Picture it: a bachelorette trip to Nashville. I drive a Volkswagen Eos, which is a fantastic car that appeals to this girl geek since its top is like a transformer, but for a six-hour drive with three girls’ luggage? It wouldn’t do. I cashed in a few free days from National Rent-A-Car and ended up with a Chevy Equinox. Though we liked the extra room, what all three of us were really fascinated by was the really nice integration of MyLink and OnStar.
I think we’re all used to European cars leading in-car technology: think Mercedes-Benz’s MBrace, or BMW’s iDrive. Recently, Ford Sync and Chevrolet’s MyLink have jumped into the ring in a very competitive way.
Using MyLink was easy– simply link a phone via Bluetooth or the USB port, and your songs and playlists are instantly indexed. Hit the Aux button, and you can use Spotify or Pandora instead. Need to make a call? Press a button on your steering wheel. Need directions? Though I’m a devoted Apple fangirl, Siri sometimes just doesn’t cut it. Press a button for OnStar and the unfailingly polite person on the other end finds your destination and sends the turn-by-turn directions directly to the MyLink display. It instantly recalculates, and if you have any other issues, help is a phone call away.
I only had the Equinox for two days, but I approached the Chevy dealership in my area about driving a Volt (Full disclosure: I do some community management for the dealerships in Cincinnati). They hooked me up with a white Volt for five days.
This car is a geek’s dream. Really. Though white isn’t my color– they carry it into the dash, making it look a little like an early iPod– the rest of the experience is fantastic. It has all of the same MyLink features as the Equinox, but streamlined with a touch panel and screen that also allows you to monitor the hybrid engine. You can see how power is being generated, how your driving style and cabin comfort (read: air conditioning or heat) affects your use of energy. It’s pretty cool. The display is also customizable: the dealer, when showing me the features of the car, said that if you’ve got someone who really only wants to monitor their usage, listen to the radio, and maybe use satellite radio, you can eliminate the rest of the choices to eliminate confusion.
The Volt is a range-extended battery-powered series vehicle while the Prius is a hybrid (even the plug-in version). Unlike a 50mpg Prius, which can only go for about a mile on the battery before the gas engine kicks in, the Volt has a 38 mile range, which is perfect for someone who only drives in the city, or has a one-way commute under that mileage. With the Eco function, which limits the power of the (very nice) speakers and heats the seats instead of the whole cabin, the Volt can allow your experience to be efficient and maximize that 38-mile range. It’s entirely possible, based on where you live, to not have to use the gas generator (it’s not really a gas engine, the generator creates electricity to power the battery) at all– just plug in at your destination and at home. This makes for a car that has some kick– floor that baby and it’ll take right off but it is still incredibly quiet. I drove around a little in a quiet park, and the only sound you hear are twigs and gravel under your tires. I had to use the horn feature– a couple of brisk “toots”– as I turned on my city streets, because the Volt is so quiet that pedestrians can’t hear you.
Plugging it in was easy: I live in a condo, and I happen to have a parking spot right outside my door. It takes about 10 hours to charge with a standard outlet but many places (seemingly random here in Cincinnati– an outlet mall, a few restaurants) have the higher voltage charger which will charge it in just a few.
Oh, need to know how your car is doing charging-wise? The OnStar App is fabulous. You can figure out your gas (er, electric…) mileage, remotely turn the car on and off (I would LOVE that in the winter), send directions– all sorts of things. It also monitors the health and well-being of your car, so you know when your tire pressure is off or if you have to have some maintenance done.
All in all, as a fairly devoted European car driver, I was incredibly impressed with what the Chevy Volt had to offer. For a starting price of $36,500, I would have liked a few more luxurious details like leather and automatic seats, but overall the technology blew me away. As a city dweller who doesn’t drive much, this might work out to be a great car for me. But since my Eos is only a year old, I’ll look into OnStar FMV– essentially the OnStar system for any car, GM or not. Once I get it, I’ll report back.