Chevrolet’s 238-mile range Bolt EV is a major leap forward among mass-appeal electric cars and for now arguably the best.
Why? Several reasons that add up to a nicely designed vehicle that does what it’s supposed to, while being enjoyable to motor around in, and boasting amazing efficiency as well.
As the first EV with over 200 miles range priced in the 30s – a few dollars under $30,000 with a $7,500 federal tax credit – it is General Motors’ badge of corporate technological pride. Until now, you’d have to have spent twice as much if you wanted the range the eco car from Chevrolet now provides.
Of course the Bolt won’t be utterly unique for long, as Tesla’s sleek 215-or-more range Model 3 is due in July and to be priced from $35,000, Tesla has said, plus likely destination fee. Also, Nissan’s next Leaf is to be unveiled in September, it’s to be a more-similar competitor to the Bolt, and others in this range-for-dollar metric are on the next 2-3 year horizon.
But today you can order a Bolt EV which began sales in Oregon and California last October, is rolling out across the country as we speak, and to be nationally available by summer. It won’t have to be an option-packed version stickering a few thousand higher than base, as the Model 3 is expected to initially be with its long line of reservation holders, and the Bowtie-brand car is a solid contender in its own right.
In talking up the collaboration between General Motors and South Korea’s LG Chem and LG Electronics which contributed 11 major components to the Michigan-built EV, engineers have displayed confidence that the car is well executed.
A strict budget did necessitate strategic cost-cutting, and the long-term reliability record is something we’ll have to wait and see on, but if the durability of the 2011-2017 Chevy Volt is any indicator, odds are favorable that the Bolt will be as good as its initial impressions.
Quick Long Range Runner
It all starts with the drivetrain, as that’s basically what the purpose-built EV is centered around. Almost all details impress, beginning with the 60-kWh heated and liquid-cooled battery.
This 960-pound (435 kg) pack is integrated as a strength-increasing structural member in the floor, as GM utilized a “skateboard” chassis style that other EVs do also – and which GM developed for fuel cell prototypes in the early 2000s, but never used until now.
The Bolt EV weighs a rather portly 3,580 pounds, has an OK .308 cd, and a very high 119 “MPGe” energy efficiency measure. The net result is it runs 20 miles farther on the EPA combined cycle than a more aerodynamic but heavier and larger Tesla Model S 60.
GM had already broached upon the formula of quick front-wheel-drive electric cars by way of the limited market and now discontinued Spark EV, and that formula was carried forward to the Bolt with 200 horsepower (150 kW) and 266 pounds-feet of torque. Characteristic of electric motors, the torque is “instant” and available from 0 rpm.
Not your granddad’s old Chevy.
This much power enables 0-30 mph in 2.9 seconds, 0-60 in 6.5 seconds, top speed of 92 mph (was also listed by GM at 91 as mentioned in the video) and that translates to not boring, especially next to a 10-second Nissan Leaf – or Toyota Prius hybrid or Prius Prime plug-in hybrid.
The Bolt’s 238-miles combined range – 255 city, 217 highway – means one may not have to charge it daily. Naturally, charging a less than completely drained battery takes less than official times for a depleted one, and realistically owners can be back on the road in a few hours from home level 2 (240 volt) charging.
Even in areas where charging is not plentiful, the Bolt has so much range that home charging is enough for regional traveling without undue stress that you’ll run out of charge.
That said, level 1 (120-volt) adds a paltry four miles range per hour, requiring 60 hours for a full refill. Level 2 via the 7.2-kW onboard charger adds about 25 miles range per hour, or a complete charge in just over nine hours.
Bolt EV battery system. Even in areas where charging is not plentiful, the Bolt has so much range that home charging is enough for regional running without undue stress that you’ll run out of charge.
A $750 optional port enables public level 3 DC fast charging which adds 90 miles range in 30 minutes to the pack at a peak charge rate of around 50 kilowatts.
Critics have asked why GM would not offer quicker charging like Tesla does which can more than double this rate. Engineers dance around this question, but it may have to do with balancing all desired attributes in the LG chemistry and maximizing life.
Avoids the Nerd Look
Designed in South Korea, the Bolt EV makes good use of the flat platform afforded by the battery in floor chassis.
Swooping compound shapes in the flanks, 17-inch wheels, a somewhat hawk-like front visage and shapely high-visibility tail-lights round out the package.
The profile with rear-sloping roofline is becoming popular, and GM calls the over-sized hatchback a “compact crossover” while it’s classified by the EPA as a small wagon.
