The good folks at Northstar GM invited me to test drive the Chevrolet Volt – the appropriately named electric car.
And I am pleased and relieved to report that I did not cram massive volumes of elk guts into its front end; more on that later.
From the moment my butt hit the driver’s seat, the Volt enveloped me with a quivering ‘spring-time forest’ greeting, reminding me that I was about to drive a vehicle that operates sans fossil fuels, at least for 40 to 60 kilometres.
Once the spritely, earthy greeting is complete, all one has to do to start the Volt is to step on the brake and push a big, cheery blue button.
There is no explosion of gas fumes – no coughing, bursting to life of a combustion engine. Immediately after the blue button is pushed the Volt hums to life with a barely tangible shudder, as its dash shivers to colourful life. I immediately said to myself, “Make it so Number One, engage!”
It also opens by noting that I zipped out of Northstar and headed west on Highway 3/95. Leaving Cranbrook I was stuck behind a slow moving transport for about eight kilometres. This gave me time to fiddle with the car’s ”climate control,” jam a mix CD in its stereo system and crank up the Bose speakers. With Goddo’s ‘Let That Lizard Loose’ wailing, a chance to pass the transport was presented and I can report that my neck snapped back when I hit ‘the gas.’ Actually, I guess I hit ‘the button’ or ‘pushed the switch’ as the car was still running on electric-only power.
The Volt handled smoothly, evenly and solidly, and oh-so-quietly.
My maiden voyage in the car terminated at Moyie Lake Provincial Park and the gas generator did not engage until I was heading east from the park turnoff, back to Cranbrook.
When the charge runs out the car it seamlessly transitions to gas power. I found it interesting that I wrote “seamlessly” in my log and later, when reading about the Volt, that is the same word Chevrolet used to describe the power transition.
While the electric charge only lasts between 40 and 60 kms, depending on where you are driving (if you are idling at city lights etc.), the Volt’s highly efficient gas-powered electric generator will carry you a further 400 odd kilometres.
I found the Volt not only cool because a 38 cent, eight hour charge will propel you 40 to 60 kms, but it also provides brilliant fuel economy with more than enough highway sizzle to allow for easy passing.
Day two began with a 46 km charge from an evening’s ‘plug in.’ This was going to be the big test for the Volt – a run to the Columbia Valley.
The charge, which you can watch run down thanks to cool dashboard graphics, was depleted at Wasa – exactly between the two entries to the community. Again seamlessly, the vehicle transitioned to gas power without a burp, hiccup, sputter or fart.
Carrying on down the road, the car began to talk to me. Not literally – it was sending me text messages, punctuated with an exclamation mark!
I poked and prodded at the ‘display central,’ barked out some orders for Data to fetch me some coffee before I have his giant electric brain on a spike and finally pulled over to try and figure out what the car was trying to say.
I soon got some verbage out of the display and it told me there was a tire issue. My eyes wide with alarm, I exited the vehicle and walked around it, eyeballing the tires. They were fine, except for some snow packed in the wheel-wells. A few toe jabs removed the snow and satisfied that the car was hallucinating, I returned to the driver’s seat.
Buckling up and ready to roll back onto the highway, the car now tells me “Ice possible. Drive with care!”
Thanking it for its concern, I continued toward Invermere where I was to cover the District of Invermere council meeting. Every now and then the car would point out that winter was happening outside and I best be wary.
A short time before the council meeting, I scored a burger and headed to James Chabot Provincial Park to munch. The parking lot was covered with snow and ice and once again, the diligent and ever-concerned Volt told me “Ice possible. Drive with care!”
The worst part about attending Invermere council meetings in the winter, aside from the stifling boredom and not being able to hang out at the Whitehouse Hotel (just kidding Invermere), is the drive back home to Cranbrook.
As anyone who knows the drive between the valley and Cranbrook in the winter, it is a veritable video game of ungulate dodging and goofballs who leave their brights on.
This savage combination reared its foul and potentially lethal head as I neared the rest area just north of the Highway 93/95 and 95A junction.
I approached the recently slain elk out of the new moon darkness at about 100 km/h. Yodeling obscenities, I jerked the Volt into the oncoming lane to dodge the elk and as I marveled at the car’s handling, I realized I was heading directly at another dead elk. Yodeling more obscenities I tugged the car back into the right lane and slowed to a crawl.
What are the odds of two smoked ungulates in an area of highway just expansive enough to allow a car or truck to zigzag between them?
So I report this now, out of respect to Northstar GM – not wanting to leave anything out of the report. I am also reporting it because I actually believe the car will tell them what happened after I return it.
“The driver was using deceased ungulates as pylons! And the language!”
Needless to say, I was grateful that nothing terrible happened and stopped at the pullout near the bridge to report the carnage to the RCMP and call Carrie to ask her to post a highway warning on our Facebook. As I did this a Mountie cruised past and rolled toward the messy scene.
Once home in Cranbrook, I thanked the car for a mostly pleasant drive and plugged it in for the night. I fully expected to hear it say, “thank you master for not driving into the ungulates.”
Day three was fairly tame. The car had a 44 km charge when I backed out of the driveway to take care of a few errands in town. When I returned, there was still 33 kms of charge remaining.
This leads me to my basic conclusion of the Volt.
It is not a car that I personally would seek to own but I don’t say that because I think it is not worthy.
I found it to be a pretty incredible machine and it is comforting to think that Chevy will only improve upon its limited charge/range and as a result, fewer people will be purchasing and burning gasoline in order to get around.
The Volt would be a perfect car for someone who doesn’t do a lot of highway driving, even though it was sweetly small dollars to fill and gets excellent mileage. If one only toodled to and from work, making a few stops here and there every day, it seems a no-brainer to not go with an electric vehicle like the Volt.
For an estimated 38 cents of electrical charge, with the car only needing a basic outdoor plug, one can go to and from work and run errands. It is extremely possible that a person would rarely ever engage the gas generator.
I personally do a lot of highway driving and dream of the day when I will have another SUV or pickup so I can keep exploring the Kootenay’s world-class backcountry and that would be the only reason I personally wouldn’t go for a Volt.
Aside from the incredible ‘fuel’ economy, the car is a veritable computer on wheels, is a comfortable ride, has ample power when needed and it dodges dead elk like a Billy-be-damned – which, let’s face it, is a good trait in a vehicle when one drives in the Kootenays in wintertime.
The ‘winter’ thing also impacted another person’s otherwise happy experience test-driving the Volt.
City of Cranbrook councilor and Nutters Bulk and Natural Foods owner Denise Pallesen had a chance to test the car before me.
“I Loved the Volt in all aspects except on our winter roads – because it is so light, it did slide more than I liked. It was fun to drive and I loved the looks. I appreciated the opportunity to test drive the Volt for five days,” she shared.
Ian Cobb/e-KNOWTags: Automobile reviewChevrolet VoltColumbia ValleyCranbrookDistrict of Invermereelectric carfossil fuelsgas generatorHighway 93/95Ice possible. Drive with careJames Chabot Provincial ParkMoyie Lake Provincial ParkNorthstar GMRCMPungulate dodgingVoltWasaWhitehouse Hotel
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