NEW YORK CITY — Pier 92 on the far west side of Manhattan was the unlikely setting for my first drive in a close-to-production Chevy Volt. While in no way simulating a normal drive — we ran up and down on ramps and through brief cone courses — it still was enough to give me some vivid impressions.

Here’s the video view from the driver’s seat:

The Volt, which will be on the market in three markets (Washington, D.C., Michigan and California) by the end of the year, uses its small gas engine not to drive the wheels, but to provide electricity for the onboard battery pack. You get 40 miles of battery cruising, then another 300 miles, courtesy of that gas engine acting as a generator.

“The Volt is not a hybrid or plug-in hybrid,” said Jim Campbell, the U.S. marketing vice president at Chevrolet. "It is an extended-range electric vehicle.”

The car is high-tech, with a near-3D graphic display that instantly eclipses the Toyota Prius or any other green vehicle on the market. You can tell how much juice you have left and if you’re in the sweet spot to conserve electricity.

Driving the car was a generally good experience. It feels like what it is — a torquey and well-sorted (no squeaks or rattles) electric car. It’s undoubtedly noisier when the gas engine is running, but we drove in pure EV mode — with the dash display claiming 963 mpg. The steering is not sports-car quick, but it’s definitely in sports sedan territory. The brakes work. (I’m still not sure why that group of journalists scattered when I accelerated their way.)

The cars we drove are part of a group of 80 built last summer for durability testing. Pre-production Volts have finally begun to roll off the assembly line this week (next to the Buick Lucerne and Cadillac DTS) at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant. There’s still no official price — GM will release that a month before the first production cars emerge at the end of the year.

“There’s been tons of speculation about the price,” said Volt product manager Christi Landi, who added that the car we drove is not “final, final” — there will be small improvements made until near launch.

Chevy is not yet taking orders for the Volt. Britta Gross, GM’s manager of hydrogen and electrical infrastructure development, told me in New York that “we’re still working that out. There’s no official GM list for the Volt at this point.”

Gross also said she’s as mystified as I am about the size of the EV market in the first year. But that year starts in a few months, so we’ll know soon.

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

First drive in the electric Chevrolet Volt -- that's right, not a hybrid!
The Chevy Volt, which uses a gas engine to provide electricity for a battery pack, is close to launch. With a unique 'range-extender' drivetrain, the Volt is a