Just How Far Can A Chevrolet Volt Go On Electricity? How About 81.8 Miles

3 years ago by Ari Colin 41

Ever Wondered How Many Miles You Could Coax Out Of A Chevy Volt If Your Really Tried?

Ever Wondered How Many Miles You Could Coax Out Of A Chevy Volt If Your Really Tried?

So how far can a Chevy Volt go one one charge? I plan to find out. Equipment used: one 2012 Chevy Volt with 52,000 EV miles and a whole lot of spare time!

FedEx Field Was The Perfect Base OF Operations

FedEx Field Was The Perfect Base OF Operations

Let’s discuss what one charge means. There are three ways to charge a Chevy Volt: plugging in via J1772 connector, using Mountain Mode, or reclaiming electricity via regenerative braking.

I’ve seen ranges as high as 141 miles using regenerative braking through large elevation changes. Theoretically, hundreds of miles can be achieved on one charge via regenerative braking. I will be using none of these methods to charge the battery after my initial charge.

To achieve a very long range, one must almost never stop, in essence a test track should be used, or a road as much like a test track as possible. I do not have a test track to use, so I had to locate a public road very much like a test track. A long country road would work, but last time I checked no such road exists near metro Washington DC.

The best choice in my case would be a large traffic circle. In addition, there needs to be nearby access to a level 2 charger. I succeeded in finding the perfect location, FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. Surrounding FedEx Field is a giant traffic circle, and right next to the road are 12 free solar powered level 2 chargers compliments of NRG eVgo.

The key factors affecting range are speed (lower the better), ambient temperature, tire PSI, driving style, elevation change, and climate control. I will be driving around 20 MPH. Optimal temperature for efficiency is around the mid 80’s Fahrenheit, which is warm, but not hot enough to engage thermal management of the battery. I will be using no climate control, of course. Recommended tire pressure by GM is 38 PSI. Really too low, many owners go with 42-45 PSI. A few hyper milers (me included) go with 50 PSI. For this test, I went way beyond that and set my tires to 60 PSI. Do not try this at home! Another factor in my favor is that my tires are pretty worn as they have 52,000 miles on them. Newer tires with more tread create more friction with the road, reducing EV range and MPG.

Getting Underway!

Getting Underway!

I picked Memorial Day for my run. It was a nice warm day, upper 80s Fahrenheit and I could spare a good chunk of my day for this “exercise”. Early afternoon I set out for FedEx Field. I used around 60% of battery to get to FedEx Field from Northern Virginia. About 2 1/4 hours later I had a full charge. However, I waited. I let the battery rest for 30 minutes, then turned on the Volt while it was still plugged in. This allows the Volt to charge an additional buffer. I will not go into details here, subject for another article. About 10 minutes later, the battery was charged to the maximum allowed. This raised the actual state of charge from 87% to 89%. The Volt only allows 65% of the battery to be used, this trick bought me another 2%.

A key metric for measuring efficiency of how one drives is miles per kWh. My 2012 Volt has an EPA rated range of 35 miles on 10.0 kWh, or 3.5 miles / kWh. Really efficient driving is 5 miles / kWh. This drive will go way beyond that.

At 6:25pm I started my run. I turned off my daytime running lights and made sure Bluetooth was off on my phone. I did not want any precious electrons wasted on a Bluetooth connection. I had both front windows cracked about 1.5 inches due to the heat. There are a few small little hills on the ring road around FedEx Field. When going down these hills, I use neutral to coast as much as possible. My speed varied from 19 MPH up to as high as 25 MPH. Average speed for the entire run was 23 MPH. I really could not go slower since it was an active road. By the time I finished and my range had dropped to 0 miles, I had driven 81.8 miles using 9.8 kWh for a measurement of 8.35 miles / kWh.

81.8 Miles On Electricity!

81.8 Miles On Electricity!

Here is a table with my progress:

Long Distance Chevy Volt On Electricity Progress Chart

Long Distance Chevy Volt On Electricity Progress Chart

The drive required a lot of concentration keeping the speed at the perfect spot and continually shifting from drive to neutral back to drive. It’s amazing how quickly the time actually passed. I did have to stop once. I managed to catch the interest of a police officer who wanted to know what I was doing. I explained I was testing the electrical range on my Volt and he let me on my way, or on my circle!

Unfortunately, I should have started a little earlier. I had to turn on my lights dropping my efficiency from 8.5 kWh. A 2014 Volt with around 11.0 kWh available has a decent chance of getting to 90 EV miles on one charge. Anyone with a 2014 Volt want to try???

