2017-09-07 / Top News

BEHIND THE WHEEL

Bolt offers 238 miles to a charge, and it’s fun to drive

This is truly a quiet revolution. The battery-powered Chevrolet Bolt turns on in near silence, and it stays that way for its full 238-mile range. It does all this without shouting its electric vehicle superiority.

From the outside, the Bolt is absolutely a Chevrolet. It looks like the halfway point between the compact Sonic and Trax crossover. And while it’s mildly related to those, the Bolt has been specifically designed to cheat the wind with aerodynamic panels. Plus, the tall, wedge-shaped style is used to maximize space without leaving a large footprint.

Inside, a two-tone gray on the seats, door panels and dash is an attractive and uniform look — so it’s good that this is the only one available (it’s leather in the Premier trim.) The Bolt has the right standard features like automatic climate control, plenty of USB hookups and a 10-inch infotainment touchscreen.

For the driver, the gauge package with the electric distance readout is the best around. GM figured out that part of the anxiety over how much range a driver has left comes from the uncertainty of conditions. After all, it’s a bit of a gut punch to watch the car’s distance go from 100 miles to 90 miles just by turning on the air conditioner. But the Bolt gives a high, low and real-time range updated for battery power and usage — it eliminates surprises and makes this electric car feel less tethered to a cord.

In fact, Chevrolet is quick to point out that the Bolt has a $750 DC fast charging option. It can yield 90 miles of range within 30 minutes of charging. And there are enough of these CSS fast charging stations along the I-75 and I-95 corridors to make it from Naples or Miami to I-10.

This kind of interstate trip would only average about 45 mph, but we’re marking the first time that an EV has a real plan for road trips without running out of juice.

In reality, the best use for the extended range is still rooted in the urban freedom it provides. For someone who commutes less than 20 miles, the Bolt can deliver the convenience of plugging in on Sunday night then having enough electricity to last the workweek. And unexpected school pickups or business trips don’t cause nervousness.

More than just good range, the Bolt is fun to drive. The battery pack is located in the floor, which gives it a great center of gravity. Plus, the steering is sharp. The instant torque of an EV gives it a sports car-like acceleration from a standstill, and the 200 hp AC motor is one of the most powerful around. So for those times when drivers are feeling more frisky than efficient, the Bolt can be quick and nimble both in town and on the highway.

This kind of electric car freedom starts at $37,495, but it’s closer to a $30K vehicle after its tax credit. That money buys everything from a Mazda Miata to an EcoBoost equipped Ford F-150. But those are unfair comparisons. The allure of the Bolt lies in its technology. To simply just look at what else is available for the money is like mentioning that a Seiko or Fossil can easily be obtained for the same price as an Apple Watch.

Within the electric car family, the Bolt’s price falls between the Nissan Leaf and the BMW i3. The Chevy feels more advanced than the cheaper Japanese car, but it can’t match the European sophisticated feel of the more expensive

German. And neither one of the competitors can topple the Bolt’s range practicality.

The real challenge comes when the new Tesla Model 3 comes online. It’s targeted to have within 20 miles of the Bolt’s range and possibly cost less. And Nissan will be back with a new Leaf very soon.

That’s the speed of technology. The Chevrolet Bolt is an amazing high-tech leapfrog that takes an extremely complex setup and makes it as versatile to use as any other gasoline-powered car. Still, there is the prospect of something new on the horizon.

Just like waiting for the next iPhone, the EV game is about weighing the technological marvel that’s available right now versus the gossip of the next big thing. The difference with the Bolt is it’s a tough car for a buyer today to regret tomorrow. After all, even as the next all-electric car advances the market further, it’s hard to be disappointed with the first budget-minded EV that only needs to be plugged in once a week. ¦

Return to top