2012 Holden Volt review in photos: great tech, shame about the buttons

As a piece of technology the Holden Volt is fantastic, but the price is a bit too steep, it’s a little underequipped and the capacitive buttons are infuriating at best.

Driving impressions, part I
Driving impressions, part I

if you've never driven a hybrid or electric car before the Volt can be an unnerving experience to begin with. If the batteries are sufficiently charged all you hear from the Volt is a peep and then silence. Below around 30km/h there's just a slight buzz from the electric motor and a bit of road noise. Above this point it's not too dissimilar to a regular petrol or diesel car, but with a bit less background noise from the engine bay.

Image credit: Derek Fung


Driving impressions, part II
Driving impressions, part II

Depending on the state of the battery, the Volt will try to restrict petrol engine operation to the noisiest parts of your drive, such as when you're going faster than 30km/h or have your pedal to carpet. Unlike conventional, or even regular hybrid, drivetrains there's quite often no correlation between how fast you're driving or accelerating and the noise emanating from the petrol motor. The Volt will often try to marry your intentions to what it demands from the petrol motor, but often it either gets confused, suffers from a bit correlation lag or doesn't need the extra juice.

Until you're used to it, it's rather disconcerting to hear the engine spinning away lazily as you're busy chasing the next corner or keep chugging away as you lift your foot off the throttle to coast down hill (a time when most hybrids shut down their petrol motors).

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Driving impressions, part III
Driving impressions, part III

As a driving experience, the Volt is actually pretty good. It's not a ball tearingly visceral experience, like a Focus ST, but it's enjoyable enough to drive. Feedback through the electric power steering is almost non-existent, but the weighting should be pleasant for most drivers (not too heavy, not too light).

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Driving impressions, part IV
Driving impressions, part IV

Cornering is quite flat, the body control well controlled if you don't mind hustling it around the city.

We certainly didn't have arousing driving dreams after piloting it for a week, but it's nowhere close to emulating the Prius' war on driving vim.

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Out on the range
Out on the range

According to Holden the Volt can do up to 87km on electric power only when equipped with a full battery. Utilising both electric and petrol motivation the Volt's good for around 600km of motoring.

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Real world battery and fuel economy
Real world battery and fuel economy

In the real world we managed a maximum of 50.9km on electric-only driving on full charge. While our fuel economy average out to 6.63L/100km during petrol motor operation.

Fuel economy will depend on how often and how long you're able to recharge the battery between uses.

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Premium thirst
Premium thirst

The large engine is the Volt's 63kW 1.4-litre petrol motor; it sits to the left (at least from this point of view) of the smaller electric motor. It's sole task is to charge the Volt's lithium-ion battery pack when it starts to run low on juice.

The Volt's petrol motor requires premium (95 RON) unleaded fuel as a minium.

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A bit of power, a lot of torque
A bit of power, a lot of torque

The Volt's electric motor exclusively drives the front wheels, delivering 111kW of power if you wellie so decides. There's also 370Nm of torque on tap from the start.

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Power her up!
Power her up!

As is common with other plug-in hybirid vehicles, the Volt has a power connector just behind its left-front wheel.

The 16.5kWh lithium-ion battery pack takes around six hours to charge fully from a regular 240V/10A outlet (be sure that you've verified it as a 10A outlet via the Volt's touchscreen, otherwise it will assume that your source is less powerful and take forever to charge). From a 15A charging station, the Volt takes around four hours for a complete charge.

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Tell 'em the price son
Tell 'em the price son

The Volt is the first mass produced extended range electric vehicle available in Australia. Yours for A$59,990 after GST, but before on-road costs. That's considerably more than the Toyota Prius.

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Scraaaape
Scraaaape

Every time you ascend a driveway, ride over a speed hump or cross a drainage ditch there's a massive scraping noise that reverberates across the Volt's cabin. It's nothing to worry about as it's just this flexible aero flap hitting whatever man or the gods put there.

Despite knowing this, we couldn't help but feel several pangs of sympathy for our poor Volt, nor did we ever stop wondering at what point the flap would give up the fight and fly away.

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Usurper!
Usurper!

That angled centre section on the grille, behind the Holden emblem, tells you that a Chevrolet badge is meant to reside there.

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Aero-style
Aero-style

Aero post-style wing mirrors are all the rage nowadays, so it's no surprise to see it on the Volt. Aerodynamic efficiency help the car eke out as many petrol-free kilometres as possible.

