1400 Miles in Three Days in a Volt
I just got back from a round trip from Chicago to Maryland over the weekend, and my conclusion is that the Volt is a great car for road trips. It was a long trip, but I needed to visit family, and I told them I chose to drive because it was cheaper than flying. Well, that was part of the reason I drove, but I also wanted to take the Volt on a long trip, so it was 700 miles to Maryland on Friday and 700 miles back to Chicago on Sunday. I don't think I felt as worn out as I have on other long trips, though, because the ride in the Volt is so smooth and quiet, and things I learned about the car kept me interested. My wife offered to drive at one point, but I told her I was having too much fun. The overall fuel economy for the trip was 42.14 mpg, including driving 1,433.03 miles on both gas and electricity. The CS mode economy, driving on gasoline alone, was 38.8 mpg, varying between 38.16 and 44.56 mpg on different segments. The first segment in CS mode was 32.5 miles at 44.56 mpg, perhaps because I happened to stop when the battery buffer was at its low point after a relatively short distance. I didn't pay enough attention to the battery at the time to know for sure. I have had no trouble getting 42 to 45 mpg on gas alone at other times going slower speeds, like 45 mph.
I had 340 lifetime mpg before the trip, and 148 afterward, but one of the reasons I bought a Volt is that I could take it on long trips that would be very inconvenient in a pure EV. The oil life indicator was the most interesting. It was 69% before the trip, and after 1400 miles, it still said 69%. I thought it would have factored something about how much the engine had run into the oil life estimate.
The lane departure warning beeped at me several times as I passed big trucks, squeezing to the left in my lane. I don't think I was over the line, but I was close to it. I set the forward collision alert to its most sensitive setting, but, although dozens of aggressive drivers squeezed inches in front of me during the trip, the forward collision alert never made a peep. That surprised me a little. I guess it only alerts on things you approach moving forward, not things that suddenly appear in front of your front bumper from one side.
I called Hampton Inn & Suites on Opossumtown Pike in Frederick, Maryland, ahead of time to see if I would be able to plug the Volt in. The person at the front desk had no idea, but the manager was very accommodating. They have 120V outlets on the outside of the building in back. He said people sometimes use them to plug in their trailers. They didn't charge me for the electricity, but, since I paid over $100 per night for the room, I didn't feel the slightest pang of guilt about the $1 worth of electricity I used each night. The driving we did during our stay there was exclusively on electricity. I used the locked loop through the wheel method of EVSE security. (The lock is pretty small in the picture.)
My strategy was to use hold mode on the highway and the battery elsewhere. This way I was sure I would have enough buffer in the battery for the mountains on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. As it turned out, I hardly needed any buffer for those mountains, and I probably would have been fine just draining the battery at the beginning of the trip. However, as it turned out, it was nice to have the charge in the battery at one point.
I had filled up with the cheap (premium) gasoline in Ohio, and on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I got the low fuel warning. In most cars, this illuminates a warning light on the dash, but the Volt was very expressive. It has a low fuel light, and it displays a text alert and sounds a chime. At the same time, the center display offers to find nearby gas stations. This made my wife pretty nervous. I silenced the chime by pressing the select button on the dial to the left of the steering wheel and tapped "no" to the offer to find a gas station. I didn't want to stop for gas right away, because I knew it would be cheaper after I got off the turnpike in 30 miles or so. I still had 30 miles left in the battery, so I switched to normal mode. I used about 10 miles from the battery getting up to the Allegheny tunnel, and since it was downhill from there to Breezewood, I switched back to hold mode and easily got the cheaper gas after exiting as planned. This experience alone made driving 700 miles in one day worthwhile.
I kept some charge in the battery on the way out to use during the first evening in Frederick, Maryland. It was the first time my family had seen our Volt. I hadn't told them about it before. I gave them a ride, and they were very impressed. My sister thought it was cool when I pulled away from the curb, and she didn't even know the car had been running. She said it looked like an airplane cockpit inside. On the first evening, we went to the Volt restaurant in Frederick. I picked it because of the name. It is in a Victorian mansion in a historic section of Frederick, very quaint surroundings dating back to the 18th century. Looking at the menu online, I thought the prices for entrees looked reasonable, but it turns out that each dish is about small appetizer sized, so you need to order four or five of them to get a full meal. The food was excellent, though. I just ordered two dishes and ate them very slowly.
It felt very satisfying charging overnight at the hotel and driving all day on electricity, as we were used to doing at home. I used the same strategy on the way back, using hold mode on the highway. This time, I knew how far I could reach from one gas station to the next, so we didn't have any exciting moments using the battery to get there. I started burning through the battery about 40 miles from home, so we would arrive at home in the western suburbs of Chicago with an empty battery and about a third of a tank of cheap Ohio gas.
A couple of hours before reaching the Gary, Indiana area, the nav system started recalculating our route. Anyone who has driven from most areas on the east coast to Chicago is familiar with this area of I-80. There has been a never ending construction project there for over 20 years that brings traffic to a standstill for five miles or so. There is nothing worse than being close to the end of a 12-hour road trip and suddenly having half an hour or more added to it while you sit in the I-80 parking lot not knowing how much longer you will be inching along. I continue to pay for my XM traffic subscription for just such an occasion. The nav system calculated a few different routes going through Chicago during the next hour before it settled on taking I-90, which parallels I-80 for a while, and then taking some local roads to get us back onto I-80 just at the point where the traffic was starting to pick up speed. Merging in at that point was easy, and looking back at the endless line of headlights was priceless. I have always wondered how to get around that traffic. That moment was worth every bit I paid for the nav and XM subscription.
We had an odd incident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike when the nav system suddenly told us to get off an exit or two before the end of the turnpike, and routed us down an alternate route. As soon as we took the exit, the nav system told us to get back on the turnpike and continue as we were going originally. I assume it was reacting to some construction or an accident. Maybe the traffic cleared up by the next update, or maybe the whole thing was just a communication error. It confused us, but we only lost a few minutes on the unnecessary detour, so in the end, it wasn't a big deal.
I saw two other Volts during the trip, a silver one going east in Ohio on I-80 on Friday and a blue topaz one with Illinois plates going west in Ohio on Sunday. I passed the blue one twice, because I stopped for gas before leaving Ohio, and I was going faster than he was. While I was waiting for my wife at that service area in Ohio, a mother and daughter got out of their car next to mine. The mother said to her daughter, "Look, a Volt!" The daughter said in what seemed like a snide voice, "The only one you'll see on the highway." I don't know what that was about, but I told them I had just seen another one earlier that day on the highway. They laughed nervously and walked away. The Prius had naysayers when it first appeared, too. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
It was a trip of anticipation and adventure. I came home happy I had made the trip, and happy to sleep for a long night in my own bed.
2013 White Diamond Volt, fully loaded, built Dec 2012, delivered Dec 20, 2012, purchased Dec 31, 2012 (D-3520)