Behind the Wheel of GM's Chevrolet Volt

ABC drives the car that GM is banking on to revitalize the auto industry.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26, 2010— -- Meet the 2011 Chevy Volt, General Motors answer to hybrid cars like Toyota's Prius.

You won't get the chance to buy it until the end of the year, but was invited to preview the Volt on a closed course outside RFK Stadium in Washington D.C.

If you haven't driven an electric or hybrid car before, the first thing you notice after stepping on the gas-peddle is how quiet it is. An electric engine powered by a 400 pound lithium-ion battery allows the car to whisper along while barely making a sound.

You also notice how quick the Volt is. Because of the way electric motors are designed, power and torque are available from the starting line.

The car plugs into your standard household outlet, and will take about eight hours to fully charge, according to General Motors spokesperson Dave Darovitz. If your commute takes you further than the battery's 40 mile range, an onboard gas engine/generator kicks in, allowing you to travel between 300-400 miles before refueling.

"What they're trying to do with the Volt is basically give you an electric car but do away with any possibility of being worried about it running out of charge," said John Davis, the host of public television's "MotorWeek." "It's the next step beyond the hybrids like the [Toyota] Prius."

In the Prius, as in most hybrids, the gasoline engine kicks in right away, not after 40 miles, continuously supplementing the electric engine whenever the car is driven hard, or up hills.

General Motors is banking heavily on the success of the car.

"The production Volt represents the future of not just General Motors but perhaps the American auto industry as a whole," Davis said. "This is technology where it looks like the Detroit automakers actually have a jump on most of their competition, so this whole aspect of extended range hybrids couldn't be more important."

General Motors representatives weren't ready to announce a sticker price for the Volt just yet, but estimates right now are in the $30,000-$40,000 range.

"This is a huge risk for General Motors, and they need to get this car and its whole battery and gasoline generator system right the first time…" Davis said. "They've got everything banking on it."