Perhaps more than any other automaker, General Motors seems to have done the best job of normalizing the electric vehicle. This could be because it has spent the past 8 years or so introducing products that offer incredible tech and capability while meeting a certain MSRP target. We saw this first with the gen 1 Chevrolet Volt. Then again with the Spark EV. Then again with the gen 2 Volt. Continuing this trend is the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, which feels more like its from Mars than from a brand that offers us the 650 hp Camaro ZL1 and/or the 910 lb-ft Silverado HD.
Moreover, Chevrolet electrified vehicles have so far managed to dodge the annoying earth savior complex and smugness that stereotypes both Prius and Tesla drivers, as demonstrated in the video below:
Avoiding such levels of smugness is no easy task. But so far, so good.
An argument can be made that the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV doesn’t *directly* compete with anything from, say, Tesla Motors. Yet. But the target market is largely the same. Starting with California, with a focus on Silicon Valley – where the Volt is currently the best selling Chevrolet – there’s no shortage of tech elites that are both progressively-minded and wealthy. They buy electrified vehicles out of principle over prestige. In the case of the Bolt EV, some of its first customers could afford literally whatever vehicle they want, but opted for the humble Chevy. Steve Wozniak for example. Or real estate investor Steve Henry, one of the original three Bolt EV buyers. Bill Nye, The Science Guy, is another.
Why? Simple. An EPA-rated 238 miles of pure electric, gasoline-free range. For a price of around $30,000 after current tax incentives. That’s below the industry new vehicle average transaction price of roughly $35,500. By that statistic, the Bolt EV is the first 200-plus-mile electric car with extreme mass appeal.
Whether or not those tax incentives endure the pen strokes of the current administration remains to be seen, and not for GM to decide. Regardless, the Bolt EV is the most capable EV on the market today, even without the tax breaks. In the case of our tester, a Bolt EV Premiere, the MSRP hovers around $41,000 before incentives.
Chevrolet aims to get the jump on the competition while it can. The new Renault Zoe is another people’s EV, but that’s currently a Europe-only affair. Though Nissan is bound to get its own version as the next-generation Leaf here in the States in a few years. Meanwhile, Ford has confirmed a similarly-sized and priced electric vehicle (likely named the Model E) by 2020. And the world still awaits the launch of the Tesla Model 3, which is at least another 18 months out.
The early lead would mean nothing if the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV under-delivered on the hype. Though I’m happy to say that it doesn’t.
I claim the above as somebody that isn’t just on their first, but their second electrified car (and probably the only 2017 Chevrolet Volt owner with a Ron Fellows Performance Driving School license plate frame. Yes, I’m that guy). All of this is to say that I have become assimilated into the ins-and-outs of EV behavior and ownership, and therefore able to go beyond the initial “wow” factor and evaluate the Bolt EV with greater frame of reference.
One of the immediate features of the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV that impressed was how aggressive the regenerative braking is. When Chevrolet claims that the car can be (casually) driven with one pedal, they mean it. There are four ways to accomplish this. The (D) and (L) driving modes, and those modes in conjunction with the steering-wheel-mounted regen paddle. The optimal way to redistribute kinetic energy back into the battery pack of the Bolt EV is to nudge the electronic shifter into (L) mode. Another downward nudge and the car will reset back to (D) mode. In (L) mode, the deceleration rate drastically increases, at .3G of drag slowing the car all the way to a full stop. Perfect for lower-speed city driving. In a way, the sensation is as if the Bolt EV has a large sail strapped to the back of it, closing with pressure onto the accelerator pedal, and extending open to slow the car down with the foot off the throttle. There is no shifting involved when driving the Bolt EV. Like the Volt, the Bolt EV has a single drive motor in lieu of a transmission. The similarities don’t stop there.
The Bolt EV expands on the information readouts that the Volt currently offers. This includes energy usage, power flow, charging info, a driving report card of sorts, and more. All in a clean and modern layout. The 10.2-inch touch screen dwarfs what is found in the Volt, and replaces most buttons and knobs, save for the volume, radio selection and HVAC controls. There are also familial Chevrolet steering wheel controls to keep drivers from fiddling with the touch screen while focusing on the road. Borrowing from higher-end vehicles as well, such as the Cadillac CT6, the Bolt EV Premiere features a surround vision parking camera, as well as blindspot-eliminating rearview camera mirror.
