Hamtramck whom did not have a job before the Volt.

        And of course last month the Volt recorded it's best US monthly sales result of 2,800+ units, to which needs to be added the sales in Europe that are trending at an additional 30% on the US figures.

        ~ 60km electric range is what GM always designed the car to as that covers 80% of US daily driving needs. That some can get much more AER as proven here in Australia of up to 87km and more, we should all be excited. No reason at all to be cheated

    Hybrid the word is sorta owned by Toyota for cars...that is why Holden dont use it for the volt

    @Tom, @Mark, Prius is petrol car first with electric assist, where the Volt is Electric Vehicle with petrol generator as backup. Two cars are fundamentally different.

    For example, during high speed driving a Pruis will have to switch to Petrol Engine, where in a Volt it will do any speed in Electric only - until battery charge is depleted.

    The Volt has figure for L/100 is because after the electricity runs out, then the petrol generator kicks in to provide extended range driving. However the petrol generator does 'not' charge the battery, it simply provides enough electricity to maintain vehicle's driving requirement.

    Also, the engine can be 'indirectly' connected to the driving wheel, though a generator and then to a gear-set.

    By desalination, hybrid means there are more than one power source, therefore the Volt can be classified as a Hybrid vehicle. There are two types of hybrid vehicles, parallel and series hybrid. A Pruis is a parallel hybrid while Volt is a series hybrid, but I guess to avoid the confusion, Holden has chosen to call it Long Range EV.

    The Volt to me is a fascinating vehicle, as it offers the best of both worlds, green of an EV and practicality of a petrol powered vehicle.

    Sorry - in reference to the opening paragraph, how is the Volt evidence that electric cars can be just as cheap as petrol? It's a $60,000 Holden Cruze. That's nuts.

      Thats right, a 60 grand Holden Cruze.

      Besides, i dont buy into the hysteria surrounding the Global Warming argument. Its oversimplified.
      I would never buy an electric car because of the cost, the delusion and on principle.

      Regardless of the environmental argument. A Holden Cruze for 60 grand is an insult to your intelligence.

        So is a 60grand Audi A4, oh sorry I mean Volkswagen Jetta. All car companies share common platforms, get over it.

    The pricing on this car is pretty much like the LFA. It's overpriced for what it is, yet GM is still going to make a loss on it for every car they sell now. As such, the low volumes which we see now shouldn't be a surprise, although it's still less than what GM was hoping for.

    Despite the losses the idea is that the R&D put into the car will trickle down to other cars. It's also the first step into making electric cars that are cheap and practical enough for the everyday driver.

    This review comes across as if it has been paid for by Holden.

      Absolutely, something off about the whole thing.

      "Being an Australian male between 18 and 30 I wasn't sure about this whole ELECTRIC car thing, but wow! I'm sold on the future now thanks to GM!"

        Drive one. Put all the electric hurr debate about it to the side, its an awesome car. Plant your foot from 0-60 and you'll squeal like a preteen girl at a justin beiber concert.

          If the company that made it allowed it to have that interface on the dash... I think 95% of cars should be electric, but I'll pay the premium to have a manual petrol powered one :)

      they are the marketing gurus afterall

    finally a holden that can Genuinely wear chev badges.

    "but once you drive it, you see where the money goes. It’s Holden’s best effort at making electric ecodriving more fun."

    the only thing holden developed are the badges on it.

    its CHEVROLETS best effort you mean

      Haha yes exactly. The tv ad really pushes it as some sort of 'home grown tech'

    That dash is pretty awful.

    60k is a lot of money that can buy you a lot more car than this!

    What is the purpose of a hybrid car like the volt in Australia? For any trip out of a city you will need to burn petrol to get home. Charging the battery each night for driving in a city requires burning coal in large power station. Mains power has never been more expensive in Australia so why would anyone buy this?

      So you can use electricity for your day to day work/shopping trips but you can still use the same car for a long holiday. Buy a Nissan leaf and you'll need a second car if you intend on going on a long trip.

      How often do you take a "trip out of a city" compared to the amount of driving you do in the city? I'd suggest a car like Volt is perfectly suited to the vast majority of city motorists as it is more than capable of getting from Sydney to Brisbane or Melbourne with just a single refuelling stop (and remember, the fuel tank is only about 30 litres so will only cost you $40-odd to fill) but for most of the driving we do, it won't ever use any fuel at all. GM have had to do a lot of engineering on the fuel tank to make sure the fuel doesn't go off because they (correctly) believe that most owners won't need to put fuel in it more than once or twice a year.

      Charging batteries for your EV doesn't require any more coal to be burned than would be burned anyway. They don't fire up extra power stations to manage load, the electricity gets generated whether it is used or not, so charging your Volt overnight is actually making better use of existing carbon and not adding a single gram of CO2 to the atmosphere. And if you take advantage of public charging points that companies like Better Place will soon be rolling out, you will be using 100% green power. The situation might change if we ever get to a point where a significant percentage of cars on the road are EVs but by then we will also be using a lot more green power than we do today, so it will all balance out.

      Charging the batteries doesn't necessarily require burning coal, that is purely the choice of the operator. In some areas (Tassie is a good example) virtually none of the power is created by burning coal. Should you not live in one of these areas you are able to opt for green power (at a premium) or you may be one of the thousands upon thousands that have installed solar panels.


        I would LOVE to see accurate numbers for overall energy produced vs. energy used by power stations. Such is turbine tech that coal-fired stations are always run at optimal pace, with other sources coming online during peak periods. While obviously there is an upper limit, there remains a significant off-peak capacity which would be perfect for these vehicles to take advantage of without adding any more fossil fuel useage.

    "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"

    As a self-professed petrol-head I would have assumed you're quite aware of how fast electric cars can be...

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