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41 responses to "Just How Far Can A Chevrolet Volt Go On Electricity? How About 81.8 Miles"

  1. Big Solar says:

    What do I have to do to use these free chargers in DC besides drive there?

    1. Ellison says:

      To use free public level twos, just get their network RFID cards, Chargepoint, Evgo, Blink from their websites.

      ..and then find them all on the Plugshare app!

  2. OceanRailroader says:

    Basically if I drive on interstate 95 during the rush hour from Fredrick to Washington in a volt I could go 80 miles in EV mode in that the highway the traffic only goes 20 miles on hour.

    1. Tra-Volt-a says:

      You would have a hard time not hitting the brakes during that commute. Regenerative is nice, but converting from AC to DC and back has losses.

  3. kdawg says:

    I was going to ask why you didn’t use Hold Mode to drive to the course, but then realized you have a 2012 Volt. So what what did the kW meter say while you were driving? Using your figures, is it safe to assume that on flat ground w/out any ancillaries, the Volt uses 2.74 kW to maintain 23 MPH?

  4. Mike Anderson says:

    You did your entire run using D and N on the shifter? Even in D you get regen when you let off the accelerator pedal. How did you avoid regen?


    1. Ari Colin says:

      Yes you are correct, any time I take my foot off the accelerator in D there will be regen. However, only time I took my foot off the accelerator, I was in N.

  5. sven says:

    Great job! It would have sucked if maintenance mode came on in the middle of the test. I’m looking forward to reading about that “additional buffer” trick! 😀

    1. ClarksonCote says:

      This also works with remote starting, when plugged in. The Volt seems to “top off” the battery when this is done, so as long as your heat is not drawing more than the charger can provide, your battery gets topped off a bit.

      I do this in the summer when I know I need the range, which also cools down my cabin using A/C. But since the A/C only draws about 1kW, I still get the battery topped off by the charger.

      1. Steve says:

        I am not sure its giving you more energy storage. When I precondition the screen can show 11.2kWh used instead of 10.8kWh. This just means that 0.3kWh was used for preconditioning.
        Also if you driving in hold mode and you go down a long hill you can see extra energy banked. If you switch to Normal, then switch again to Hold you bank up that extra for later in your trip. The computer also adds that extra into the energy and miles used in electric mode.

        1. ClarksonCote says:

          Hi Steve,

          I believe it is giving you more, as the charger stays on even after the remote start cycle is complete, despite being a 3.3kW charger and the AC consuming 1kW or less.

          I’ve also noticed that I can sometimes get it to top off to the point that “L” does not regen for a few tenths of a mile while leaving my neighborhood.

    2. Ari Colin says:

      The Volt gives plenty of advance notice about Engine or Fuel Maintenance. It can be delayed 24 hours, plus it only displays when the vehicle is turned on. I had my fuel maintenance last month and am not due for engine maintenance for 2 more weeks.

  6. EdoTesla says:

    Pretty intense, good job.
    But “overclocking” the tires, yikes!

    1. Dr. Kenneth Noisewater says:

      Indeed, I would be very wary of overclocking the tires, I’ve had nothing but trouble with the crappy stocker Goodyears. Might be prudent to go to Michelins first.

  7. Nelson says:

    This really needs to be tested on a track using cruise control. I don’t think the best speed to reap greatest distance in a Volt is 23 mph. Though I have not tested I would guess maybe 28 mph.

    NPNS! SBF!

    1. Ari Colin says:

      I did the exact same course last summer at 30 mph on cruise control, best it could do was 66 miles in D, and 67 miles in L.

      1. kdawg says:

        Doesn’t the 2012 have a kW display, or can’t you use an OBD2 reader, to show you how much kWs your you’re using? Then you could determine the optimal speed.

        1. Ari Colin says:

          Absolutely it has a kWh display. That’s how I created the chart each 1.0 kWh. I took out my OBDII device. Not sure how much power it used, but I wanted to save every last bit! I guess I should have logged the whole trip for those “doubters”.

          1. kdawg says:

            Not kWh, kW. The power being used to maintain a speed.

            1. cab says:

              Nope…that was introduced in 2013.

      2. ClarksonCote says:

        Ari, you need to try it at 40mph, without any shifts to neutral, to try and get the two-motor mode running constantly. Maybe you’d need a true race track for that though.

        1. Ari Colin says:

          40 MPH will not work. Best I could do was 67 miles at 30 MPH at FedEx field last summer. Not sure what the best speed would be. At some point, the power to keep the Volt systems on will outweigh any efficiency gains from lower speeds. Probably could calculate this without having to really drive it.