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Concept car it is not
Concept car it is not

The angled black cladding under the window line is meant to evoke the see-through lower window section of the Volt concept car.

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Memories
Memories

This rather unnecessary Volt plaque is another hold over and reminder of the beautiful, but completely unproductionisable, Volt concept car.

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A big clap
A big clap

The Volt's windscreen wipers do a pretty good impersonation of clapping hands.

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Breathe, but not through this
Breathe, but not through this

Many modern cars feature a grille that serves no purpose other than as ornamentation. That's the case on the Volt.

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The truth
The truth

GM likes to market the Volt as an extended range electric vehicle (EREV) because only the electric motor drives the wheels; the petrol engine is there purely to recharge the batteries. By way of comparison, in the Toyota Prius both the petrol and electric motors can drive the wheels, either by themselves or in tandem.

Regardless, the Volt is a hybrid car, whether Holden wants to admit it or not.

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Signs
Signs

Door handles are shared with the Holden Cruze, which also donates its underlying platform too.

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Light on
Light on

The tail-lights are designed with the USA in mind, so the rear fog light and reversing light are in a lower bumper section.

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Hatching plot
Hatching plot

The Volt tries to look like a stubby-tailed sedan, but, yes, it is a hatchback for aerodynamic reasons.

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Fool me once
Fool me once

Integrated rear spoiler doubles as a faux boot lid.

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Four, no more
Four, no more

Despite having enough room for a fifth seat, the Volt only has seating for four. Combined with its high price tag, we can't help but think this is holding sales back (a bit).

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Four, no more, for a reason
Four, no more, for a reason

The reason why GM doesn't offer a five-seat Volt (for now, anyway) is that the Volt has a T-shaped battery pack that runs down the spine of the car, dividing the seats on the left from those on the right.

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No space for arms
No space for arms

If you need to fit something large across the boot and rear seats the central rear arm rest and cubby box can be removed.

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Legging it
Legging it

Rear seat leg room is pretty good if you're not nearing the 1.8m mark. Here the front passenger's seat is pushed all the way back.

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Stoop it a little
Stoop it a little

Thanks to curving roof line, head room can a little tight for taller persons.

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No dirty hands
No dirty hands

Internal boot handle pull: check!

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Combo
Combo

The Volt rides on 17-inch alloys and 215/55 Michelin rubber.

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Fill it
Fill it

Boot space is passable, but length isn't a strong point. The gap between the rear seats had thoughts of apples and oranges flying from the boot in the cabin occupying our minds for a lot of time.

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Flat out, but not quite
Flat out, but not quite

Unfortunately the rear seats don't fold completely flat.

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Moving out
Moving out

Thanks to folding seats and removable rear armrest, the Volt did an okay job in helping us move house.

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Exposure
Exposure

Unfortunately, because there's no rear cargo tray, like in most other hatchbacks, we did feel a little exposed with our possessions on view for everyone to see.

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Under the floor
Under the floor

Under the boot floor there's no spare tyre, but rather this inflation kit. It'll get you up and running after a puncture, but with a suggested max speed of 90km/h (55mph).

On the left you can see the Volt's charging cable all curled up neat and tight.

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Second window
Second window

Like other eco cars, such as the Toyota Prius, the Volt features a perspex lower window (the bit above the Holden and Volt badges). It does serve any real functional purpose, except to let in a little more light and make the hatchback look even more rakish.

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Halogen baby
Halogen baby

Disappointingly the Volt isn't fitted with xenon headlights. You do however have LED daytime driving lights and front fog lights.

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Cruisy (or is that Cruzey?)
Cruisy (or is that Cruzey?)

There's just one spec of Volt available in Australia and it comes decently, if not outstandingly, equipped for a A$60k car.

On this steering wheel spoke you can see cruise control, uhh, controls (sorry, no radar guidance, alas), as well as switches to enable/disable lane keeping assistance (bottom) and forward collision monitoring (top).

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Automatic baby
Automatic baby

Automatic headlights for all Australian Volt drivers.

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Cheese-eating surrender monkeys
Cheese-eating surrender monkeys

It's not a Euro car, but the USA built has its indicator stalk on the left and the wiper wand on the right.

Rain-sensing wipers are not part of the package.

