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2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV Test Drive Review
When you drop by your local Chevy dealer, you can choose between the Bolt EV and the Volt, umm, occasional EV. Both are great. One is better than the other.
What makes the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV so special is not that it offers 238 estimated miles of driving range on a single battery charge. And while a base price of $29,995 after the maximum federal tax credit makes the Bolt EV a bona fide bargain, the price isn’t what's so impressive about this electric car. No, what makes the Bolt EV such an utterly remarkable electric vehicle is that it is an utterly unremarkable daily driver.
Look and Feel
Electric cars typically produce an uneasy feeling in their drivers. This sense of concern, which builds the longer the vehicle is driven, is called “range anxiety.” Range anxiety is the worry that the electric car’s battery will go dead before the owner finds a place to plug it in to recharge it.
Half a decade ago, electric cars offered about 80 miles of estimated range. Unless you bought one specifically to commute a highly predictable route with known charging locations, any deviation from this routine could trigger range anxiety, leading to cold sweats, heart palpitations, and frantic distraction as you monitored remaining range vs. remaining distance to a destination.
Today, the most popular affordable electric cars provide up to 125 miles of driving range, and expensive Teslas can travel more than 350 miles under ideal conditions. What’s been missing from the EV marketplace is a car priced like the more affordable models but offering a great enough Tesla-style increase in driving range to largely eliminate range anxiety.
Enter the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV.
Built on a dedicated electric vehicle platform, able to seat up to five people and carry as much stuff as a compact crossover SUV, rechargeable overnight using a 240-volt home charging station, and supplying approximately 238 miles of driving range, the Bolt EV nearly eliminates range anxiety without paying a significant price premium for the added peace of mind.
Beyond this, as long as you’ve got that 240-volt home charging station, living with the Bolt requires few lifestyle changes. You still can’t throw a few bags into the back and head out on an impromptu road trip, but you can easily tackle daily driving and any deviations to your schedule, and even take local day trips, without experiencing the building panic common to driving electric vehicles.
Does that sound good? Based on the proliferation of Bolt EVs where I live, it seems as though Californians have been waiting for a car exactly like this Chevrolet.
Two trim levels are available: LT and Premier. The main reasons to upgrade to Premier trim are for standard leather seats, an optional Bose premium sound system, and the available forward-collision warning system with pedestrian detection and low-speed automatic emergency braking. There is more to the Premier, of course, but these are likely the most significant reasons to pay extra for it.
My test vehicle had Premier trim, Nightfall Gray paint, a Dark Galvanized Gray interior, both option packages, and DC Fast Charging capability. The price came to $43,510 including the destination charge of $875. Don’t forget, though, that you’re eligible for up to $7,500 in federal tax credits. Californians get another $2,500 in state rebates. On top of this, some localities offer additional enticements.
You’re going to need that 240-volt home charging station, which could run about $1,500 installed. Without it, living with a Bolt EV is much harder, especially if it trips the GFCI outlet on your front porch like it did at my house, and you fail to notice that the blinking green charging light on the car’s dashboard is no longer blinking, and then you get into it a couple of days later thinking you’ve got at least 160 miles of range, and then you check the gauges to discover that you have only 60 miles of juice.
D’oh! Instant range anxiety.
Anyway, this section is supposed to be about the Bolt EV’s look and feel. That’s pretty easy to summarize. It looks like a mini-minivan, and it feels a bit cheap inside.
With that said, there is a sense of style to this car. It isn’t beautiful, but neither is it ugly. Its face immediately makes clear its familial ties, while detailing in the trim adds a splash of character. The wheels look good, the car’s lines make sense, and Chevy resisted the urge to make it look like a crossover SUV. Bravo.
Interior materials won’t necessarily impress, but the leather-wrapped steering wheel, much of the switchgear, and the Sky Cool Gray dashboard trim look and feel like quality. Some of the parts come out of a bin shared with the likes of Buick and Cadillac, while others appear to be cast-offs from the container marked “Sonic.”
Nevertheless, given what this car is, where it is priced, and what it is designed to do, it is remarkably unremarkable. In other words, it is exactly what you might expect.
So, how does this car work? Basically, the Bolt EV is built on a giant 60-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery. Located under the car’s floor, this huge battery is what provides the estimated 238 miles of range and why the Bolt EV sits up high like a crossover SUV.
