Holden: Charged up performer

By Jacqui Madelin

Holden's Volt lets you appreciate the quietness of nature. Photo / Jacqui Madelin
Holden's Volt lets you appreciate the quietness of nature. Photo / Jacqui Madelin

New technology is all very well in the showroom or tooling round city roads, with plenty of assistance nearby if it all turns pear-shaped.

But what about taking it out of town, flinging it through a few bends along the road less travelled and overnighting at some coastal town? That's exactly what we did with Holden's Volt, an electric car with a supplementary petrol engine that remains entirely disconnected from the wheels, but fires and acts as a generator to charge the battery once it's out of juice.

That means no worries about range; simply top up with petrol as normal if you're travelling further afield than the battery and 111kW electric motor alone will take you.

Most city drivers negotiating the everyday commute won't need to. We drove 56km north on the battery, selecting sport - it takes a few seconds to engage - and planting boot to overtake, heedless of the effect on electricity stores. For the fuel tank was full, the 1.4-litre 63kW petrol motor engaging so seamlessly it took the instrument panel to confirm it had happened; wish the portable generator at home was as subtle.

Cruising at any speed is silent and refined in an electric car, although the payoff for the low-revs-around-town acceleration the format revels in is asthmatic high-rev performance - hence the power button.

But what's it like on the bendy bits?

Surprisingly effective, despite having no gear steps. That means brisk cornering requires you to overbrake into bends (regenerating power as you do so) since you can't settle the car by slotting it down a cog or two, then using the electric motor's low-rev punch to pull out - the 370Nm is on tap from 250Nm to 2800rpm.

This feels odd at first but once you're used to it the Volt scampers along quite nicely, considering its relatively hefty 1721kg weight.

Meanwhile, your passengers can play with all the clever tech like the touch-activated centre console and many info screens. The driver benefits from lane departure warning, collision alert, a rear view camera, satnav and other goodies.

Once in Russell we cruised silently to our hotel, windows down to hear the waves rustle on the shore as we were undisturbed by the noise and fumes of a conventional engine, then plugged it in. A six-hour full charge from an ordinary socket costs $3, and our trip averaged 3.1l/100km of petrol on top of that - truly frugal motoring.

Given the vehicle's range on battery alone, Kiwi commuters may never use petrol until the Volt warns you the tank is getting stale.

Clever stuff, from a car that feels like any other mainstream sedan, at least until you check out the whopping $85,000 price.

- Herald on Sunday

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