Two thumbs up for the Chevy Bolt EV

Here at Charged, we usually write about technical matters and industry trends, and leave the car reviews to others. However, after spending a week with the Chevy Bolt EV, I am moved to write not just a review, but a rave. I’ve driven pretty much every EV that’s widely available in the US, and there’s no question in my mind that the Bolt is the best of the bunch so far, with the possible exception of Tesla’s Model S.

What’s that, you indignantly huff – the possible exception? The author of a whole book, and hundreds of articles, about Tesla, who so often ridicules the Big Three and their lackluster electrical efforts, deigns to admit that this practical little Chevy could rival the coolest car ever built? Well, let’s look at what the Bolt has to offer.

The Bolt’s official EPA-rated range is 238 miles, but I consistently got more (one driver claims to have achieved well over 300 miles). With an official efficiency rating of 28 kWh/100 mi, the Bolt edges out the LEAF (30 kWh/100 mi) and soundly beats the much larger and faster Model S (34 kWh/100 mi). I’m not one of those guys who measures actual miles travelled and plugs the figures into a spreadsheet, but I was amazed by how much mileage I squeezed out of the Bolt – I’d drive 10 miles, and the range meter would tell me I’d only used up 5 miles of range. Hypermiling? Far from it – I cranked the AC and punched the pedal at stoplights to see how fast she’d go.

And go she will. Every EV I’ve driven leaps when you step on it, and the Bolt is no slouch in that regard. I found it a little more fun to drive than my LEAF, with loads of power and smooth, solid handling. Its 0-60 time of 6.3 seconds is only a little slower than a plain Model S (5.0 seconds), according to Motor Trend (which published an in-depth comparison of the two EVs).

Most cars have at least a couple of little details that annoy, but I found none with the Bolt. It has all the latest high-tech goodies, and they all work simply and intuitively. There’s a Low mode that features enhanced regen and allows for one-pedal driving. You can switch between regular Drive and Low modes with a touch of the shifter, and you can also easily pop it into Neutral if you’re one of those guys that likes to coast. You can start the car remotely, allowing you to pre-heat or -cool the cabin, using the key fob. Most EVs have this feature, but you have to use a smartphone app.

Cargo space is a big deal for me, as I’m a working musician, and it’s a glaring weak spot for most EVs. I’ve found no plug-in vehicle that matches the convenience of my good old Prius when it comes to hauling gear, but the Bolt does better than most. The cargo area (with seats down) in the Bolt is roughly equivalent to that of the LEAF. It’s one foot shorter than that of the Prius, about the same width, and a tad higher. However, it isn’t all about cubic feet, but rather about the layout. The Prius has a low cargo deck, and the seats fold perfectly flat, an optimal layout that no other plug-in can match (not the Prius Prime and, no, not even Model S, which has a small but irksome lip across the rear).

Most EVs, including the Bolt, have an odd-shaped cargo compartment. The seats do not fold flat, so when you fold them down, there’s what you might call a well behind them, which makes it awkward to load large objects. The Bolt does have a removable board that covers this well, forming a flat plane with the seat backs, but it’s made of a light, flimsy material that would never stand up to regular use. All that said, with a little creative packing, I could get everything I need to play a gig into the Bolt.

Note that all the above quibbles apply only to those of us who need to load large, heavy objects on a regular basis. If your hauling needs consist of groceries and an occasional larger item, you’ll have no complaints with the Bolt.

So, time for some (unfair) comparisons. The Bolt blows my 2015 LEAF away. It has much more range, it’s more efficient, it’s a little faster and more fun to drive, and the controls are laid out better. Of course, the Bolt blows away every other EV in its class, because it belongs to a new generation. GM has basically stolen a few months on the other EV-makers. The new LEAF will be out in September, and may well match the Bolt on range and performance.

The only current EV that’s better is the Model S, which goes for at least double the price. The Bolt doesn’t presume to rival Model S, but depending on what you want from a car, you may find that it comes close. Yes, Model S is more stylish, more powerful and a lot bigger. The Bolt’s limited autonomy features can’t compete with Tesla’s Autopilot, but the Chevy offers similar range, and considerably better efficiency (according to fueleconomy.gov, you’ll save around 72 cents for every hundred miles). There’s nothing luxurious about the Bolt’s interior, but then a lot of people say the same about Model S.