The battery powers an electric drive unit supplying 200 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque, and Chevrolet says the Bolt EV scoots to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds.
That sounds about right. This is a quick car, enough so that it never really occurred to me to use its Sport driving mode. I tried it, but didn’t really discern much difference in terms of the car’s responsiveness. Plus, the Bolt EV cruises down the Interstate at 80 mph without breathing hard, and it charges up mountainsides without losing any forward momentum.
When you’re not driving the Bolt EV, you should plug the car in. With the optional DC Fast Charging capability, the Bolt EV can suck up 90 miles of added range in just 30 minutes. With a 240-volt home charging system, you can replenish an empty battery overnight, adding 25 miles of range for every hour of charging. Using a standard household outlet, well, you’re stuck waiting a very, very, very long time to fully juice an empty battery. At my house, an hour of charging produced about three miles of added range.
There are a few other things to know about the Bolt EV’s drive train. First, you choose a gear using a joystick-style controller located on the center console. It is the same one that General Motors installs in the Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac XT5. I never seem to get the hang of the dang thing, always forgetting to push the button at the right time and sometimes placing the car into a gear I don’t want.
Second, the car features several energy capture systems that help extend the life of the battery. Any time you lift your foot off the accelerator, the car starts to slow and captures energy that gets fed back to the battery. A blended regenerative braking system also feeds the battery, and the pedal feels quite natural to drivers who are used to traditional cars. To maximize regenerative braking, a paddle on the back of the steering wheel activates the car’s Regen on Demand feature, which can bring the car to a full stop. You can also shift into Low gear to use the car’s One Pedal Driving feature, which can also bring the car to a full stop without touching the brake pedal.
Otherwise, the Bolt EV is basically a compact 5-door hatchback that happens to offer some pretty sophisticated technologies.
You definitely feel the significant amount of weight centered low in the car, and the Bolt EV does have a rather choppy ride quality on uneven or undulating pavement. In other situations, it simply feels a little firm, lending the car a sporty demeanor.
General Motors is also doing a great job of tuning electric steering systems, and that’s true of the Bolt EV. No matter the speed, it feels natural and responsive.
Dynamically, the tires are the weak link. They’re 215/50 Michelin Energy Saver all-season self-sealers mounted to 17-inch aluminum wheels, and it doesn’t take much to get them to howl in pain. But around town, they’re nice and quiet.
During testing, I traveled 65.1 miles on a mountainous loop. This included using Sport mode for the mountain driving, and a handful of full-throttle acceleration runs simply because it is so much fun. Based on this driving, the battery charge meter dropped from 236 miles of predicted range to 152 miles. That’s a 19-mile deficit between the distance I actually travelled and what the system predicted I had left based on my behavior, so you can see how enthusiastic driving and mountainous terrain can impact driving range.
Driving a Bolt EV is a unique experience, but it’s also one to which you’ll quickly acclimate, and before you know it operating this electric car becomes second nature.
Well, except for the transmission selector.
Form and Function
You’ll quickly acclimate to most aspects of the unusual interior, too. Equipped with a tall seating position and plenty of glass, the Bolt EV supplies nearly unobstructed outward visibility for a panoramic view out.
The car does, however, feel narrow in relationship to its height, a sensation amplified by somewhat narrow seats. I’m a bigger guy, though, so perhaps most people will feel nestled within the bottom cushion’s bolsters rather than perched atop them. In spite of this, and the hard plastic covering the Bolt EV’s upper door panels, I remained comfortable after a couple of hours in the saddle.
Technically, the Bolt EV is a 5-passenger vehicle. The rear seat is remarkably roomy for two adults, but if you add an extra rider, the car’s limited hip and shoulder room force plenty of personal contact. Plus, while dual USB ports are present for the pleasure of rear-seat occupants, there are no air vents delivering cool air to this part of the cabin. Chevy also panels the front seatbacks in hard plastic, which is a problem only if the driver and front-seat passenger prefer to sit in a reclined position.
For the record, my wife, two daughters, and I picked up Grandpa and travelled across a big chunk of L.A. in the Bolt EV, and nobody complained about room. However, despite cool temperatures in the low 60s, my 8-year-old did gripe about being too hot when sitting on the side of the car most exposed to solar heating.
