Is there really any comparison between the Tesla Model S and the Chevy Volt?
In ways yes, in other obvious ways not so much, but people are evaluating the two for what it’s worth.
Both are plug-in electrified vehicles and since there are only a few PEVs on the U.S. market, the temptation has been inevitable.
But beyond a mere academic exercise, there are reasons why the Volt could make an inexpensive alternative to the Model S, particularly the base 70D.
Both cars are at the pinnacle of their respective segments, and the Volt could potentially hit most of the hot-button reasons for buying a Tesla, so following is a look at various factors between the two.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. The Model S is a large sedan – actually it is also a form of hatchback designed like a sedan. The Volt is a compact-class car – though in common it is also a hatchback designed like a sedan.
Model S is all-electric, with a 70-90-kilowatt-hour battery, priced on the low end before federal or state incentives at $76,200. The Volt is an “EREV” (extended-range electric vehicle) – a form of plug-in hybrid that is distinct from “blended PHEVs.”
As the name implies, it is an EV that extends range with a gas generator. It costs $33,995.
Where’s the Similarity?
Both are from U.S. carmakers. Both are plug-in electrified solutions to wean away from petroleum.
The 240-270-mile range Model S is guaranteed not to use gas because it has no engine. Simple!
The Volt, while it can only travel its 420-mile range with gas assist can do the first 53 miles in EV mode without that gas engine kicking on.
It thus can meet most average daily driving needs all electrically as well as a Model S. Former-generation Volt drivers statistically did 80 percent of trips gas free. GM estimates the new car will be good for 90 percent gas-free driving because its 53-mile rated range is farther than the 2011-2015 Volt’s approximately 35-40 miles.
Of course longer drives will see the Volt start to burn gas at somewhere around 42 mpg while the Model S will continue electrically.
Model S is a sleek luxury performance car. It’s really positioned more as a Cadillac class vehicle than as an alternative to a Chevrolet. It has gorgeous lines, avante garde features like a 17-inch touch screen, and a discrete minimalist interior design.
It’s also more spacious with true five passenger accommodations, or up to seven with two optional rearward facing seats for smaller people in back.
The four-seat plus one middle rear “seating position” Volt is contemporary, restyled and plenty of folks find it attractive enough, and refreshingly tasteful inside. GM does give the cabin an upscale flair with amenities, and it is comfortable at least up front, and in back to a lesser degree, but by comparison, its looks make it more of a low key conveyance.
For someone not wanting to stand out, this may be desirable not unlike how some have favored a Prius even in cases when they had the funds to buy a Mercedes just as easily.
The Volt does not put on any great air, and truth be told, it might even be confused from certain angles for a Cruze, though there are a few differences to a discerning eye.
The all-wheel-drive base Model S 70D is quicker in any 0-60 contest with a 5.2-second time, but the 0-30 time comparison may be much closer. Volt is estimated at 8.4 seconds to 60, but just 2.6 seconds to 30.
Its electric front-wheel-drive’s “instant torque” was beefed up over the generation-one Volt, and real world driving performance was emphasized, though to be sure this is no speed burner like the fleet-footed Model S.
And compared to the larger 85 and up Model S, there is even less of a contest at upper speed levels.
Whether this matters is the question. The Volt is quite satisfactory for legal driving and then some – and frankly, cars that are as quick as four-cylinder motorcycles really cater to desire for extra-legal driving in America with speed limits that can be quite tame by European standards.
Boring however, the Volt is not. On our drive in twisty Route One above Sausalito, California, the Chevy’s cornering prowess was satisfying, even with the standard Michelin low rolling resistance spec tires. These tires, by the way, could be changed out for more sticky rubber if really desired, at the expense of a tiny bit of range and efficiency, but most won’t see the need.
It’s lighter, in the 3,550-pound range than a large 1,000-pound heavier Model S on fatter stickier tires. The Model S is a rewarding driver too, both are fun.
Anyone really contemplating this should test drive both to see what you can live with. All we are saying here is while it’s assumed the Model S is fun, the Volt is surprisingly enjoyable.
The Model S and Volt are examples of sophisticated engineering. Tesla is a rolling computer with flat battery down below the floor in its skateboard chassis. Volt is a rolling computer and its tech cred mainly being its superior plug-in hybrid powertrain.
The battery actually is very high tech too, but is more of an encumbrance on interior packaging that is either something people accept or object to for its taking up the middle seating position.
Both are cutting edge in their own way.
The Volt and Tesla Model S have each scored well on Consumer Reports’ owner satisfaction ratings. Before the Model S took its crown in 2013, the Volt in 2011 and 2012 was number one in owner satisfaction, edging out even the vaunted Porsche 911 in the process.
The record for Volt reliability has been solid. The battery with five years on the market now has proven to retain its charge-holding capacity, and the entire vehicle is engineered as sort of technological showpiece for GM.
Model S has also enjoyed popularity, though Consumer Reports this week did demote it to not recommended due to various issues. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has tweeted reminding people owners still largely recommend it. Tesla is also known to be extremely responsive in service.
Tesla’s proactive service policy where it may replace parts on principle has kept owners happy, even when changing out things like drive motors that failed in a number of cars, along with other issues CR documented, citing 1,400 owners.
The Volt also promises white glove customer service, and a “Volt Advisor” is there to offer assistance, but of course the owner experience is through authorized third-party dealers. Tesla runs its own factory service, so the experience is different, to be sure.
This assumes one will need warranty or repair service, which some have not, and in common to both is owners have become fans which says something in and of itself.
This comparison between Volt and Model S is about as apple vs. orange as you can get, but in ways it’s not a complete stretch as both are aimed at demographics with overlapping preferences.
And the tendency to assess the two side by side may be inevitable. Until automakers give us more like-for-like choices, people determined to reduce emissions and get off of gas may be compelled to size up the cars despite them being in different classes.
Two Volts could be had for the price of one Model S. Chevrolet does not market the Volt as a Model S competitor, but for its part sees it more as an alternative to the Nissan Leaf and Toyota Prius.
Among plug-in hybrids, the Volt is a standout however and it is elevated to being truly an EV with extended range, and it does what people buy an EV to do. The next-nearest-range PHEV will be the 27-mile Hyundai Sonata plug-in hybrid when it is launched.
The Volt is the first plug-in car to undergo a full redesign. It has benefitted from lessons gained from gen one, while Model S gets evolved as it goes with over-the-air updates, and constant revisions, including Autopilot most recently.
They are two different approaches, to be sure. Which one would make more sense for you?