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The Volt’s true colours

I hate to see the end of summer. Days grow shorter and thoughts ofwinter weather fouling my ability to putter with a car in the drivewayafter work have a haunting effect.

I hate to see the end of summer. Days grow shorter and thoughts of winter weather fouling my ability to putter with a car in the driveway after work have a haunting effect.

But one consolation of the onset of winter is autumn, when skies are clear, humidity is a memory and leaves on the trees flash the countryside into a pallet of colours that takes the breath away.

This autumn I decided to treat my wife, Lisa Calvi, to a Fall Colours road trip and what better place to do it than New England, where back roads and small towns are alive with crisp mornings and splendid fall foliage.

And what better car to drive than a 2012 Chevy Volt, the electric vehicle Chevy is just rolling out in Canada.

It would also be a chance to see if this car, with its so-called “extended-range” capability, can cut it on a backcountry road trip. The meandering route would run about 600 kilometres from Burlington, Vt., to Bar Harbor, Me. There were a few kilometres of Interstate, but the Volt would spend most of its time on secondary roads.

The basis of Volt’s mobility is no secret. It’s powered by a 149-horse electric motor. The large T-shaped battery below the floor provides enough juice to get the stylish four-passenger sedan about 65 kilometres, at which point an onboard 1.4-litre gasoline engine fires up to generate the electricity to extend the range another 500-plus kilometres (the Volt costs about $42,500 to start).

Although the system adds significant weight and cost to the car, this is somewhat offset by the elimination of that nasty side effect other electric vehicles are cursed with: range anxiety. No pesky feelings in the pit of your stomach that you are running out of propulsion and the only way to get it back is to find a place to plug in and wait hours until the battery is recharged.

Fact is the Volt’s main competitor, the Nissan Leaf, would never be able to take a 600-kilometre two-day road trip because it would require about three full days of charging using a household plug-in.

Lisa and I fly into Burlington, Vt., and pick up the Crystal Red Volt. It’s fully charged and we drive to Topnotch Resort in Stowe, Vt., on electric power. it’s peppy, quiet, comfortable and handles surprisingly well on the back roads.

That night, after plugging into a 110-volt outlet in the parking lot, we discuss our options over a romantic dinner. Neither of us has ever driven to the top of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, although I’ve seen those “This car climbed Mount Washington” bumper stickers for decades.

The next morning we pass on the many activities available at the cosy Topnotch Resort. So much for the horseback riding, fall hikes, the corn maze or getting pampered at the resort’s full service spa.

We’re off and half way to our overnight destination I realize the Volt’s gas-powered generator has taken over and I didn’t even notice.

Turn down the prerequisite road-trip companion XM Radio and I can hear the engine slightly at times.

The next day, we need to drive about 350 kilometres to get to Bar Harbor on the Atlantic Ocean.

Who cares if we can only get half way up Mount Washington because of freezing rain and icy roads? Who cares if the sun is not shining and Hurricane Irene has ransacked the fall foliage? The Volt has taught this old road warrior a thing or two about the future.

Chevy’s answer to the Little Black Dress of vehicles, the Volt, makes it possible to be environmentally conscious, cut down on fossil-fuel consumption and not need a second car when the call of the open road needs answering.

 
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