2012 Chevrolet Volt Review and Prices

Last Updated: Mar 8, 2011

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2012 Chevrolet Volt Buying Advice

The 2012 Chevrolet Volt is the best car for you if you want a cutting-edge “green” vehicle that rewards with thrifty and emissions-free all-electric operation on short trips but can run longer distances without having to stop to plug in and recharge the battery.

The 2012 Chevrolet Volt should continue unchanged as General Motors continues to roll out its “extended range electric vehicle” in select markets across the U.S. This compact-sized four-passenger hatchback debuted in limited numbers for the 2011 model year priced at $41,000, though tax credits could reduce the purchase price by $7,500. Automotive journalists considered Volt significant enough to name it the 2011 North American Car of the Year. Though Chevy bills it as an electric car, Volt is distinct from “pure” electric vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf, which operate solely on battery power. Rather, Volt carries a small gasoline engine that runs a generator to power the electric motor once the onboard batteries are depleted. Volt can travel solely on electricity for 25-50 miles per charge. Range beyond that is limited only by the amount of gas in the fuel tank. Packing two power sources adds to Volt’s cost and complexity but eliminates worries about being stranded with a discharged battery.

Should you wait for the 2012 Chevrolet Volt or buy the 2011 Chevrolet Volt? Buy the 2011 Volt, assuming one is available in your area. The 2012 Volt is quite unlikely to change unless Chevy identifies a shortfall that became evident after the initial 2011s were put into customers’ hands. Indeed, depending on where you live, you may have no choice but to wait for the 2012 Volt. Chevy’s game-changer won’t see full 50-state availability until mid-calendar 2012. Even if you live in an early-rollout state, limited production for model-year 2011 might shut out some potential buyers.

2012 Chevrolet Volt Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Chevrolet Volt’s styling is almost certain to be a duplicate of the 2011 Volt’s. It’ll continue with a futuristic-looking aerodynamic exterior that minimizes wind resistance to help boost fuel economy, particularly at highway speeds. Its general profile resembles that of gas-electric hybrids such as the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius. But it’s clearly a Chevy, with the brand’s trademark crossbar front grille leading to headlamps that sweep into the front fenders. The tall, aerodynamically shaped tail also features wraparound taillights. Frankly, it’s a rather busy look, with assorted creases and angled elements, but it at least conveys a high-tech appearance.

One unique aspect to the Volt’s exterior is that it has both a conventional fuel-filler door on the right rear fender and an electric charging point on left front fender.

Expected to remain 177.1 inches long bumper-to-bumper, the 2012 Chevrolet Volt is about the size as the five-passenger 2011 Toyota Prius hatchback. Volt is loosely based on the Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan. The two share a 105.7-inch wheelbase – a key dimension that’s the distance between the front and rear axles -- though Cruze seats five and is 4 inches longer overall. Packaging the Volt’s unique powertrain cuts into rear-seat space and the car has about an inch less rear leg room than the Cruze and about two inches less than the Prius hatchback.

The 2012 Chevrolet Volt’s dashboard will again be highlighted by what appears more like an advanced hub of operations than a mere instrument panel. As if inspired by Apple computer and iPod styling, the dash features an elegant yet simple design that relies almost entirely on two 7-inch diameter LCD monitors and “touch points” instead of conventional gauges and switchgear.

The 2012 Chevrolet Volt will continue to accommodate four passengers. In place of a three-place rear bench seat, a center console separates dual buckets. The arrangement is made necessary by the Volt’s long, T-shaped battery pack incorporated into the frame beneath the passenger compartment.

The battery pack also eats into luggage space, usually a hallmark of hatchbacks. Expect the 2012 Volt to retain just 10.6 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the rear seat, though the seatbacks do fold to open a bit more space. By comparison, the Cruze has a 15-cubic-foot trunk and the Prius hatchback has 21.6 cubic feet of luggage room with its rear seatbacks up and 39.6 cubic feet with them folded.

Mechanical: The 2012 Chevrolet Volt isn’t due any mechanical changes. Chevy officially calls the Volt an “extended range electric vehicle,” which in practice means it falls somewhere between an electric car and a plug-in hybrid.

The 2012 Chevrolet Volt’s primary source of propulsion will continue to be an electric drive unit that generates the equivalent of 150 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Torque is the central ingredient in acceleration response and 273 pound-feet is a healthy figure for any compact car. Volt’s torque, however, is somewhat offset by the car’s 3,729-pound curb weight, which is heavy for a car this size. Volt outweighs the Prius hatchback by nearly 700 pounds, for example, and is more than 600 pounds heavier than the Cruze.

Thus, at around 9 seconds 0-60 mph, Volt’s acceleration is good but not outstanding – though it is almost 1 second quicker 0-60 than the Prius. Unlike a conventional gasoline engine, an electric motor’s peak torque all comes on at once, which does give Volt fairly lively throttle response in passing situations.  What’s more, the electric drive unit precludes the need for a conventional multi-gear transmission, so the Volt’s transmission has but a single forward gear.