Very short overhangs maximize occupant and cargo space on a 102.4-inch wheelbase, and are reminiscent of a BMW i3, but the Bolt appears less quirky and more “mainstream.”
The Chevy however weighs 700-800 pounds more than the carbon-fiber reinforced plastic all-electric BMW, which may be a more sophisticated car in several respects, but not in the range for dollar department, as it’s only rated 114 miles with a 94 Ah battery.
Meanwhile, the inside of the Bolt does its best to maximize available space, and GM pulled a move akin to Dr. Who’s Tardis for a vehicle that’s subcompact on the outside and midsized on the inside.
Its 95 cubic feet passenger volume plus 16.9 cubic feet cargo volume is within the EPA’s 110-119 cubic feet “midsized” scope. If it were classified as a sedan as the Leaf is, it would be midsized.
This is enabled by details like carved out seatbacks, but mainly thanks to the flat floor which let the designers optimize the five-seater to be roomier than the Chevrolet Volt. In fact, its 95 cubic feet total volume is a nominally above Tesla’s large-class 94-cubic feet volume Model S and Model X, though some of this is due to the Bolt’s high ceiling. Also, due to arcane rules from the 1970s, the EPA does not count the Tesla’s front trunk called a “frunk” toward available cargo volume.
Style-wise, the Bolt is airy, and non-confining, with plenty of leg and head room up front, good space in the back although the high-up rear bench seat has only adequate headroom for folks over 6 feet, 0 inches.
While cost-savings on plastic materials is evident, the look is contemporary, and made to feel more upscale and techno-feeling with an 8-inch main instrument cluster accompanied by a 10.2-inch infotainment screen. Advanced cruise control is not however available, and would be welcome on future model years.
Included is Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, plus OnStar 4G LTE with a Wi-Fi hotspot. Navigation is by OnStar turn by turn or your connected smartphone, and plenty of other data is shown, including charging and energy usage. At night a blue LED strip adorning the dash along with strategically lit buttons add to an inviting futuristic feel.
The 16.9 cubic-feet cargo volume with rear 60/40 bench seat back up is respectable, and Chevrolet notes it edges out the Honda Fit (16.6 cubic feet) and the BMW i3 (15.1 cubic feet).
A stow-able false floor in back comes out and can be conveniently lowered or tucked in another position providing space to stash things, though there is no spare to replace a self-sealing 215/50-17 Michelin Energy Saver tire. In our Premier trim model, a Bose subwoofer and amplifier occupied the cavity where a space-saver spare might have gone.
The floor is not perfectly flat with seat folded down, but there’s enough cargo room to potentially lie a bicycle or other largish objects thanks to the tall ceiling.
The Premier comes with rails for an accessory bike rack. At least two brands of rear hitches are now available for adding a rear rack as well.
Safety wise, the Bolt has 10 air bags and the chassis itself is strong, being comprised of seven types of steel strategically placed plus aluminum for the door, front quarter panel, and hood skins.
The upscale Premier we drove has a rear camera mirror and a 360-degree Surround Vision system gives a bird’s eye view by stitching multiple camera images together. This system is handy for perfectly fitting within the lines at a parking lot, but the front and rear cameras have noticeably lower resolution than the side cameras that are located in the bottom of the side view mirrors. This leads to an oddly blocky overall look on the surround view image where these lower and higher resolution cameras are stitched together.
The Bolt has a camera in back that lets the mirror double as a rear-view monitor that can stay on while driving. It takes an adjustment in focal length, and some people with glasses may find it difficult to adjust vision to it.
Other features optional on the LT, and standard on the Premier are Side Blind Zone Alert, Rear Park Assist and Cross-Traffic Alert. Also in place as part of a $1,000 option on the Premier car driven was GM’s Forward Collision Alert, Lane-Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning and a Low-Speed Forward Automatic Braking plus Front Pedestrian Braking.
Driving On Electric Avenue
Engaging the one-speed transmission via Chevrolet’s first shift and park-by-wire shifter is a simple action that lets the car set out in quiet motion accompanied by a requisite space-shippy sound at low speeds to alert pedestrians. This is typically only heard outside, or with windows down.
Acceleration is good enough that you may find yourself demonstrating to family and friends the zip-power of a car that’s quicker than what’s normally associated with sensible eco models.
The Bolt EV is actually just 0.3 seconds slower to 60 mph than a 2016 Ford Focus ST, an ostensible “hot hatch,” and some EV fans have wanted to call the Bolt a “hot hatch” as well.
