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700 Miles in the Volt: Costs and Comfort

In a homecoming of sorts, I drove the Chevy Volt to its place of manufacture, Detroit, from’s Chicago headquarters for some unrelated test-driving events. There was no fanfare, but even in Detroit, the Volt gets noticed and garners an occasional thumbs-up.

At 692 miles round-trip, this was the Volt’s longest journey since January’s maiden voyage from a California dealership in the hands of our editor-in-chief. It was also my longest single excursion with it, and I found it to be an excellent car for the long haul. It’s comfortable, rides well and maintains high speeds easily. It rained every inch of the way back to Chicago, and the Volt felt surefooted and grounded even through standing water and substantial crosswinds.

Only the first 37.7 miles were on electric power. The rest were on the required premium gas. According to the trip computer, the total mileage was 39.8 mpg, and a calculation based on the gas pumped (17.6 gallons) is pretty close at 39.3 mpg. But these figures count the electric miles toward the total. From the time the gas engine turned on, the Volt got 37.2 mpg. Speed was 70 mph for most of the trip.

In the inevitable Volt-vs.-Prius comparison, the Volt’s 37.2 mpg is inferior to the Prius’ EPA-estimated 48 mpg highway, but once you consider the Volt’s electric leg, the story changes: After 200 miles, the mileage registered as 66.7 mpg. After 333 miles, it was at 45.9 mpg. Had I gotten a full charge in Detroit, the trip mileage would have been closer to the latter number.

Let’s not forget, though, that mpg doesn’t tell the whole story. Electricity isn’t free. Total gas cost was $52.79. The electricity was about $1.21.

For the record, the Prius costs much less than the Volt, with a starting MSRP of $23,520 for a 2011. A 2011 Volt starts at $40,280 and is eligible for a $7,500 tax credit for a total of $32,780.