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Wheels of Green: Drive a Chevrolet Volt and watch other drivers turn green with envy | Environment

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Wheels of Green: Drive a Chevrolet Volt and watch other drivers turn green with envy
Wheels of Green: Drive a Chevrolet Volt and watch other drivers turn green with envy

I’ve never been one to draw admiring glances. Until the other day, when I test drove a new Chevrolet Volt down Peachtree Street in Midtown.

The car was emblazoned with graphics, so people took notice of the Volt whether they were car buffs or not. Expressions ranged from curious to envious. Mostly envious. Because the Chevy Volt is a totally new type of car technology.

The Volt is not a hybrid like a Honda Civic or Toyota Prius, yet it does have a gas generator so it’s not 100-percent electric like a Nissan Leaf. This means that, at least until charging stations are readily available nationwide, the Volt is better suited to long road trips than other electric cars and won’t need as many fill-ups as a hybrid.

As significant as the glances that the Volt drew were the number of folks who failed to look at it, because it looks like a regular car not some alien craft. And it handles like one, too. The biggest noticeable difference when driving a Volt—aside from the whiz-bang tech, which I’ll bet impresses exponentially more based on the age of whatever you typically drive—is how rarely you’ll need to pull into a gas station.

The Volt can get 40 miles on a full charge. But when you reach the 41st mile you don’t need to pull over. The gas generator kicks in to juice up the battery—this is where the Volt differs from a hybrid car, because the gas assists the battery yet doesn’t fuel the car.

As driver, you can maximize the car’s efficiency. “Switch into ‘mountain mode’ and for every 20-minutes of driving you get 15 miles of additional electric range,” says Don Campbell of Jim Ellis Chevrolet Buick GMC Atlanta. (Future generations of the Volt will include a solar roof to help extend battery range.) “In ‘sport mode’ the suspension tightens, which gives you a more aggressive stance.”

The upfront cost of a Volt ranges from $39,000 to $46,000. Federal and state tax refunds offset some of the car’s pricetag. Plus you’ll save on routine costs. “Maintenance on this thing is almost non-existent,” says Campbell. “The Volt will need an oil change about once every two years.”

What’s more, a trip across town in a Volt consumes no gas. “A charge can cost $1.50 in electricity,” says Campbell. “How far will you get on $1.50 in gas?” Currently, many public charging stations are free, including one in downtown Woodstock and The Charging Spot in Atlantic Station, which is free through the end of the year and will then cost $3.00 an hour—still a bargain compared to filling up at a gas station.

While moving, the Volt hisses sweetly when transitioning from “stop” to “go" but then makes barely a sound. You'll hear tires on pavement since there’s no engine noise. It’s quieter than 262 horses with the equivalent power.

Driving the Volt is fun. It responds well, accelerates nicely and has a tight turn radius. It’s innovative, earth-friendly and attracts admiring glances.

Why keep up with the Joneses when you can make them jealous instead?

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