Day three: Behind the wheel
I have been driving since the Carter Administration; I think I can figure out how to start a car. Only I can't figure out how to start the Chevy Volt.
With the key in my pocket I press the bright blue power button on the center console. Nothing happens. An error message displays on the dashboard, telling me I need to hit the brake. I press the button and tap the brake. Nothing happens. I repeat the process. Again, nada. I look for an alt-ctrl-delete option to reboot.
When the delivery guys dropped off the car, one of them handed me a three-ring binder explaining the basics of the Chevy Volt, along with a cell phone pre-programmed to dial the GM support line if we got totally flummoxed. He then walked me carefully through how to use the cell phone, like I was a bit slow. (Perhaps I reminded him of David Hasselhoff.)
Still, I resisted the urge to hit speed dial and broke out the three-ring binder. It turns out you need to hold the brake down first and then press the power button. Simple enough. But it's the first time I've had to crack the manual to turn on a car.
When I shift into reverse the rear view camera comes on the center console LCD. It feels like reality TV. Superimposed over the grainy black and white image is the projected path of our vehicle, which moves in snakelike fashion as I turn the wheel. I crank the wheel back and forth, back and forth. I am mesmerized.
"We are going to leave, right?" my wife says from the passenger seat. "Some time before the kids head off to college?"
But no, I'm having too much fun with the controls. The Chevy Volt's center console features a variety of 'soft' buttons -- for air flow, temperature, satellite radio, GPS navigation -- as well as a touch-screen LCD. I still have no idea what some of them do.
There's a mysterious button with a picture of a leaf on it. I press it. The center screen displays an animated graphic of electricity flowing from the car's battery through the power train. There is, as far as I can discern, no real information conveyed by this animation beyond the fact that a) you're driving an electric car, and b) ain't it cool? Yes, it's cool.
Day four: Cruisin'
The Volt has become "our" car. Nobody wants to go anywhere in our once-spiffy 2008 Honda Fit. Our still roadworthy 1996 Honda Odyssey minivan now looks like a relic from an ancient civilization.
The Volt's dashboard LCD actually tells me how well or poorly I'm driving. On the right side of the screen an animated green globe slowly spins and bobs inside a bubble. If I accelerate too quickly, the globe rises above the bubble and glows red; if I brake too hard, it drops below the bubble and glows red. But mostly it bobs in the middle.
I alternate stepping on the gas and hitting the brakes to see if I can force the globe out of the bubble. My wife helpfully suggests I might consider also watching the road before we all die.
"See all those shiny metal objects zipping around out there? Those are called 'cars.'"
When not waxing sarcastic about my driving (a life-long avocation), my wife did come up with a solution for our recharging problem. I drive the Chevy Volt into the back of our wooded lot and park it next to our greenhouse, which has an 120-volt outlet (and no air conditioning). Sitting in the woods, with its bright orange power cord plugged into the greenhouse, the Volt finally looks sufficiently Green.
I have to admit, though: The constant 'Your charge door is open' error message is starting to annoy me.
Day five: Taken to school
Every morning I take the Chevy Volt to drop my tween daughter off at middle school. The first thing she does upon entering the front seat of any vehicle is to hijack the radio and crank up the Kesha until our ears bleed. But the Volt's center console panel has her stumped. She can't figure out how to change the Sirius satellite radio from its favorites, which are all preset to Music for Dead People: Classical, Spa, and Watercolors. I make her listen to Watercolors (soft jazz) until she begs me to stop.
When we arrive at the drop-off point, the school principal -- who opens every car door to greet every student but otherwise has uttered a total of 17 words to us all year -- suddenly lights up at the sight of the chevy.
"How d'ya like it?" He practically beams. Turns out he's an electric car nerd. He walks around the front of the car to get a better view.
"Hey, did you see that your recharge door is open? Here, let me close it for you."