You’re free to call it what you want, but a full-on hot hatch has a performance-tuned suspension, sticky tires for maximum lateral acceleration, big brakes, and can usually turn respectable lap times at a closed circuit course.
With its regenerative braking sparing greater abuse on the binders, Chevrolet equipped modest 11-inch vented front and 10-inch solid rear rotors that may not need pad changes but infrequently, and otherwise Chevrolet is not calling it a hot hatch.
In any case, the Bolt otherwise is entertaining with instant torque that kicks if the accelerator is mashed. It’s lots of fun, really, and tire chirp has been permitted by the engineers who set the parameters for the StabilTrak traction control. Rounding corners, the low center of gravity car corners flat enough, and with poise enough to invite pushing the limits. Depressing the accelerator harder would allow an aggressive driver to make the front tires sing further toward its understeer bias and ultimate traction loss.
Stickier tires would of course help the sporting experience, and the Bolt saves cost with a torsion beam rear axle mated to the MacPherson strut front suspension, but it handles respectably. Of it, Chevrolet is bold enough to say it gives “a delightful driving experience that’s more akin to a compact sports sedan than a small utilitarian crossover.”
Yeah, that’s relatively accurate, we’d say.
But this is about energy efficiency, you say? Right you are. The motor is up to 97-percent efficient at optimum operating speeds, and the Bolt makes a Prius look like an energy hog by comparison
Also, the effect of feeding juice back to the battery via regenerative braking is just neat.
The Bolt’s algorithms adjust estimated range based on how one drives. After a full charge, it indicated 256 miles range, with a high range estimate of 302, and low of 209.
Drive mode (“D”) allows normal “creep” from a stop, and coasting on the go. The Low “L” mode is aggressive, and allows what Chevrolet terms “one-pedal driving.” It’s not adjustable, but slows the car by reversing the motor torque and sending up to 70 kW of juice back to the battery. One can alternately back pull the shifter from D to L as needed, or use the paddle, or both.
Low will bring the car to a complete stop and hold it. Contrary to another report that said the Bolt uses its friction brakes to come to a complete stop, media representative Fred Liguori said it instead uses motor torque to finish the job and hold the car in place. When on a hill, it will engage the electric parking brake after an extended period of time or when slowly crawling on a downhill road.
Although there’s no such thing as a perpetual motion machine, the Bolt’s nifty and flexible regen capacity does remind you of “free” or “found” or actually recovered energy. Actually, the most efficient driving involves minimizing both friction braking and employing regen braking since regenerating and later reusing power is typically only around 60 percent efficient. As it is, the car can regain miles of range on the fly, and one pedal driving positively changes the whole experience.
On a 9.3-mile trip, the Bolt indicated 3 miles of used range thanks to strategic use of the L drive mode, and extra regenerated energy from the left-side regen paddle as first seen on the Cadillac ELR, and 2016 Chevy Volt.
On other trips, it was novel seeing miles indicated range increase instead of only decrease as with an internal combustion vehicle.
The EV For You?
A typical green car analysis might clinically ask whether the Bolt EV “makes sense” by trying its best imitation of dispassionate, logical Mr. Spock to rationalize the bottom line, justify the car’s existence, and ultimately lead toward a thumbs up or down.
Questions including fuel costs, greenhouse gas emissions (none at tailpipe, variable “upstream” depending on where you plug in), and other ownership costs come into play.
Assuming a $7,500 federal credit plus potential state incentives – or attractive lease as many prefer this route for emerging-tech cars – the Bolt can make bottom-line sense, but is that fully fair, or true to how people really choose cars?
At the entry level, consumers often buy on price. As sticker numbers escalate, factors like looks, drive performance, and ultimately a sum package adding to how a car makes one feel come into play. If that were not true, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Audi, BMW and others would be in big trouble.
The Bolt is not an upscale luxury car, or a high-performance track star, but it blends in enough of those elements on top of the most range for dollar EV anyone can buy anywhere at this present writing.
Factually speaking if there ever were a market case for a car like the Nissan Leaf, Kia Soul EV, Ford Focus Electric, etc., the Bolt builds on that formula in a huge way.
Its good utility, smart from-the-ground-up design, and fun factor are icing on the cake making it more than just an ultimate ecologically sound means of transportation, while still arguably being that.
With its 238-miles range, the Bolt EV takes the idea of going electric far closer toward mainstream viability than any electric car to date.
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