Of course, when Model 3 hits the streets, all bets will be off. We’re expecting Tesla to deliver something amazing, and it will have to if it means to outclass the Bolt.

I’m convinced that anyone who spends a few days with the Bolt, as I did, will forget about buying a new gas burner. However, my excitement is tinged with sadness, fearing that, unless GM changes its strategy, most of the general public will never be aware of the Bolt at all. As I and other EV writers have noted so many times, GM and other automakers do almost no advertising or marketing for their plug-in models. (The official line from GM is that it markets them to “the kind of customers that buy EVs” – which means online ads in geeky mags for engineers, like this one, but no TV spots or ads in more mainstream media.)

[Editor’s Note: As Green Car Reports reports, GM recently ran full-page ads for the Bolt in the Washington Post and New York Times. Could this be the beginning of a more agressive marketing strategy? Let’s be optimistic.]

  • Al

    Agree with everything. Actually I now prefer driving my Bolt than my ModelS P85D (except at the dragstrip). The Bolt is more fun to drive around town and is more practical, especially to take my elderly mother around. She has a real hard time getting in the Model S. The Bolt with the latest high tech grab handles (which for some reason Tesla can’t figure out how to make) makes it easy to get in and out. Plus the latest displays blows the Tesla away.

    • Joe Robe

      You hit the nail on the head. The Bolt is the perfect car for driving elderly ladies through town. The P85D was not made for that and I have no clue why you bought one. You can get a London Taxi for much less.

      • Al

        You missed the part where I use the P85D at the drag strip to blow the doors off my redneck friends’ modified gassers…

        Oh yeah, and in the Bolt the auto wipers, auto headlights, and auto A/C actually work as expected….

  • Vincent Wolf

    One BIG thumbs down. Seats uncomfortable, access poor (22 inch seat to head frame), but most importantly–the charging rate limits it’s use. It charges a maximum of 80 kW to 50%, then throttles down to 50kW to 80%, and then really throttles down to about 30 kW from 80 to 100%. Be prepared to wait 2 hours for a full zero to 100% charge if taking a trip! No thanks. Shame on GM for building in built-in obsolesence by not making it capable of at least 150 kW and full rate for the full charge. They knew CCS chargers were limited to 50 kW so built that into their cars knowing full well that soon CCS will have up to 300 kW charging rates.

    Basically, they did the same thing Nissan and all of Detroit does- built a compliance car that people can’t use for trips. Unless they have a huge amount of patience.

    Nissan is supposedly building in 150 kW capability so that’s good. And Tesla of course already has it’s 135 kW charger rates and can charge a P100D in 75 minutes from zero to 100%. Soon Tesla will have 350 kW super charger network.

    And you want to buy something limited to 50 kW by the software battery?

    No no and no.

    • http://www.twitter.com/menorman Marven Norman

      Several DCFC providers have already announced that they’re preparing options that can offer up to 400kW and they’ll be starting to come online soon.

    • Lance Pickup

      While I won’t disagree with the basic sentiment here, you can’t really fault >50kW CCS chargers for not existing at this time. They will start rolling out. It was well over a year with my 2012 LEAF before I had access to ANY fast charging, but eventually they did appear.

      As for quoting charge times to 100%, I think we need to get out of that mode. Charge to 100% at home or destination. Charge to 80% (maybe 90%) on the road. All batteries will taper off charging rate above 90%. Much better use of time to simply stop at 80% and then stop at a charger 30 miles closer (assuming of course chargers are plentiful enough, which is a whole other story).

      I still agree with the basic premise that the Bolt is not really road trip worthy with its charge rate limitation, but GM doesn’t actually consider it a long distance vehicle both in terms of charge rate and their support of fast charging networks, so not surprising. Still, ti’s also understandable that the first model year or two will not be as capable as what later years will offer. Again, comparing to the LEAF, 2011 & 2012 were stuck at 3.3kW L2 charging and in 2013 doubled that to 6.6kW. You could have made the same argument there, but starting out with 6.6kW right out of the chute would have added quite a bit to the cost in 2010, so better to let them get their feet wet, drive down costs and then follow up with a more capable system in a year or two. Yeah, early adopters will not be happy, but unfortunately that’s the mode we’re in with EVs in a rapid advancement stage.