Around back, the Bolt EV provides a 16.9 cubic-foot trunk. It doesn’t look like it at first. The trick is to remove the Premier model’s false cargo floor, and you’ll see just how much space there is. Still, you’re not going to pack this car to the roof, so figure on using no more than 12 cu-ft of this space.
Fold the rear seats down, and the Bolt EV supplies up to 56.6 cu-ft of cargo space, which is about as much as a small SUV.
Technology defines the Chevrolet Bolt EV. From its electric drivetrain to its digital instrumentation and systems-monitoring functions, this car is an automotive monument to industrial science.
In terms of my interaction with the car, what most impressed me was the Bolt EV’s Chevrolet MyLink infotainment system. It’s a new version with a 10.2-inch display, impressive graphics, rapid responsiveness, and a number of ways to track your energy usage by trip or over time. Plus, it provides OnStar subscription services, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot connection, and Chevy’s Teen Driver technology, which is designed to encourage safer driving habits in young people.
Wisely, Chevrolet also retains easy access to stereo volume, tuning, and pre-set stations without futzing with the screen, and the climate controls are equally simple to use.
What’s missing is an embedded navigation system, which is surprising yet not surprising at all. Instead, you must use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone projection technology and a navigation app of some kind, or you can use an active OnStar subscription for help in finding destinations and getting directions. The My Chevrolet Mobile App can assist you with locating electric vehicle charging stations, too.
My well-equipped test car also had a Surround View camera system and a Rear Camera Mirror. I’m a fan of the former, but not the latter, which turns the rear-view mirror into a widescreen video display of what’s behind the car. It strikes me as gimmicky, and for me, it creates field of vision and focus issues when moving my eyes from the road to the display and then back to the road again.
As far as safety is concerned, the Bolt EV is available with the usual list of modern suspects, except for adaptive cruise control and full-speed automatic emergency braking.
Choose the standard LT trim level, and you can add the affordably priced Driver Confidence Package, which installs a blind-spot warning system, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear parking-assist sensors.
Premier models include these features and can be upgraded with the Driver Confidence II Package, which provides forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and braking, low-speed automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and automatic high-beam headlights.
What does Chevrolet charge for all of this stuff? Each package is just $495, making them a bargain.
When set to medium sensitivity, these features functioned as I expected them to, and the lane-keeping assist system is particularly subtle about its operation. As is commonly true, the forward-collision warning system was occasionally over-protective, but did not issue any false alerts during my time with the vehicle.
Additionally, the Bolt EV is equipped with a new Rear Seat Reminder system, which alerts drivers to the possibility that they may have left something, or someone, important in the back seat. Teen Driver technology is also aboard the Bolt EV, allowing owners to program specific vehicle attributes in order to encourage safe driving habits and to receive a report detailing how your child drove the vehicle while it was in his or her possession.
As this review was written, the Bolt EV hadn’t been crash-tested by the federal government or by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Deciding whether a hybrid car, a plug-in hybrid car, or an electric car is going to be the most cost-effective solution to your transportation requirements will depend on your individual situation.
Plus, it involves lots of math. I don’t like math. And math doesn’t like me.
So I’m going to make the answer to the cost-effectiveness question as easy as I can for both of us: Get a Chevrolet Volt. That’s Volt, with a “V.”
Don’t get me wrong. The Bolt EV is a terrific car, providing greater driving range for the money than anything else in the segment, and nearly eliminating range anxiety in the process. Additionally, aside from a few differences in how it works, how it drives, and, of course, how it is fueled, it’s just like any other car.
Until Tesla gets the Model 3 on the road (and provided they’re actually able to sell it for around $35,000 as promised), the Bolt EV absolutely rules the affordable electric vehicle roost.
Still, I recommend the Chevrolet Volt. It’s a little less expensive and is smaller inside but sportier in style. It also provides an estimated 53 miles of electric driving range before switching over to a gasoline-fueled generator as its power source. What that means is that you can drive it across the country without worrying about finding a charging station or an electrical outlet, and that represents total freedom from range anxiety.
What price freedom? Burning a little gasoline every once in awhile. I’d be happy to pay it.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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