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Instrument panel
Instrument panel

We like the fact that the LCD instrument display doesn't pretend to a set of analogue gauges, but the design could more clearly divide and delineate items. It all seems a bit cluttered and it's a bit difficult to read easily when driving.

Also the rectangular pod seems a little incongruous on a dashboard that's full of sweeping forms.

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Gloss it over
Gloss it over

Glossy plastic finishes abound in the Volt's cabin, such as the bits seen here around the electric window switches.

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Where's Icehouse?
Where's Icehouse?

The power button starts the Volt and glow an electric blue. Appropriate.

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Eco
Eco

Go eco and restrict accelerator sensitivity if you want. But we prefer to leave it in normal mode and drive more sedately instead of being electronically gagged.

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Capacitive buttons, part I
Capacitive buttons, part I

The majority of the buttons on the Volt's centre console are capacitive. That mean, like your iPhone or Android screen, it responds to the minute electric signal emitted by your finger instead of requiring a button to pushed in or out.

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Capacitive buttons, part II
Capacitive buttons, part II

The use of capacitive button is great in theory, but not quite as fantastic in practice. In a more traditional layout the centre console is filled with physical buttons, sliders and knobs that require a small, but significant, amount of pressure to be activated.

That's perfect for when you're driving and trying to adjust something. You can either use your fingers to feel your way across to the right button, if you remember your dash layout, or place your finger somewhere, look down to check if you've got it right and the press.

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Capacitive buttons, part III
Capacitive buttons, part III

With a set of capacitive buttons you can't really do that. Unless you're willing to take a stab in the proverbial dark and take the risk that you'll have to spend more time undoing what you've just inadvertently done, you have to look first and press after. This takes longer and keeps your eyes off the road for way too long.

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Capactive buttons, part III
Capactive buttons, part III

The centre console might filled with capacitive buttons, the layout is essentially the same chaotic mix of buttons everywhere used in the Holden Cruze.

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7-inch with a lot, but not the works
7-inch with a lot, but not the works

The 7-inch high res screen is impressively crisp, but the tech isn't as high tech as overseas. During our review Aussie Volts had yet to be fitted with the latest MyLink system. The system features a 30GB hard disk that you can rip CDs too, as well as record and pause live radio.

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Leather tiller
Leather tiller

The leather wrapped steering wheel doesn't feel nor look very special. We understand the economic reason behind using a wheel shared with the Cruze and other GM products, but it takes a way from some of the specialness of such a high tech car.

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Chunky for a spunky
Chunky for a spunky

The transmission has just two forward settings (drive and low range for maximum engine braking). It feels large, chunky and clunky, and a bit out of place. A Jaguar-style rotating knob would've been far more in tune with the tech level of the Volt.

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Inspired
Inspired

The split-level dash design is neat and rather reminiscent of the Jaguar XJ, but does expose even the slightest issue with fit and finish

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iGeneration
iGeneration

Depending on which exterior colour you choose you'll either get a high-gloss Apple white or a high-gloss, but more muted, grey.

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Up high
Up high

No, we're not sure why the controls for the parking sensors (front and rear), traction and stability control, and theft sensors are located in the headlining.

There's no sunroof in the Holden Volt, by the by.

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Navigation
Navigation

The Volt comes with nav as standard. It's a passable system, but we go without with the 3D landmarks. Not only do they get in the way of the driving route, but they're rather sparse and not altogether aesthetically pleasing.

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DVD and CD
DVD and CD

The slot in the centre reads both DVD and CD discs. Great for when you're picking up the kids and you're bored out of your mind. Maybe.

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Handbrake
Handbrake

The Volt's not a car where we think too much about handbrake turns in, so having an electronic parking brake is no biggie. In fact it's hugely preferable to having a foot-operated one.

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Charging nook
Charging nook

This covered nook on the dash is a good place to store parking tickets and other assorted nicknacks. As a location for a 12V charging port, it's not so great, because if you have a item with a large 12V attachment it's impossible to close the lid.

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Bose
Bose

A Bose 6-speaker sound system with subwoofer is good, but not mind blowingly so.

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Fob
Fob

Call this nitpicking if you will, but we expected a keyfob that was a little more space age. It does allow for proximity entry and a quick check of your battery status, though.

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Derek Fung

Derek Fung

Derek has a lifelong love for all things automotive, from the dullest Camry to record shattering Bugattis. Prior to starting up Between the Axles he was a reviewer for CNET Australia and the founding editor of its Car Technology channel. [Read more]