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Chevrolet Volt: A solid drive to future of American automobiles
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Good things come to those who wait, and for those considering a 2012 Chevrolet Volt, that means a $1,005 price cut over the 2011 model.

The starting price for the 2012 Volt is $39,995, before the federal tax credit of $7,500. Pricing includes the $850 freight charge from Brownstown, Mich.

The lower starting price came through a shuffling of the standard equipment and features availability. For example, a navigation system was made optional, but OnStar Turn-by-Turn navigation is standard for three years.

For 2012, there are seven option packages, compared with three for the 2011 model. A loaded Volt, with leather, back-up camera, navigation system and an optional paint color and wheels will run $46,265, or $38,765 with the full tax credit.

New features for 2012 include:

- Two new interior accents: white and spiced red.

- Two new paint colors: Summit White and Blue Topaz Metallic.

- Standard keyless access with passive locking; the car automatically locks and unlocks with the key fob in close proximity of vehicle.

- Standard AM/FM stereo with CD player and MP3 playback and 7-inch diagonal color touch-screen display.

In a recent test, I drove a Chevy Volt 34 miles before the car switched from battery power to the engine. I didn’t feel relief that I could keep driving; it somehow felt that I’d seen the man behind the curtain and the magic was over.

The four-seat Volt is a so-called extended-range electric vehicle. After battery power is depleted, range is extended by up to about 340 miles by its 84-hp, 1.4-liter, direct-injection, four-cylinder engine.

A fully charged Volt is an inspiration of what seems to be extreme efficiency. The driving experience is much like the traditional internal-combustion-engine car in how it steers, stops and rides. But there is a chemicalization in the electrification that an ICE just can’t imitate. The Volt on battery soars and glides. It is quick to pull away and it easily cruises at highway speeds — at least for about 40 miles, depending on terrain, temperature and the driver’s right foot.

And even after the switch to cylinders, there is significant battery driving at speeds to about 30 mph and auto stop-start at lights. So, when creeping along in commuter traffic, the car is still running silently, until the engine fires as needed for cabin functions. The “flow” meter to chart engine/motor/battery is an enjoyable distraction.

If all cars were electric, we’d see fewer stop signs and more yields. I grimaced at full stops, knowing that it would use precious energy to get the mass rolling again. It takes a different mindset to drive an electric. Consistent actions in steering, braking and acceleration are key to reducing consumption and extending range. Like riding a bicycle, sometimes you have the energy to take the shortcut over the hill, and other days you’ll take the longer but flatter way around.

So if you aren’t going to use the Volt as an electric car, don’t buy one, Chevrolet says. There are more efficient, four-cylinder fuel-economy choices, such as the Chevy Cruze, which shares a depowered version of its four-cylinder with the Volt.

It costs about $1.50 to charge the Volt from empty, a spokesman said. So every week you don’t fill up with gasoline, remember to mentally subtract $40 (or more) from your total investment and the asking price won’t seem so huge in a few years.

Charging can be done by a 120-volt household current, but it’s slow. A Department of Energy program provides 4,400 240-volt chargers free to the first Volt buyers. That’s a $490 savings, but installation costs are additional.

Standard features include navigation radio with 60-GB hard disc drive, DVD-ROM/MP3 playback capability, voice recognition, six-speaker Bose audio, XM satellite radio and Bluetooth. A rearview camera is not offered and should be.

Things of which to be aware? Owners will learn to “bank” battery power (“mountain mode”) for climbing long hills. The out-swept windshield pillars can create blind spots when looking left and right over the fenders. Access to the back seat is tight, and there is limited legroom but plenty of foot room under the seats. The raised seats do not fold for added cargo utility.

The Volt is a shuttle to the future. Whether that promised land will be hydrogen-powered cars or a 300-mile battery is yet to be determined — and either is a ways off. Volt is here now, saving oil and emissions.