When running on electricity, Volt generates zero exhaust emissions and can reach 100 mph. So-called regenerative braking recovers energy that would otherwise be lost through deceleration and stopping and sends it back to the Volt’s battery, though in not enough volume to maintain a charge beyond its effective range.

The 2012 Volt will again have a 16-kilowatt rechargeable lithium-ion battery and once its charge is depleted, an 80-horsepower 1.4-liter gasoline engine will engage to run a generator that, in turn, powers the electric drive system. At speeds over 70 mph the gas engine adds a bit of drive power on its own to augment the generator.

Recharging the 2012 Chevrolet Volt’s onboard battery should again take around 10 hours using a standard 120-volt power household outlet. Installing a 240-volt quick-charging station in your garage can cut this to around four hours. While the cost of the charging station itself is affordable – for model-year 2011 it was priced at $490 – the cost of installation is estimated at around $1,500. That could run substantially higher if additional work is required to comply with local building codes.

GM says the 2011 Chevrolet Volt has an all-electric battery range of between 25 and 50 miles on a full charge. That’s unlikely to change for the 2012 model. Volt’s electric-only range actually depends largely on factors such as vehicle speed, number of passengers, ambient temperature, and use of accessories like air conditioning.

Based on EPA testing, Volt owners can expect an average battery range of 35 miles, which is sufficient for modest daily commutes and weekend shopping excursions. Beyond that, its reach is limited only by how much gas is in the 9.3-gallon fuel tank. Bottom line: owners won’t need to worry about being left stranded with a dead battery, as is possible with a pure electric car that lacks Volt’s gas-engine backup. With a fully charged battery and a full tank of gas, Chevy estimates the Volt can travel 379 miles before refueling.

The 2012 Chevrolet Volt should again offer three drive settings to accommodate varying driving styles and conditions. “Sport” mode affords somewhat livelier throttle response than “Normal” mode. “Mountain” mode helps maximize performance by maintaining a sufficient charge so that extra power needed to negotiate steep grades comes from the battery. Unfortunately, Chevy says drivers will need to engage Mountain mode well in anticipation of heading for the hills – by about 10 or 15 minutes -- and only after a full charge for it to work properly.

The 2012 Chevrolet Volt should again run on lightweight 17-inch aluminum wheels and low rolling-resistance tires to help maximize fuel economy.

Features: As befits a premium-priced small car, the 2012 Chevrolet Volt will continue to come with a full array of performance, safety, and convenience features, including a navigation system.

On the safety front, the 2012 Volt should again include four-wheel-disc brakes with antilock control to prevent skids in emergency stops and GM’s StabiliTrak antiskid stability control to help prevent spins in emergency handling maneuvers or if the driver is negotiating a curve too quickly. Eight airbags should again be standard, including side-impact and knee-protecting airbags for front-seat riders and head-protecting side-curtain airbags for all four passengers.

Expect 2012 Volt standard features to again include a Bose premium audio system with XM satellite radio, a USB iPod interface, and a 30-gigabyte hard drive for digital music storage that can also pause and replay radio broadcasts like a mobile TiVo.

Other standard amenities should continue to include a voice-controlled navigation system with real-time traffic information, a Bluetooth hands-free mobile phone connectivity, remote powertrain start What’s more, iPhone users can download the free OnStar MyLink app that allows Chevrolet Volt owners to select charging times to take advantage of lower off-peak electric rates, monitor the battery level, available range, and tire pressure, remotely lock and unlock the vehicle, and activate the remote start to heat or cool the interior to a pre-selected temperature.

Later in the 2012 model year the Volt will begin offering an available Powermat recharging system that can refresh the batteries in a mobile phone or other portable device wirelessly.

Among returning 2012 Volt standard features will be GM’s OnStar communications system that can automatically call for help in a crash, remotely unlock the doors, and help authorities locate the car if it’s stolen; a five-year OnStar subscription should again be included.

Options on the 2012 Chevrolet Volt will likely again include leather upholstery and heated front seats. Front and rear proximity warnings and a rearview camera will be available for easier and safer parking.

2012 Chevrolet Volt Prices back to top

Prices for the 2012 Chevrolet Volt weren’t announced in time for this review but they should remain close to those of the 2011 Volt, which started at $41,000. Expect a 2012 Chevrolet Volt base price of around $41,500. (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; Chevrolet’s delivery charge for the 2011 Volt was $720.)

Fortunately, Volt buyers should again be eligible for a one-time federal income tax credit on the purchase of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. As of early 2011, the credit for the Volt was $7,500.

Still, a 2012 Volt will be costly compared to many “conventional” gas-electric hybrids that don’t require overnight recharging. For example, the non-plug-in Prius has a base-price range of around $24,000-$30,000 while the Ford Fusion Hybrid, a midsize sedan with better performance than Prius or Volt, starts around $29,000.

Among options for the 2012 Chevrolet Volt, expect to pay around $700 for a package that bundles front and rear parking alerts with a rear backup camera, about $600 for upgraded 17-inch polished aluminum wheels, and around $1,400 for a package containing leather upholstery, heated front seats, and upgraded door trim.