      • Vincent Wolf

        The Leaf was obsolete before it even hit the streets too. I know. I have two of them. But it’s far cheaper than the Bolt and so therefore gets my vote for practicality. I paid $11,000 for my 2017 SV (with quick charge port) including dealer prep and taxes. Despite it’s 107 mile range (I usually get 120+) it’s a far better deal and all most people need in the city anyway. The Bolt is just way too much money for a little more city range (I bought my last Leaf after testing out the Bolt). No thanks.

    • bbock

      Do you have the seats elevated? I had problems at the stealership where someone had ratcheted the seats way up. But once I put them in a comfortable position, I was fine. I have neck troubles, but I don’t have to bend my neck. I just bend at the waist and make sure my rear is near the seat before sliding in.

  • johnvoelcker
    • Charles

      Well spotted, John. I added a note at the end. Could this be the beginning of a new attitude? We’ll see.

  • dogphlap dogphlap

    I’ve yet to see a write up on the Bolt that dislikes the car. The consensus is the car is great but could do with fast DC charging as standard. But GM has no answer to the Tesla SuperCharger network so it will always be a city car to me. If your family runs multiple vehicles it could make a lot of sense. For me a reliable DC fast charging network will swing the decision towards Tesla every time (even though I find their cars way too big, even the Model 3 is much larger than I would choose if there were a smaller SuperCharger capable alternative).

    • http://www.twitter.com/menorman Marven Norman

      Tesla’s network isn’t everywhere either, so just as it’ll have to grow, especially with the TM3 becoming available, other DCFC networks are also growing and they’ll be “supercharged” once VW starts getting underway with installing the chargers that are part of the settlement.

      • dogphlap dogphlap

        I’m only too well aware of the limitations of the Tesla network, nothing north, east or west of me for 2700km but at least I can drive south. When a viable changing network or networks other than Tesla’s appears I’ll re-evaluate.

        • W0QR

          That’s over 1600 miles! Where are you? Hudson Bay? Okay, a little more sketchy in Canada but in the US and most of europe you should have one in close proximity..not 1600..er 2700 km! See this; https://goo.gl/5axXj2

          • dogphlap dogphlap

            +W0QR
            Brisbane Australia.

          • W0QR

            Oh, well then that makes a whole lotta sense, mate. Only a matter of time though. Tesla is building them out really fast now and when they get saturated here they’ll getcha!

          • butcherbird

            How far east would you expect to go? I see about one different model S per week. 2 weeks ago I spotted a model x. So I guess these people have two cars. A Bolt would be fine for me, 80K round trip to work.

          • dogphlap dogphlap

            +butcherbird
            Sorry, I don’t understand your point. The pacific is to my east so I can travel to the coast, that is far enough east for me. I was just pointing out to Marven Norman that I was fully aware of the limitations of the Tesla SuperCharger network. I would like to point out to you I’m very impressed with the way the network has grown from when I bought my car under two years ago from zero SuperChargers in all directions for a 1000km to a string of them to my south which allows me to go all the way to Melbourne and back. There are some planned for a forthcoming Sales Centre in Brisbane but much more useful to me will be another planned for Gympie which will be the first one to the north of me.
            I’m glad the Bolt meets your requirements but sadly GM has not seen fit to sell that vehicle in a right hand drive configuration so if they ever intended to manufacture those for a world market the UK, Hong Kong, Australia, Japan etc would have to wait. GM have stated they have no plans for a RHD version, but I guess that could change.

          • butcherbird

            My first point was tongue in cheek, since any EV can only go as far as one of the bay islands. Not too far east of Brissy.

            My second was that other people seem to have purchased a Model S and as it turns out a Model X and live in QLD. I guess when you have that much money an ICE to use in non-EV territory will not hurt the budget much.

            I heard about the planned “Sales Centre”, good move and I hope it does well. I am surprised that they haven’t installed a SuperCharger in Sufferers Paradise, plenty of money there.

