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2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV Test Drive Review
When it was originally unveiled with a 238-mile range, the Chevrolet Bolt EV eliminated most would-be EV owners' greatest concern: range anxiety. So how has Chevrolet improved its electric car? Well, some extendable sun visors to help with heat and a programmable heated steering wheel to combat cold are a good start.
Look and Feel
The Bolt EV is immediately recognizable. With a steeply raked windshield, short front overhang, and tall roof, everything about it screams “something different.” Whether or not that “different” is “good” depends wholly on your preference, as the Bolt EV's looks—like most electric-only offerings—have proven to be contentious at best.
But regardless of their designs, the main challenge facing electric cars has always been range. Even though the vast majority of drivers average fewer than 30 miles per day, the 100-mile range offered by cars like the Nissan Leaf and the Volkswagen Golf EV worries consumers. A range of 238 miles does a lot to relieve that worry, especially when fully recharging a depleted battery can happen in just over an hour. That’s accomplished via a DC fast-charging station, which can pump 90 miles of range into the Bolt every 30 minutes. With that kind of speed, the electric life is suddenly feasible for everyone, but even with a "slow" charger, there are completely practical options. Plugged into a 220-volt outlet (like you’d use for an electric clothes dryer), you can add 25 miles an hour, meaning a full charge can be attained in just over 8 hours, while you sleep. A standard 110-volt outlet is noticeably slower, with 12 hours of plug time adding around 35 miles.
Available in two trim levels—LT and Premier—every Bolt EV uses the same electric motor and 60kWh worth of batteries under the floor. They deliver the equivalent of 200 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque, meaning the Bolt jumps to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds. Starting with the LT, a $36,620 MSRP buys you keyless ignition and entry, xenon headlights with LED running lights, automatic climate control, 17-inch alloys, and cloth upholstery. A 10.2-inch touchscreen offers a reconfigured version of Chevy MyLink that is complemented by a 4G LTE connection and Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth, two USB ports, and standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. A $555 Comfort and Convenience package adds an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, heated front seats and a leather-wrapped heated steering wheel. The Comfort and Convenience package is required if you want to add the $495 Driver Confidence package, which gets you blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking sensors.
The Premier includes all of that, and while its $40,905 MSRP represents an almost $4300 price increase over the LT, buyers also get leather seats, heated rear seats, ambient interior lighting, roof rails, a top-down camera system, and an upgraded rear-view mirror with embedded camera display. A $485 Infotainment package upgrades the stereo to a 7-speaker Bose system and adds wireless smartphone charging and two USB charge ports for rear passengers. A $495 Driver Confidence II package will upgrade the safety systems with forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and low-speed automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning and intervention, and automatic high-beams.
My week with the Bolt EV was spent in a Premier with all the options mentioned above. Adding the $750 DC fast-charging capability and an $875 destination charge brought the walkaway price to $43,510. These numbers do not take into consideration federal and state-level tax credits, which can exceed $10,000 in certain states.
Manufacturers try to put electric power into terms consumers can easily understand, but the actual delivery of said power is nothing like what you'd experience with a gasoline or diesel engine. Even the best engines take time to build power, and the amount they can produce will vary depending on their RPM. This isn’t the case with an electric motor, which delivers its full torque load immediately and continuously. It’s something that really needs to be experienced to be understood, but it’s a delight at any rate. The instant punch of torque that arrives as soon as you hit the accelerator never seems to get old, and the delight doesn't stop when slowing down, either, thanks to regenerative braking.
While all hybrid and electric vehicles employ regenerative braking to help recharge batteries, the Bolt EV offers the option to drop the transmission into low gear to initiate more aggressive engine braking. This creates a 1-pedal driving experience similar to what's delivered by the BMW i3 or the new Leaf. This is a new driving style that takes some getting used to, but it’s the best way to make the most of the powertrain. With one-pedal driving, you’ll have to continue to press the accelerator slightly to keep cruising, because letting off completely will immediately begin slowing down the Bolt. It’s aggressive enough that I had to use the brakes only in emergency stop situations, and the regenerative effect means that on some shorter trips I actually ended up replacing more energy than I used.
As for how useable the range is: I did not recharge the Bolt once during my test week, driving more than 100 miles before taking a trip from Oakland out to Mt. Diablo, climbing to the 4,000-ft summit, and returning to Oakland. On top of that, I still had more than 70 miles of range left. At a DC fast-charging station, I could’ve been back to full charge in less than an hour. Plugged into a 220-volt outlet, I could’ve topped off in a little less than 7. To see the battery drain and recharge on my way to Mt. Diablo, watch our video review.
Form and Function
There’s good and there’s bad here. Functionally, I’m not sure you can get a better deal in an electric vehicle, and unless you’re planning on driving cross-country, the Bolt EV won’t leave you feeling like you’re limited in any way. My one caveat here would be if you live in a cold climate, as using the heater will drain the batteries quite quickly. Thankfully, air conditioning has no such effect.
Visibility is great, with a large greenhouse and nearly no blind spots, making some of the safety systems largely unnecessary. Unfortunately, the Bolt is not without issues. Even in the Premier trim, there’s far too much hard plastic, the seats are far too shallow and narrow, with too little support or bolstering, and the adjustment controls feel cheap and flimsy.
With 16.9 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats and 56.6 with that rear 60/40 bench folded flat, the Bolt offers a deceptive amount of utility, especially with nearly 1,000 pounds of battery sitting under the floor. Small-item storage is adequate, with several bins and cubbies, and there was plenty of room for my tall frame with regard to both leg- and headroom.
Found on the 10.2-inch touchscreen, the coolest part of the Bolt's technology profile is the Energy data pages in the Chevy MyLink interface. These allow you to see how much energy you’ve used since the last charge, how many miles you’ve traveled, and what’s using all the energy—a huge help in managing use. You even have your choice of three themes.
This unique version of Chevy MyLink does not offer navigation except through Android Auto or Apply CarPlay, but I don’t think we’ll see many complaints, given both of those are standard. Dual front USBs can be supported with an additional two charging USBs in the rear, but only if you go for the Premier with the Infotainment package.
With a 5-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a Top Safety Pick nod from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and a 116-ft braking distance, the Bolt EV is well positioned from a safety standpoint. Making safety systems like blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear parking sensors optional on the base trim is commendable, but leaving the Driver Confidence II package and its forward-collision warning system with pedestrian detection and low-speed automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning and intervention, and auto high-beams as a Premier-only option is disappointing.
Currently there’s a $7,500 federal tax credit applied to electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids with a 16kWh battery pack or larger. And certain states like California offer up to another $2,500 in rebates. That means the Bolt EV, which starts at $37,495 with destination, will drop down to just under 30 grand before you even start to factor in state-level discounts. BUT, what a lot of people aren’t familiar with is that there is a cap on that federal tax incentive. Once a manufacturer sells 200,000 electric vehicles, that rebate gets cut in half, and with GM now selling hybrid versions of so many of its models, it expects to hit that cap before 2019.
That means this is the time to get into a Bolt EV, because next year the price will ostensibly increase by $3,750.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.
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