By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Nov 18, 2011 at 11:02 AM

I freely admit I'm a bit of a car snob, but that hasn't prevented me from owning a Toyota Prius for the last six years. As slow and as boring to drive as that Prius is, it's averaged about 47 miles per gallon over its 75,000-mile lifespan. However, the real-world gas savings recognized from this cheaply styled, soulless hatch have certainly helped finance other cooler cars over the years. Reliable albeit utilitarian, I have no regrets about purchasing it.

But man, that car is boring, and as I've been saying for a few years, I'll replace it when something comes out that's more efficient, more stylish and more fun to drive.

I think I found all three in the 2012 Chevy Volt.

Out of the blue, the new car manager at Bergstrom Chevrolet called me last week and asked me if I'd like to borrow one of the two Volts he has on the lot. This wasn't a sales call, though much to my surprise, you can finally actually own the all-electric (then all-gas) car in Milwaukee.

Of course, I accepted, and Friday afternoon I drove to Menomonee Falls and picked up the "White Diamond Tricoat" Volt that looked cool on the outside (except for the big "VOLT" graphics affixed to the sides), and maybe cooler on the inside.

On the interior, I felt like I was sitting inside an iPod. With upgraded jet black leather seats and a ceramic white, plastic-y but not at all cheap feeling layout, most of the controls were touch-activated, either by screen or on the dash. Notably, the car sports four bucket seats, so there's no chance you're cramming a fifth person in this car. I found that odd and limiting.

Other than that familiar Chevy logo, this car neither looked nor drove like an other Chevrolet I've ever tried – though I've (yet) to get behind the wheel of a Corvette.

The only other options on this car were heated seats and polished aluminum wheels. Beyond that, this car was stock – with all sorts of techy bells and whistles you'd expect for a gas-guzzling ride in this class. Base MSRP is $39,145 and don't expect to negotiate, but with $7,500 in tax credits, I was sitting in a car that basically starts at around $32,500 – and, depending on one's lifestyle, might not require using a drop of gasoline.

So how did the Volt drive?

That's a two-part answer. On a full charge, which can be accomplished in about 10 hours using a standard 110-volt outlet, or five hours if you have a 220-volt hookup, you get about 40 miles per charge. This depends on how you drive, of course. It will be less if you gun it too much, but a full charge should cost you about $1.50 in electricity, according to the rep I talked to.

Once you run the battery to empty, the Volt switches to its puny internal combustion engine, which gives you another 300 miles or so of range. This isn't a hybrid car like the Prius, as it doesn't alternate between gas and electric. It's all electric, then it's all gas.

And, when it's all electric, it's an absolute joy to drive. You can toggle between "normal," "sport" and "mountain" modes (I didn't try "mountain") depending on the pickup you desire, and with instant, silent torque available, the Volt feels nimble, responsive and peppy. As peppy as my BMW? Nope, but close, and easily twice as peppy as my Prius.

Plus, it's silent, except for the sound of the wheels turning, so there's even an extra horn on the stalk to alert pedestrians you're coming. The car also uses kitschy sound effects to indicate power on and off. A little silly, yes, but overall, the Volt feels like driving a car, and that's extremely important here. Yes, its gauges and displays are noticeably more high-tech, but this is a car your mom could instantly sit in and and drive away. It's significantly more intuitive than the Prius.

When I picked up the Volt at the dealer, it was about 75 percent charged, so it ran out of juice shortly after I made it home to Bay View. Which is exactly what I wanted. When it seamlessly switched into gas mode, I hopped on the highway and drove it for another 30 miles.

Don't get me wrong, when the Volt is using gas, it's plenty capable, but it's loud, sluggish and quite a bit less efficient. It goes from feeling like a futuristic technology-packed engineering marvel to that Chevy Aveo I rented for $10 a day back in the '90s. It's no fun to drive at all when its powered by fossil fuel, really, but it gets the job done. By the time I pulled into my garage, the estimated MPG reading dropped from 250 to about 102, when it combined battery and gas. Either way, those numbers are simply stunning.

Back at home, I charged the car, taking the unit out of the trunk and plugging one end into a special socket by the driver's mirror and the other end into the wall. A green bulb lit up, and in the morning, it said I had 37 miles to work with. I easily made it back to the Falls without using another drop off gas.

There are so many things right with the Chevy Volt, even in its first incarnation. It looks great as a sedan, especially from the back. It drives extremely well, especially with the battery's instant torque that makes it feel faster than it is. It's even very reasonably priced for a certain type of consumer.

If you live your life in around 40 miles a day, the savings will be remarkable. And, unlike its competitor, the all-battery Nissan Leaf (which has a longer range but no gas backup), you'll never get stranded. Just be prepared that gas mode is quite disappointing. For people who wonder about repair costs, all I can do is point to my boring Prius, that has required little more than oil changes since 2005. I would expect the Volt to be similarly low-maintenance.

Working against the Volt is its limited range. Surely, this will be extended over the evolution of the model, but 40 miles isn't as many as you think. A drive to and from Mayfair from Downtown gets you close to that. Also, while I mostly liked the interior build quality, I found some of the touch controls a little fussy. The various screens presented some cluttered information, like a giant green ball that doesn't serve much of a practical purpose. The two rear bucket seats also strike me as unnecessarily inflexible.

Finally, as a brand snob, I'm still not convinced that Chevrolet has the cache of some other marques. It would be interesting to see what Chevy could do if it launched a niche brand, like Toyota did with Lexus or Nissan did with Infiniti. But that could just be me. Maybe most people don't care about the logos on their cars.

After all, Detroit has built something amazing with Chevy Volt, and it's hard not to be blown away by this car and all the thought that went into it. Even without a few tweaks here and there, for me, it quickly became a strong contender for that Prius replacement.

If you can, give this car and test drive. I expect that people who love cars, care about the environment and appreciate a rebirth of the American auto industry, will very possibly fall in love with the 2012 Volt, too.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.