            I think the decision of GM not to make a RHD version of the Bolt and to withdraw the Volt from sales in Australia can be seen shortsighted. It will only take one decent EV at a reasonable price to hit our market and that will be the end.

            It;s interesting that Ford have never (as far as I am aware) never launched an EV in Australia yet they produce an entire line-up of such vehicles.

          • Jason Panosh

            At least Tesla are putting their money where their mouth is. Is there even a CCS charger in Australia? CHAdeMO are pretty scarce as well. I know we don’t have a huge EV community yet, but it is only a matter of time, and without any infrastructure at all it isn’t looking too good for us. My Leaf would be so much more usable of there were even L2 chargers in each town, CHAdeMO would be even better. My next EV will most likely be a Tesla Model 3 just because they have the infrastructure installed.
            Who do I need to lobby to get EV chargers installed? CCS/CHAdeMO must be getting cheaper, and even 50kW would be useful as a start.

          • Jason Panosh

            And from Melbourne I believe you can go West to Adelaide. They put SC in Ballarat for this trip, and I suppose there are some more near the SA border.
            Surprises me how many Tesla there are near me, in Ballarat.

          • bbock

            They’ll probably only do RHD if the LHD version sells well, which who knows. We bought one, but I think it’s probably still early days for EVs not named Tesla.

      • W0QR

        What? There certainly a supercharger within 50 miles of you. Closer? Hundreds of them across the us. See them here: https://goo.gl/5axXj2

        • http://www.twitter.com/menorman Marven Norman

          I know for sure that there are several CCS chargers closer to me than there is a Supercharger. Obviously, not everyone lives in CA and has the same opportunity, but that is changing as both the network companies build out and especially when VW releases starts to undertake its requirements as part of the agreement.

        • Lance Pickup

          Well yes and no. Maybe 50 miles as the crow flies, but usually when driving you have to stick to roads, and then you usually want to stay more or less in the direction you want to go.

          One example that’s going to be particularly problematic for me is the route from Durham, NC to I-81 north in Virginia. The natural route is to take NC-86 to the Virginia border, then US-29 north, (which for large portions is actually a 4-lane divided highway with speed limit of 70mph, so don’t let the “US” designation fool you), then cut a corner to get to I-64 west to Staunton, VA then north on I-81. Along this route there is a huge gap from Burlington, NC supercharger (which is already out of the way) to the Strasburg, VA supercharger. 261 miles!!!!!

          Now if you look at the Supercharger map, you will notice that there are a few alternatives. First is to cut over from Lynchburg, VA to Lexington, VA supercharger. This does only add 10 miles to the route, but it requires traveling on US-60 east, which again, don’t let the “US” designation fool you…this is an absolutely horrible road cutting over the Appalachian mountains with 25mph switchbacks that I made MYSELF carsick on!

          Another option is to skip cutting the corner to get to I-64 and go to the Charlottesville, VA supercharger. This adds 22 miles to the route…maybe not quite 20 minutes extra since that route is more highway than the corner cut, but it does bypass a nice restaurant we like to stop at.

          Ideally Lynchburg would be an ideal SC site (although it’s the home of Liberty University, so they probably wouldn’t take too kindly to something like a SC there!) but it’s nowhere near any interstate (even though parts of US-29 could be considered interstate quality) so I’m not holding my breath. Maybe Tesla will eventually site a SC in Harrisonburg, VA (since the distance between Lexington and Strasubrg is already a pretty distant 109 miles).

          • Jason Panosh

            Maybe ask that nice little restaurant to install a Tesla destination charger. Then they retain your business, plus you get a top up while eating your meal. Might make the difference between getting to that next SC or having to go out of the way and missing the nice little restaurant.

          • Lance Pickup

            Yeah, I will definitely be dropping that hint to them this year as I pass through in anticipation of driving a Model 3 through next July. That definitely would work perfectly.

  • paul r

    I really enjoy the current trend of good for the planet and do have a far sunnier outlook than previous years. Well done all manufacturers!

    Unfortunately I have this nagging reminder in the back of my mind when GM just squished/hid/pretended they never happened last time around. Really hoping the business plan had evolved a bit since.

