Electric vehicles are clearly the way forward and they’re slowly phasing out the internal-combustion engine (ICE), but they’re not without their drawbacks. Since the technology is extremely new, most EVs still fetch a rather hefty premium. Even small electric cars such as BMW’s i3 cost the thick end of $50,000, and you can forget about buying a Model S unless you have at least $76,000 to spare. Thankfully, there’s one alternative which slides in below the $40,000 mark and is just as capable as everything else. We are, of course, talking about the Chevrolet Bolt.
GM began developing the little Bolt back in 2012 with a relatively small team of 180 people. The initial concept hit the North American International Auto Show in 2015, where it was received with a lot of positivity. After one more year of development, production of the Bolt finally started in the summer of 2016. With so many new electric cars entering the EV market every day, you probably want to know how the Bolt stacks up against its rivals. Well, to answer some of your questions, and showcase the Bolt’s strengths and weaknesses, here’s a detailed review of GM’s tiniest EV.
The way it looks
Although it’s classified as a compact, the Bolt is a weird mix between a hatchback and a crossover. It aims to combine the best from both worlds. The EPA actually classifies the Bolt as a “small station wagon”, but Chevy prefers to call it a crossover. It’s not much larger than a regular hatchback, but its raised ride height and the tall roof make it extremely family-friendly and immensely practical, which we’ll discuss later in the article.
The first thing you notice is just how car-like the Bolt appears. Let me explain what I mean by that. Since electric cars are not constrained to a particular blueprint due to the lack of an internal-combustion engine, engineers and designers are free to basically reinvent the car when it comes to styling. As a result, a lot of companies often take the idea way too far. What they come up with is something which resembles a car, but is too different and alien-looking to be considered ‘normal’.
Just because designers are free to reinvent the car doesn’t mean they should. Consumers are used to a certain design and expect most cars to follow a certain pattern. When designers choose to ignore that and do something completely radical, we either end up with something groundbreaking or something most of us will ridicule and laugh at. It’s usually the latter.
So, when Chevrolet decided to make the Bolt look like a normal car, they took the right path. The Bolt follows Chevy’s current design language, and it’s all the better for it. Although it still looks somewhat futuristic and modern, you can definitely recognize it’s a GM product thanks to the attention to detail.
The biggest changes between the concept and the production version of the Bolt can be found in the front and in the rear fascia. Rounder shapes have replaced slim, angular lines, to prepare the Bolt for production. In doing so I think the Bolt actually became more attractive and gained an even wider appeal since it looks just like a regular GM product. The front grille is black as opposed to the concept’s body-colored front end, and around the back, you can find a hatch specifically designed to make loading and unloading as easy as possible. Both the headlights and the taillights use LED technology even in the base model.
Again, Chevy opted to take the safer, slightly conservative route when it comes to the interior, and it’s all the better for it. How many times have you seen EV concepts with ridiculous steering wheels or seat arrangements which will never see the light of day? Probably one time too many. There’s nothing controversial or wildly outrageous about the Bolt’s cabin, but there is a certain aura of familiarity. It’s the same great GM design we know and love, wrapped up in one modern and updated package.
Elsewhere there’s a cool-looking floating dash, light-blue ambient lighting, and a few strips of metallic white trim to offset the otherwise black-and-grey color scheme. The first thing you notice when stepping inside the Bolt is just how refined and premium it feels. The build quality is admirably high, and the whole cabin feels solid and well put together. ‘Built to last’ is the term I’d use to describe it.
The seating position is great, and so are the seats themselves. They don’t have a ton of lateral support for obvious reasons, but that makes them extremely comfortable for daily usage and long trips. Visibility is often an undervalued trait when it comes to cars in general. Because the Bolt has a lot of glass area with very little blind spots, navigating car parks and tight spaces is a breeze. The little A-pillar triangle windows just in front of the front side windows are nothing short of genius. Yes they’re tiny and they don’t seem to do much, but you definitely find yourself using them a lot more than you thought you would when driving.
Because the battery pack sits flush inside the floor of the Bolt, the engineers were able to extract a lot of cabin space given for the car’s compact size. There’s a total of 94.4 cubic feet of passenger volume, 16.9 cubic feet of cargo space, and 56.6 cubic feet of cargo space if you put the rear seats down. The rear bench comes with a 60/40 split, and there’s even sliding armrest storage in the front which is big enough to fit a tablet. You can squeeze five adults inside the Bolt easily, but limit such journeys to shorter distances. Otherwise, four full-size adults can travel in the Bolt all day long in sumptuous comfort.
