Holden Volt: A first drive

Our first impressions of the Holden Volt, the long range electric car

Holden showed off its first long range electric car at a technology workshop in Sydney this week and GoodGearGuide was there to take it for a spin. Here's our first impressions of the Holden Volt.

Let's get one thing out of the way first. I'm not going to pretend to be a car reviewer here. But when Holden invited me to a "technology briefing" on the Volt, I instantly became curious. This isn't an ordinary car, after all. It's a car that would make most geeks smile, such is the amount of tech that's packed into it.

From the outside, the Holden Volt looks like an ordinary, mid-sized sedan, so you'd be hard pressed to tell that this is in fact an electric car that plugs into your powerpoint at home. I'm not a huge fan of its chunky rear end, but that seems to be the newest trend in many cars these days.

Aside from the rear end, the rest of the Volt looks pretty smart and elegant. The chrome grill on the front is a little bit of an overkill, but the styling isn't too loud. The Volt sits very low to the ground at the front. A Holden spokesperson told me this is for aerodynamic reasons and stressed that the plastic piece that sits underneath the front bumper is designed to flex (not snap) when it scrapes on your driveway or over a speedbump. We didn't scrape it on our short 20 minute test drive, so we couldn't put his theory to the test.

The chrome grill on the front of the Volt may be overkill, but the styling isn't too loud.
The chrome grill on the front of the Volt may be overkill, but the styling isn't too loud.

As soon as you unlock the Volt and open the door, it's clear this car is packed full of tech. There's a small button on the door handle, so if the key is in your pocket you can just press this to open the door. You push a glowing blue power button to start the car. The driver instrument panel, where the speedometer usually resides, is a 7in LCD screen. There's another 7in LCD in the centre console, this one a touchscreen. Most of the buttons on the built-in entertainment system are touch-sensitive and the soft blue backlight is a nice touch. The centre console is finished in a glossy white colour, which does make it stand out.

There are buttons everywhere from the centre console, to the steering wheel and the steering column stalks. Most of the features seem pretty easy to access and will become second nature over time, but it's definitely a little overwhelming at first.

The Volt is extremely quiet when driven. In fact, I had to double check it had started when I first pressed the power button. There is virtually no engine noise at all, so much so that Holden has even included a "pedestrian warning" button on the end of the left steering wheel stalk. It's more elegant and quieter than a horn and would be best used to warn pedestrians when you're backing out of your driveway, for example. There's still a regular horn if you need it.

As soon as you unlock the Volt and open the door, it's clear this car is packed full of tech.
As soon as you unlock the Volt and open the door, it's clear this car is packed full of tech.

The Volt is smooth and comfortable to drive. The suspension is on the soft side and ride comfort is therefore excellent. The lack of engine noise amplifies road noise a little but for most part the cabin is relatively quiet. I found the brakes a little spongy and soft, which was disappointing.

Speaking of the brakes, moving the Volt's automatic gear shift into hold mode (denoted by an 'L') kicks a regenerative braking system into life. Whenever you take your foot off the accelerator in this mode, the car begins to slow down by itself. The idea behind this mode is to regenerate the power you've used when accelerating in order to prolong the amount of kilometres you can squeeze out from the battery. It seems to work well enough but getting used to the car feeling as if it's braking on its own is a rather weird experience.

The drive mode button switches between normal, sport and hold driving modes.
The drive mode button switches between normal, sport and hold driving modes.

The Volt's built-in safety technology is also worth a mention and we experienced both on our short test drive. A lane departure warning system notifies you by beeping loudly and flashing an icon on the main driver screen when you move outside a lane without indicating. There's also a forward collision alert that uses a windscreen mounted camera to warn at three preset distance settings (far, medium, short). We had it set to far and it notified us when we pulled up at the lights behind another vehicle.

We'll hopefully have a more detailed review of the Holden Volt soon.

Would you pay $59,990 for the Holden Volt? Why or why not? Vote in our poll here and let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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