    • bbock

      Step one was the Volt. Step two is the Bolt. I don’t count the Spark because it WAS a compliance vehicle. I don’t think the other two are. Time marches on. GM saw where the market was going to go with or without them and decided to be an innovator. I give them some credit for that. I wish they had Elon’s altruistic streak. Don’t get me wrong, Elon is in it for the money too. But I believe he is also doing it because he thinks it’s a good thing to do and the right thing. And unlike GM, Elon has the foresight to see that there are things that are good for Tesla even if they are good for others. I’d like to see GM invest in infrastructure and upgrade DC charging. Or partner with Tesla or even gas companies to provide it if they are unwilling to go it alone. Tesla’s been a lot smarter in that regard.

      • paul r

        Well said.

  • bbock

    Does Tesla run ads on TV? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Tesla ad on TV. Not that I think TV is the best place for Tesla to advertise.

  • Skeptic

    I liked the Bolt so much that I pre-ordered one to replace my end lease BMW i3, in spite of a few concerns. But after the novelty wore off with a second test drive, the concerns outweighed my admiration for the car. First, the seats are simple too narrow and too hard. Secondly, the hard plastic interior is way out of place on a car that costs over $40k. Lastly, no adaptive speed control. If GM can update the interior, and add a few features, they will have a winner on their hands. Until then, it just doesn’t quite cut it. I’ll wait for the next-gen Leaf or Model 3.

  • Tommy Smithers

    I have heard one or two other reviewers say that the driver has to lean over to gaze ’round the steering wheel to see the central monitor, but for me, the annoying little thing about the Bolt is – it’s not available in RHD.
    My 2nd hand Gen 1 Japanese Leaf has done well for me over this last year, but it does not give me all the range that I need in cold weather, and I’ve got a Renault Zoe ordered as a far better replacement for it. I would have also considered a Bolt if that was an option for my side of the road.
    “Most” countries that drive on the Left are realitively small, and don’t cover whole continents.., so the range isn’t going to be a major issue.
    Great little car!

    • Amused Norn

      Wow. Those drivers are going to have an interesting time with the Model 3 then, since it doesn’t even have an instrument cluster. Basically EVERYTHING but the turn signals and the headlights is on that central panel: Audio, climate controls, indicators or all sorts, energy meter, speedo, etc.

  • Terry Robb

    None of these vehicles should be moving large objects. They are designed to move luggage, coolers and other small items. Get a truck for appliances and other big items

  • Stanleyusa

    I’ll never buy the Chevy Bolt as much as I like to. I worked for Hughes Electronics, the Division that created and ran DirecTV which GM owned. We also developed Spaceway satellites, and Expressway Satellites (aka On-Star). On-Star is always on and reports to GM your driving habits include which mall and where you shop destinations.
    GM was giving out this info to FBI Freaking Bureau of Idiots, courtesy of Corrupt James Comey. Without a warrant. FBI would just request it and GM would give the info out.
    No Thanks.
    For those of you who say, “Oh I have nothing to hide”. Oh really!!!
    Right up until they get info, that your driving habits included visiting your mistress or girlfriend you wife didn’t know about and FBI use that to Blackmail you. Or you a Closet gay and they use that to blackmail you. Or your son borrows your car without your knowledge to by crack at night and they use that to Blackmail you. or the Valet who likes to part your car takes it for a spin around the block and stops at his friendly crack dealer for a quick fix and they pin that on you because, “well your car was there, in front of the crack house”; “and you were nearby”. And you wipe out your 401k and life savings defending yourself from jail time.
    Doh oh yeah right.
    Car sales contracts are “Adhesion contracts” Translation the dealer never owned the car, they are just middlemen for the Manufacturer. The manufacturer owns the car. Translation the owner can do all they want with “their car”. So read the GM sales contract “fine print” you allow them and give them permission with the sales of the car to mine your data and driving habits, and if you use their Bluetooth, GM can record the call and transmit that as well. Nissan does with their LEAF, they have a contract with AT&T. Nissan transmits the data via AT&T network.
    I’d rather wait for my 3 with the largest battery possible.