As with any EV, cabin refinement is the name of the game. Because there’s no engine noise and the wheels use narrow ECO tires to increase efficiency, what you’re left with is just some minor wind noise. Chevy has gone to great lengths to make the cabin as isolated as possible, and it shows once you’re inside the Bolt. Even at regular highway speeds of 60-70 mph, the little Bolt feels as quiet as an S-Class or an A8. It is remarkable that a reasonably affordable crossover EV gets compared with full-size luxury limos in terms of refinement and cabin noise.
Technology and features
Like any modern car, let alone an EV, the Bolt comes with Bluetooth smartphone connectivity. It can store personalized settings for a maximum of ten different devices, and that includes cabin precondition and individual presets for the music. This system is bespoke to the Bolt, as Chevrolet wanted to design it in such a way that it would use minimal electricity to preserve driving range. The system attempts to recognize your voice as you approach the car to reduce or completely eliminate the time spent syncing your device with the infotainment unit. There’s even 4G LTE Wi-FI hotspot available for up to seven devices. Naturally, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come as standard features.
The navigation system was designed with specific EV routing in mind too. When calculating how to get from one point to another it takes topography, charge stations, and temperature, in consideration. The MyChevrolet downloadable app can be synced with the car so you can check its charge status and the estimated range from your phone, before even getting inside of the car. It also allows you to read the owner manual and even schedule a service with your dealership.
The infotainment system operates on a 10.2-inch touchscreen and there’s an 8-inch screen acting as a digital instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. Both offer great resolution and superb clarity, even in clear sunlight. The infotainment system, in particular, is intuitive and easy to use, but the wireless smartphone charger is my personal favorite.
On the safety front, the Bolt comes with all the latest technologies such as blind spot assist with two rear hatch cameras and a 360-degree backup camera.
Engine and Performance
The Bolt uses a 60 kWh battery pack to power the 200 horsepower permanent magnet electric motor located on the front axle. As with all electric cars, it’s got a lot of torque and most of it is available at almost any given moment. Turn traction control off and the Bolt’s 266 lb-ft of torque have no trouble spinning the front wheels if you bury your foot in the accelerator pedal from a standing start. The top speed of 91 mph isn’t won’t win any races but it’s perfectly adequate for a small city car such as the Bolt. Where this little car really shines is in the way it picks up speed. It will hit 30 mph in just 2.9 seconds and reach 60 mph in just under 7 seconds. For comparison sake, consider that a Golf GTI, one of the hottest hatchbacks, will hit 60 mph in around 6.2 seconds. If you don’t think that’s impressive, you’re lying.
According to Chevy the Bolt can cover 238 miles on a full charge, which is some 18 miles more than Tesla’s brand-new Model 3. Charging times are equally impressive. Using a standard 120 V charger the Bolt gains 5 miles of range per hour, but a faster 240 V charger will yield a completely charged car in 9.5 hours. You can drastically cut down on charging times with a DC fast charge giving you up to 90 miles of range in just 30 minutes. In other words, it will fill the battery pack up to 80% in a single hour.
Unless you’ve got a two-way commute of 200 miles or more, you’ll never find yourself at a charging station waiting to ‘fill up’ your Bolt EV. As a daily driver, running errands and doing the regular commute, the Bolt won’t skip a beat. Plug it in when you get home and you’ll have a completely charged car in the morning, ready to do it all over again.
Handling and Capabilities
It’s obviously not a sports car like the Corvette so it won’t handle as well, but in crowded, congested cities, I’d argue it’s better than almost anything else. ICE cars can’t compete with the Bolt for outright acceleration in the city, and none of them have the same instant throttle response the Bolt gives you. Because the batteries are buried in the floor, the center of gravity is really low. As a result, the car feels planted and stable, much more than any other ICE supermini. It’s nimble and agile, changing direction at a moment’s notice. If any car can make a boring commute interesting, it’s definitely the Bolt EV.
I urge everyone to go out and test drive a Chevy Bolt EV. It’s not just a great affordable alternative to more expensive electric cars, but a great car, full stop. It’s more than adequately quick, has enough practicality for an average family, and boasts class-leading driving range. Quite frankly, if you’re thinking about buying an EV and don’t at least give the Bolt a chance, you’ll be making a massive mistake. It is the car bringing affordable electric motoring to the masses, I just wish more people would realize that and give it a shot.