Beyond some of the tech and the steering wheel/gear selector, there’s very little else from the GM parts bin. The geometrically-patterned trim paneling and seat design appear unique to the Bolt EV, and the minimalist cabin layout makes for one of the most airy and spacious compact hatchbacks I’ve ever sat in. Nobody should be complaining about headroom, or legroom inside the Bolt EV, like they do in the Volt. And also unlike its PHEV brother, the Volt, there is no “T” shaped battery pack subtracting from the lower cabin space. In the case of the Bolt EV, the entire 960-lb, 288-cell battery pack is flatly packaged beneath the floor. This helps keep the center of gravity on the 3,580-lb electric car relatively low. Fun cars have low centers of gravity. Yet the soft spring rate and the high-efficiency Michelins that absolutely hate the fact that they’re tires keep the vehicle dynamics from getting too interesting. This does work in favor of the Bolt EV’s overarching theme of approachability, though.
Having the same make and model of tires on my Volt, I’m used to the protesting chirps and desire for more grip, though others may have to adjust to the behavior. I think once we see range like this without a set of sad rubber donuts that somehow pass for tires, things will really start to feel normal. The Bolt EV could also benefit from something like OTA software updates beyond Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and OnStar. Tesla does it, and the techie crowd that’s already using a smartphone you can’t get yet are very much used to their gadgets updating themselves. Their high-tech electric car should be no different. And while the bulbous profile isn’t rakish to begin with, the Bolt EV could look sexier. And the dash/door panel gap needs improving. Beyond those quips, I can’t complain any harder. The car is just too damn functional and convenient for me to allow it.
In typical electric vehicle fashion, the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV is capable of pinning occupants to their seats like a hot hatch would. In fact, the Bolt EV’s 60 kWh, 200 hp/266 lb-ft batter pack can launch the car to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds or so. Quicker than it looks, I’d say. But don’t get too carried away – the top speed of the Bolt EV is under 100 mph. And at that speed, its sure to affect the range. Good luck outrunning anything.
Speaking of range, the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV is rated at a previously-mentioned EPA-estimated 238 miles of range. But in Europe, as the Opel Ampera-e, it’s officially rated at 300 miles of range. Which is it, you ask? Much of it depends on a myriad of things; such as climate control, terrain, driving technique, outside temperature, and the overall condition of the battery. Several of these factors also contribute to the overall range of traditional gas-powered cars, but we’re not conditioned to think about it.
Buyers can add a 32 amp level 2 charger from Chevy’s partner, AeroVironment. Costing about $700, the charger can be rolled into monthly vehicle payments, not counting installation charges. Level 2 chargers should give the Bolt EV 25 miles of range per hour of charging. Basically, a full range if its plugged-in overnight. If you can find one, the Bolt EV is also DC Fast Charging capable, which provides up to 90 miles of range in about 30 minutes of charge time. You may have to wait a day or two when charging with a 110-volt wall outlet. For the customer used to filling up the traditional way, all of these numbers may seem intimidating, or perhaps nonsensical. But the thing is that EV owners with Level 2 stations in their homes don’t even think about this stuff, because their car is charging in the garage while they’re inside eating dinner. To them, they’re not the ones wasting time refueling – it’s the ICE drivers instead.
But that’s part of EV ownership fun. For what its worth, the Bolt EV displayed 144 miles of range left after 75 miles of mixed driving around the San Fransisco Bay Area. This included mountains, hard acceleration, city driving, and standstill traffic. And not once was I pinched with range anxiety. That is perhaps the most important thing to take away here.
In many ways, the Bolt EV feels like it fell out of a time warp from a distant utopian future. A highly focused piece of transportation, designed to comfortably and silently scoot symbiotic sapiens around the city – with or without a driver. Except the Bolt EV is here, and now, and is the most capable EV you can buy. For the money, at least.