2011: Chevrolet Volt
“It wasn’t a shoo-in. Quite the opposite, in fact. On its way to becoming Automobile Magazine’s 2011 Automobile of the Year, the Chevrolet Volt endured more scrutiny and skepticism than any of the nine other semifinalists. From the unprecedented levels of publicity, we knew the Volt as a green-as-grass image builder, but we also couldn’t ignore that it’s a car built by a historically inconsistent automaker around unproven technology. The foreign aura is furthered by the fact that the Volt has no obvious competition and no real predecessor. It is genuinely an all-new car, in the most simplistic sense as well as in the greater notion that the Volt is unlike any vehicle we have ever driven. No apologies if we were a bit circumspect.
“Although classifying the Volt as a hybrid or an extended-range electric is a matter of semantics, it is unquestionably an electric car from the driver’s seat. It launches with whisper-quiet, high-pitched whirs, which are exchanged for the subtle din of wind noise as it reaches speed. A power output of 149 hp won’t impress anyone, but 273 lb-ft of torque and a responsive right pedal make it more lively than your typical compact car. Electric propulsion also redefines powertrain refinement. There is no nudge from a transmission swapping cogs or the CVT-induced drone of a strained engine. Power delivery is fluid, acceleration is smooth, and cruising is nearly silent. GM’s official line on range — formerly said to be 40 miles of electric driving — is now hedged as “25 to 50 miles,” due to the profound effect that driving style, exterior temperature, and accessory use have on range. On a suburban route with typical traffic and driving behavior, we covered 40.8 miles in pure electric mode.
“This is the most sophisticated, most important vehicle on the road today. The Volt model could very well be the standard of the future: a smartly sized battery backed by a frugal range extender, whether that’s a diesel, a turbine, or a gas engine. In fact, several automakers already have plans to develop similar plug-ins with usable electric driving range and supplemental fossil-fuel power. For being an automotive pioneer, the Chevrolet Volt is the 2011 Automobile of the Year.”