          1. ClarksonCote says:

            Yep you’re right, my bad. 🙂

  8. ClarksonCote says:

    Nice write-up Ari. One thing I might question is the optimal vehicle speed. I recently saw a chart on GM-Volt.com that suggests at 40mph you’re using less Wh/mile than 20mph, due in part to the switch to two-motor propulsion at that speed under low loads.

    I don’t know how believable the chart was though, but it would be an interesting test if you have another 2+ hours to kill. 😉

    1. Jeff N says:

      No. EV efficiency probably peaks around 15-20 mph like it does on a Tesla but, in any case, it is clearly more efficient to drive EV at 20 mph than 40 mph. The 2-motor mode does not happen in EV (CD) until closer to 60 mph. According to a study at INL, the Volt uses 160 Wh per mile at 20 mph and 208 Wh per mile at 40 mph.

      I think you are probably thinking of efficiency in hybrid (CS) mode where the Volt switches to 2-motor power-split mode around 37-40 mph and that is apparently more efficient than hybrid mode at 20 mph. The same INL study says the Volt gets 40 mpg at 15 mph but 73 mpg at 45 mph.

      See page 2 for EV steady state efficiency and page 4 for hybrid steady state efficiency:


      1. ClarksonCote says:

        Yes, you’re right Jeff. I misread the table I referenced in my post. The optimal point does appear to be around 20mph as Ari executed.

      2. ClarksonCote says:

        However, what you said about two-mode is not correct. It can happen as low as 35mph. The 60mph or so figure you quote is when it is almost always occurring, whereas under that speed it depends on the power demands more heavily to decide which mode to use.

        1. Jeff N says:

          “Two Motor” mode in the Volt happens under different conditions depending on whether you are in charge depleting (EV) mode or charge sustaining (hybrid) mode. In hybrid mode it begins to use two motor mode around 37 mph. For EV it behinds using it around 50-60 mph (80-100 kWh).

          See Table 1:


  9. CR says:

    “Regenerative breaking” is kind of an oxymoron… I think you mean “regenerative braking.” Otherwise, nicely done!

  10. ModernMarvelFan says:

    That puts my personal best of 48Miles in a shame… LOL!

    Good job!

  11. I just got a 2014 Volt to replace my 2012 Volt.

    I just might try this! Thanks for the inspiration.

    I have had the car for a week and a half with a 50+ RT Commute. I can only plug in 1x per day. Yet I still have over 200MPG.

  12. socalvolt says:

    I’m sorry but I think this is just ridiculous as nobody can possibly drive this way in real life.

  13. Steve says:

    My 2014 always shows 10.8kWh instead of 9.8kWh. If you drove mine you could crack 90 miles!

  14. MrEnergyCzar says:

    I thought it was determined awhile ago that 37 mph is the most efficient Volt speed?

  15. AZM-Volt says:

    Great Job Ari C ! We have a 2012 Volt too , My wife set our record at 54 miles in real world driving, we are up to 47 thousand ev miles and 3000 on gas , this car is amazing!! 495 mpg:)

    1. Ari Colin says:

      Thanks! Yes it truly is amazing. I’m at 52,000 EV miles and 139 gas miles. My engine still is not broken in yet!

  16. doug liser says:

    Try next time to fill the car with helium to save some weight.

    1. Raymondjram says:

      He cannot breath helium while driving! The weigh difference isn’t much.

  17. John Donohoe says:

    Interesting challenge, thanks – I did just recently achieve my personal best, 51 miles in real world driving, in low. 2014 Volt, almost 3k miles, 75-80 ambient temps. The next morning, after overnight charging at 120v 8amp, predicted range was 54 miles. Here in Michigan I’m going to have to maximize my warm weather mileage to offset the inevitable cold (this Volt is my daily driver, I have a 30 mile rt commute on city streets.

  18. Fibb says:

    how about 357.2 EV km on one charge….

    see pic >>>> http://j.mp/1sTx5fJ

    Believe it?

  19. Raymondjram says:

    Did anyone notice that if he had a 25 kWh battery, his Volt could be the first to have a 200 mile EV range? I see that a different vehicle, like the Spark EV but larger, can hold a 25 to 30 kWh battery under the floor, and reach the 200 mile range. I believe that GM is doing just that: making a Sonic EV version with a 30 kWh battery to get that 200 mile range with a 7 mile/kWh motor or better.