2012 Chevrolet Volt Fuel Economy back to top

EPA mileage figures for the 2012 Chevrolet Volt weren’t issued in time for this review. However, preliminary model-year 2011 figures were available and we don’t expect they’ll change for model-year 2012. In any case, Volt’s new technology means its estimated mileage is something of a moving target. What’s certain is that in terms of fuel efficiency, Volt strongly favors those who will drive it nominal distances each day.

With the battery fully charged, the EPA rates the Volt’s fuel economy at the equivalent of 93 mpg combined city/highway driving. After the battery is depleted and the gasoline engine kicks in, the Volt is EPA- rated a combined 37 mpg. Driving in a combination of gasoline-powered and electric-powered modes, the Volt is rated at 60 mpg.

Chevrolet estimates it will cost Volt owners around $1.50 to fully recharge the battery, and that figure could be higher or lower depending on local power rates. According to the EPA, a motorist who drives the Volt exclusively on electric power will pay an estimated 4 cents per mile in energy costs, while one who never recharges the battery and runs the car exclusively on gasoline will pay 9 cents per mile.

Unfortunately, Chevrolet requires premium-octane gas for the Volt, which makes it about 20 cents per-gallon more expensive to run in gasoline mode than a vehicle with comparable fuel consumption that uses regular-octane gas.

2012 Chevrolet Volt Release Date back to top

The 2012 Chevrolet Volt should reach dealers’ showrooms in September 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Chevrolet Volt back to top

The Volt initially went on sale in December 2011 in seven U.S. markets: California, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Washington, D.C. Chevy planned to build about 10,000 Volts during 2011 and increase to about 30,000 during 2012.

With Chevrolet taking more than a year to expand availability of the Volt nationwide, don’t expect much in the way of major changes to the car until perhaps the 2015 or 2016 model year.

A next-generation Volt will likely feature additional battery-only range as lithium-ion technology progresses. Otherwise, we’ll surely see assorted mechanical and operating system software tweaks along the way, and perhaps some added features to help Chevy keep the Volt on the leading edge of technology.

Meantime, Chevrolet could expand the Volt line with additional body styles, such as a small wagon or crossover SUV. And it’s possible that Cadillac could see a premium extended-range electric vehicle of it’s own in a coming model year, though it’s not certain if this would essentially be a dressed up version of the Volt or a completely different model that merely borrows it’s so-called “E-Flex” electric drive system.

2012 Chevrolet Volt Competition back to top

Nissan Leaf: Wrapped in a distinctively rounded body, this pure-electric car debuted in limited production at the end of calendar 2010 as a 2011 model. Distribution will increase for model-year 2012. Leaf’s exterior dimensions are almost exactly the same as those of the Chevy but the Nissan is a hatchback that seats five and weighs about 380 pounds less than the Volt. Nissan says Leaf’s range is up to 100 miles per charge; the EPA estimates an average 73 miles per charge. Unlike the Volt, once Leaf’s battery is depleted the car stops running. Leaf drivers are apt to keep one eye on the road and one on the power-status meter. (Fortunately the car’s navigation system notes the location of nearby quick-charging stations -- if any.) Leaf can be charged via a standard household wall outlet overnight, but as with the Volt, it’s quicker with the optional high-voltage charging station. The EPA says the Leaf gets the equivalent of 99 mpg in combined city/highway driving, even though it uses no gasoline at all. Expect a model-year 2012 base price around $34,000, with a $7,500 one-time federal income tax credit as an incentive.

Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid: Beginning with model-year 2012 Toyota will begin expanding the Prius into a family of gas-electric models. In addition to introducing the smaller, subcompact Prius c and the larger Prius v station-wagon, Toyota will add the 2012 Prius Plug-in Hybrid. Basically a version of the current Prius four-door hatchback, the Prius Plug-in will run for about 13 miles on electric power alone at speeds up to 60 mph, says Toyota. Once the battery is depleted it operates just like a standard Prius hybrid. Toyota says the plug-in Prius’ batteries can be fully recharged in just three hours on a standard 110-volt outlet, and in roughly half that time using a 240-volt circuit. Toyota will launch the plug-version in 14 states that account for 60 percent of Prius sales, with nationwide availability coming for model-year 2013. No word as of this review regarding official fuel economy or pricing, but we’d expect an EPA rating as high as 75 mpg in city driving and a base price around $32.000. It will be eligible for a federal income tax credit for plug-in hybrids, based on battery capacity, which in this case will likely be $2,500.

Ford Focus Electric: Expected for model-year 2012 is a pure-electric version of the redesigned Ford Focus compact that launched in early 2011. As with the Nissan Leaf, Ford claims the Focus Electric’s lithium-ion battery is good for 100 miles per charge, though 70 miles will likely be about average. The Electric will come wrapped in the compact Focus’ engaging exterior styling and will aim for the same lively handling character. To complete the high-tech driving experience, the 2012 Focus Electric will come with Ford’s Sync and MyFord Touch operating interfaces. It’ll also offer a smartphone app for checking charge status and available range and for locating the nearest charging stations. Expect a base price around $35,000, with a projected $7,500 federal income-tax credit available.

2012 Chevrolet Volt Next Steps