14 October 2011
By Naomi Price, Managing editor for content, Drive for Innovation
I recently had a chance to pilot the Drive for Innovation Volt—a fun experience and an eye opener into the world of EVs. I’ll be the first to admit–and my children will loudly back me up—that the cars I drive are generally of the duller, purely utilitarian persuasion. Not the Volt. With its bright red body and enormous white logo, the DFI Volt is no wallflower.
Brian and Kirk happily showed off the Volt’s finer points, such as the weight-saving plastic hood, then they popped it so I could admire the motor. Of course, what I saw there is nothing like an internal combustion engine—it resembles a couple of Xboxes strapped together with wires running between. One interesting tidbit about the parts under the hood: some are made from plastic boom material used to sop up BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. (See Going Green on msnbc.com.)
The interior of the Volt was equally unfamiliar. Being used to analog displays, I found the status screen and center console screen a bit distracting. I settled myself into the driver’s seat and got ready to take it for a spin. While I was getting the hang of the displays, Kirk did a quick demo of the back-up camera—hopping in and out of the field of vision and setting off the warning alarm. Now this is a feature I could get used to. When you put the car into reverse, the view from the back-up camera appears on the console screen with a wireframe image imposed to show relative distance. If you turn the wheel, the wireframe bends to show where you will end up if you follow that trajectory. Don’t want to hit that tree/curb/stone wall/tricycle? Maybe you shouldn’t turn the wheel quite so far.
My impressions of the Volt came from just a short drive. If you want more detailed information about the car, its displays, and the multitude of information they provide, check out Design News Editor Chuck Murray’s in-depth look at a Volt, including a video demonstration of the displays. (See the video: My Chevy Volt Deep Dive.)
Before I headed out for my test drive, we did a little experiment with the electronic key fob. Normally, if the fob is in the presence of the ignition, you can hit the power button and the car will turn on. What happens if you walk away with the fob? My husband took the role of fob-napper and strolled off into the backyard. The engine remained running, but soon the display showed “fob not present,” and the car could not be put into gear. Once he returned with the fob, all was well, and we headed off down the road.
Driving the Volt is not very different from driving any other car, except for the lack of noise. We came to a stop, and it was so quiet that I thought the car had stalled. I also noticed that I drove faster than usual and suspect this effect was from a lack of noise feedback to gauge relative speed.
Or maybe it was that red exterior.