08/05/2012 08:54 BST | Updated 10/05/2012 05:44 BST

The Chevrolet Volt: First drive review

A striking and sharp design is not something we’d usually associate with green cars, so Chevrolet’s new Volt certainly looks like a breath of fresh air. The sleek and sculpted looks help with the car’s aerodynamics, and it boasts some incredible economy figures of 235.4mpg coupled with just 27g/km of CO2 emissions.

On sale now, we headed to Cambridge for an early drive of a UK-specification car to see how it handles British roads.

The first question that must be asked is why buy a Volt over the last year's Car of The Year winner, the all-electric Nissan Leaf? Well, whilst there's no doubt the Leaf is an accomplished drive, once its 80 mile range is done, you'll need to find the nearest charging station.

This is where the Volt scores, as on top of its Voltec 140bhp electric drive unit, the Chevrolet also has a range-extending, 86bhp 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. Thus removing the anxiety associated with the range of electric cars. The engine also boosts performance and increases the range to more than 300 miles; more than enough for a decent road trip.

First thoughts are that overall the Volt is a good-looking car. The slim headlights and latest version of the Chevrolet family grille look smooth while the body lines give a clean design.

Other neat Volt styling features from the side include sculpted wing mirrors, distinctive thick black and chrome trim, Ampera has a much lower window line and the five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels.

The rear bumper treatment for the Volt might is unfussy and the slim lights mounted high look smart

Inside, there's certainly nothing to scare Chevrolet owners about the Volt; instead you are greeted with a high-quality wraparound dashboard, multi-function steering wheel and chunky switchgear.

Exclusive to the Volt are the two large TFT displays, which are a great way to check consumption levels and how many miles you have left to travel on pure electricity.

This Chevrolet has plenty of toys as standard including a DAB radio, 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system, alloy wheels, a bespoke Bose Energy Efficient Series sound system, DVD video player, 30GB hard-disc storage and voice control for the navigation, telephone and music systems. The large list of standard equipment helps to give the Volt’s cabin a premium feel, as do the pearl white highlights on the doors and dash and the touch-sensitive buttons.

Up front, there’s plenty of space and a decent driving position, while the rear can fit another two people comfortably.

Most important though, is how the Volt feels on the road. Well it might have a complicated petrol/electric powertrain, but it is very easy to drive. To get going, all you do is press the start button, select drive on the auto box, unclick the electric handbrake and the Chevrolet moves away in total silence.

It’s a very involving drive, and with all 370Nm of torque from the electric motor available from standstill, the Volt feels hot-hatch quick.

It might weigh a rather heafty 1732kg, but the Chevrolet can still get to 60mph in 9.0 seconds and the 99mph top speed is believable.

There's a choice of three modes: Normal, Sport and Mountain. We spent most of the time in Normal mode, although we also tried the Sport mode, where the only noticeable change was that the accelerator pedal seemed much more and acceleration felt much sharper.

We achieved 30 miles of electric power on the mixed test route. Then, when the battery ran out, the Volt moved almost seamlessly into extended range mode. This is basically where the 1.4-litre petrol generator powers the electric motor. Performance is not affected at all and the interior remains as quiet as it did with just the electric motor running.

The Volt we tested might be fitted with chrome 17-inch wheels (an option well worth purchasing in our opinion) but it’s really compliant and offers a comfort and tautness while bumps and potholes are well absorbed. Body roll is kept in check round corners, and steering is pleasantly responsive.

Overall, we think the Volt could be just the car for buyers who like the idea of a car such as the Nissan Leaf, but are put off by the restrictive range. Chevrolet are mostly aiming at the retail market, but the Volt will attract company car buyers too, with a tax rate much lower than for a conventional petrol model. The £29,995 list price means it won't be in the price range of every buyer, but if you're an urban commuter and can drive the Chevrolet purely on electric power there's no doubt you'll be saving on fuel. You also get an eight-year warranty on the battery which will help with resale and the peace of mind that the Volt scored 5 stars in the Euro NCAP tests.