The Chevy Bolt signals a new era in EVs, the one where vehicles can go 200-miles plus between charges and, thanks to generous Federal and state tax credits, cost as much as a Prius. In Colorado, the final price for the $37,495 base LT model pencils out to $25K. To pull this off GM could’ve rolled out a no-frills commuter special and sold plenty. But instead they built a functional family hatchback/crossover with grin-inducing acceleration from 0-35. And from our seat time in it, the very real possibility to regularly cover 250 miles or more on a full charge.
Chevy brought a handful of Bolts to Boulder, Colorado, handed over the key to a fully-spec’d $41,780 Premium model for Michael and Grant from TFL to drive on a 122-mile loop that climbed straight up the Rocky Mountains to 9,000-plus feet in elevation and back down. Michael, a college student, and Grant, a middle-aged dad, offer two different views on the Bolt.
Chevy explained to us that the Bolt could be driven around with one foot in “L” mode. This driving mode utilizes heavy regenerative breaking, to the point where the car will bring itself to a complete stop when you take your foot off the gas pedal. So, I made a challenge for myself to touch the brake pedal as infrequently as possible, in order to see if this “L” mode was really everything that Chevy said it could be. Over our 122 mile journey, from Boulder to Estes Park and back, Grant and I touched the brake pedal a grand total of 3 times. Two of which occurred during driver changes. Furthermore, driving with such heavy regeneration meant that we were able to recover ALL of the range that we had lost driving up to Estes Park.
This honestly blew my mind, that I could drive a car for two and a half hours, only have to hit the brake pedal three times, and still have 155 miles of range left when I was done. One pedal driving ends up being a really engaging driving experience. You are always modulating the throttle to keep the car accelerating or decelerating at the desired pace. In fact, it is such an engaging driving experience that I will go so far as to say that the Bolt EV is one of the most engaging vehicles I have driven that doesn’t have a manual transmission.
Interestingly, “L” mode isn’t the only way to get the Bolt to use regeneration. In normal drive mode, the car will still regenerate slightly. Chevy have also included a hand brake of sorts. On the steering wheel, where you might normally expect to find a paddle shifter, there is a paddle on the left side that, when pressed and held, activates the car’s heavy regeneration. This is also capable of bringing the car to a stop. Interestingly, when you use the paddle in “L” mode, the result is an even more aggressive regeneration that stops the car with extra force. For those looking to extend range as much as possible, the combination of low mode and paddle braking should net the most regenerated energy.
Regeneration is not the only part of this car that is exciting. Putting your foot down can cause an equally exhilarating experience.This smile inducing acceleration comes thanks to the cars battery pack and motors. The car’s 60 kWh battery powers a 200 horsepower, 266 lb-ft of torque motor which powers the front wheels. This combo, and the electric motor’s instant torque, allow the Bolt to hit 60 in a reported 6.5 seconds (although we did it in about 7 flat). Regardless, this car is truly fun to drive. It is equally engaging, although in a less conventional sense. Either way it gets a thumbs up from me in the performance category.
I haven’t driven every EV out there, but my arguments against them drop away little by little with every new EV I do drive. And range is the only thing that truly matters in my book right now. I was already predisposed to like the Chevy Bolt for its 238 mile range on one charge. And when we set out from Boulder I purposely asked a six-foot-tall Chevy communications guy to join us on the long 35-mile climb up to our highest point at 9,000 feet above sea level, just so I could see how much juice the Bolt burned through hauling roughly 600 pounds of dudes (or the equivalent of a family of four and all their gear). Sure enough the Bolt and its heavy battery used up 80 miles of range to cover those 35 miles.
But the Bolt’s regenerative-braking system showed me an entirely new way to view an EV’s range. On the way back down, the system added back around 50 miles of range. We ended up back in Boulder with the vehicle’s computer showing us that we had 155 miles left in the battery pack. By my math that means we traveled 122 miles but only used up 81 miles of range.
