Review: On the road with the Holden Volt

This one won't be for the fans of the grunty Holden Commodore or Monaro, but Holden (care of parent company General Motors) has entered the electric vehicle market with a bang. Well, maybe not so much of a bang as a futuristic, spaceship sound that signals the Holden Volt is ready to hit the road.

The Volt is Holden’s first foray into EV territory and with its 24-cell, 16.5-kWh lithium battery, it can get up to around 85 km before the 1.4 litre DOHC petrol four-cylinder engine has to kick in to recharge the battery – extending the range out beyond 600 km before it needs to be plugged in or filled up.. This is what separates EVs from hybrids, which switch between petrol or diesel power, and electrics; the Volt draws power from the 200-kg battery constantly.

 Not that you can really tell. After a few miles into a trip through Central Otago it all seemed like a natural technology progression, even though the lever handbrake on the control panel takes a while to get used to. The noisy 370Nm motoring torque reminds you that you are driving, not gliding, and can pull you out of any sticky situation, but otherwise the Volt is a high-tech silent assassin, aside from warning alarms for front collision control and when inadvertently switching lanes – possibly to help drivers distracted by the features on the two LCD information panels.

For those that scoff at the relatively short range of the Volt before it's forced to start relying on fossil fuels, get this:  US late night chat show host Jay Leno drove the car daily and got over 15,000 kilometers before filling up the tank.  In fact, many Kiwi commuters could easily do the same. If the Volt is plugged in overnight to charge (usually taking six hours) at a cost of approximately $2.50, to do the daily drive from the outer suburbs to the city and back again via the school-run or supermarket shop Kiwi drivers would only have to visit the petrol station for the weekend getaway and reduce their commuting costs to under $20.  Now that’s one large two-fingered salute to the oil companies.

Holden New Zealand said, despite the clean green image of electric cars, the Volt (which is priced at $85,000 in selected dealers in the main cities) is targeting tech-savvy early adapters. With its emphasis on crisp, cool design (no heinous Prius knock-offs here) and innovative technology features the Volt is sure to impress those with deep pockets and those who yearn to be seen in the next big thing.

If its international success is anything to go by, winning (under GM’s Chevrolet badge) the North American Car of the Year, Green Car of the Year, US Renewable Energy Association Game Changer Award and Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award, 2012 could be the beginning of a new Holden classic.