Another element of EV performance I care about is how long it takes to recharge. With the Bolt, Chevy claims a Level 2 240-volt charger (a $699 option) can add back 25 miles of range per hour. That’s about nine hours to recharge the car from empty. If you can find a DC charger, they claim the Bolt will suck in 90 miles of range every 30 minutes.
COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE
Naturally, a hatchback design will make for a very practical and comfortable car. The Bolt had ample space to fit four people in decent comfort (with a fifth seat if you absolutely need it). The high roof line made for excellent headroom and the lack of a transmission column gave the Bolt fantastic usable interior space. Chevy was very specific to tell us that they spent a lot of time engineering the seats to be 15% thinner. This was supposed to allow for more legroom in the back seat. Unfortunately, they did not take this time to engineer the seats for comfort. By the end of our 122 mile journey, my back was very unhappy with me. However, the likelihood of people actually spending that much time in this car on a regular basis seems low. Regardless, I thought the seats could have actually used that extra 15% of their cushioning back, rather than the extra interior space.
The instrument cluster was actually very intuitive to use. It provided a lot of useful information for your drive. Included in the cluster is a max/min range calculation based on driving habits, a readout of your current energy flow and a speedometer. The infotainment system is easy to use, with Apple Car Play and Android Auto as standard. Furthermore, there is an option to have two USB ports installed for use in the back seat, allowing everyone to remain plugged in.
While it certainly isn’t a Maybach, it is comfortable and practical enough for a daily trip to the shops or school. I would love to have had comfier seats but you can’t win them all.
If you’re like me with a jam-packed schedule of work, school, sports, band, and carpool schedules, following through on vehicle maintenance is a pain. The Bolt makes things really simple: Except for rotating/installing tires, topping up windshield fluid, and swapping out the cabin air filter, the only scheduled trip you need to take to the dealer is at 150,000 miles to check the battery systems. That’s more than ten years of driving between required dealer service visits. Sweet!
One caveat: Any software updates to the EV system will require a trip to the dealer — at least right now. Unlike Tesla’s magic, automated software upgrades that work like your smartphone’s upgrades, Chevy’s going to force you to schlep into the dealership.
Inside, the rear seats are spacious with plenty of headroom. The Bolt would make an ideal taxi cab since there’s so much space back there. And rear-facing children’s car seat? No problem. With the battery pack flat underneath the car and underneath the rear bench seat, cargo storage in the hatch is plenty deep, although with the rear seats folded flat there’s no clean and flat cargo area, unless you buy the optional shelf that covers the rear cargo area for a couple hundred dollars. In short, bikes, skis, and fishing poles should fit inside, just not as simply as you’d get in other hatchbacks.
One more trick the Bolt delivers. Its rearview mirror can be switched to show the view from a rearview camera that reveals an 80-degree viewing angle. Once I got used to the view, I never wanted to switch it off. Chevy says we can expect this feature to start appearing on other Chevy/GM models in the coming years. It can’t come soon enough.
The Chevy Bolt represents a very encouraging step forward for the electric car. It combines the practicality and peace of mind of a range greater than 200 miles, while maintaining a price tag that most can afford. The Bolt delivers well in driving dynamics, with its giggle-inducing acceleration, and comfort for everyday use (despite the wafer-thin seats). It is not only a great option for those looking to ditch their extra stops at the gas station in favor of clean, and renewable motorized transportation, but also for those simply in the market for a small hatchback.
Furthermore, for those enthusiasts like myself, who were worried that the death of the gasoline motor would mean the death of fun in cars, fear not! This Bolt is a blast to drive and I am completely confident that the enthusiast driver will not lose their place in a world full of electric cars.
Chevy shared that early Bolt owners regularly claim 300-plus mile jaunts in their EVs. I believe it. Between those real-world experiences and my own day in the mountains, this is the first time that I can see my next family runabout being an EV. It has the battery pack to get me across the Continental Divide and back or one-way to Aspen from Denver, which makes it a relatively affordable (at least in Colorado) and viable option to travel across the empty spaces of the Rocky Mountain region.
While you have heard from Grant and Michael, why not check out what Roman makes of the Bolt EV by watching the video below: