The Chevy Bolt, a tall hatchback, employs a design that’s in line with the marque’s lineup of crossovers and small cars—rather than the futuristic look used by well-known small EVs, like the BMW i3 and Nissan LEAF.
The Bolt's styling strategy is borrowed from small cars like the Honda Fit: It offers a surprising amount of interior space contained in a compact platform. Designers added some amount of sporty appeal by using slanted body creases, a tapered and rising window line, a raked windshield, an aggressive front fascia, and wheels pushed to the corners. The Bolt has a handsome overall appearance, although there’s only so much excitement you can add to a tall utilitarian hatchback with thin low-profile tires.
General Motors is calling the Bolt a crossover, but the label—usually reserved for crossover sport utility vehicles—is loosely applied in this case. Perhaps it’s a matter of how you use the term because you could consider the Bolt a crossover compact, not dissimilar to the Ford C-Max (and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid). The idea behind the C-Max is to maximize the utility of the compact “C” platform, the same design intent for the Bolt.
The Bolt's 150-kW electric motor produces 200 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque to the front axle. That output is enough for the Bolt to go from zero to 60 mph in less than seven seconds.
Most reviewers give Chevy credit for the Bolt’s comfortable ride and compliant steering. As with most electric vehicles, the Bolt delivers quick acceleration from a standstill—even more than you will find in the Nissan LEAF, but perhaps not as much as the BMW i3. Like other EVs, the Bolt’s excellent torque at low speeds doesn’t translate to great passing power on the highway. While still perfectly adequate for highway driving, the Bolt’s performance is not that much different than what’s provided by other efficient front-wheel-drive cars, regardless of powertrain. The ride is very quiet in the city and on the highway.
The feel on the road depends on which driving mode is selected. Put the gear selector into Low to gain more grab from the brakes—what EV drivers call “one-pedal” driving. In other words, as opposed to quickly shifting your foot from the accelerator to the brake, the car will quickly come to a stop by merely lifting off the go-pedal—but not touching the brake pedal. This is a strategy to maximize the amount of braking energy that’s reclaimed for charging the battery. The same purpose can be achieved by using the small paddle behind the steering wheel to increase regenerative braking. The Bolt’s braking is smooth and consistent, a trait not shared by many hybrids and EVs that have uneven or tentative braking.
The Bolt carries a 60-kWh battery pack—providing an estimated 238 miles on a single charge. That’s a big leap over previous electric cars offered at nearly the same price as the Bolt. Car and Driver calls the Bolt “a major milestone,” for a good reason. “It no longer matters if Tesla goes belly-up,” the magazine states. “Electric cars appear to have laid down permanent roots in the automotive landscape with the first long-range, affordable EV from an established, mainstream automaker.”
The Bolt’s 238-mile EPA driving range is the headline. But also consider this: GM engineers said that the low end of the driving range for the Bolt is about 160 miles on a full charge. That’s how many miles you might expect if you put the pedal to the floor and push the Bolt to its 93-mph top speed for an entire trip. Obviously, this is not a real-world scenario—and the outside temperature and the use of auxiliary energy-draining functions (like heat) were not provided—but the 160-mile stat is still impressive.
As a point of comparison, Car and Driver drove the Bolt with the cruise control set to 75 mph and the climate system set to 72 degrees. The magazine's reviewers drove the battery to exhaustion in 190 miles.
For every kind of local travel—even long daily commutes in very cold weather—you will not face any range anxiety. The Bolt’s thoughtful dashboard display, which provides high, low and estimated remaining range, lends additional confidence.
The Chevy Bolt’s longer range is not only a matter of using a bigger battery. It’s also an issue of using that battery to a greater capacity. When the first-generation Volt (with a V) came out, it famously only tapped into about half of its 16-kWh pack. Engineers usually prevent the battery pack from being fully utilized, because deep cycling of a battery will degrade the pack over time. GM engineers told PluginCars.com last year that nearly all of the Bolt’s 60-kWh pack is utilized. We’ve come a long way in a short time.
Perhaps the decision to use more of the battery’s capacity is due to the Bolt battery’s substantial size. The vast majority of drivers only clock about 40 miles a day. So the Bolt’s 238-mile pack will rarely get fully charged, fully discharged and then fully charged again. As a result, why not grant use of nearly all of the 60-kWh pack for those occasions when it’s needed?
Using a 240-volt charging station, the Bolt's 7.2-kilowatt onboard charger can add about 25 miles of driving range in one hour at the plug. Using its Quick Charging port, Bolt drivers can add about 90 miles of range in 30 minutes.
In practical use, nearly all drivers will usually come home with a sizable amount of energy left in the pack. That means overnight charging (or even a charging session during a long afternoon) will easily bring the Bolt’s battery to its full capacity.
If the Bolt is your only vehicle, and you plan to take regular long-distance road trips (staying on the path of the relatively limited number of CCS-compatible quick chargers), then you should go with the optional $750 CCS fast-charging port. It’s certainly a nice-to-have option, but 238 miles of juice is way more than enough for most drivers for nearly every day of the year (without any need to hunt down a public quick charger).
Besides praise for its long range, the compliment most often bestowed upon the Bolt is for its generous interior space. Nearly every reviewer confirms what GM promised: a compact car with the interior space of a mid-size vehicle. It’s considered one of the roomiest vehicles in its segment. Visibility is excellent. Four adult passengers will find plenty of space, an extra inch or two of legroom, and a high seating position. (Three grown-ups in the back are fine for relatively short trips.) In addition to a generous 94.4 cubic feet of passenger volume, the interior cargo space expands from 17 cubic feet to an ample 55 cubes when the seats are folded down.
Some of the extra room was managed via the use of thinner seats with less padding. That’s a great trick, although it could reduce comfort for longer trips.
The interior space is well organized with multiple useful storage compartments, even if the abundant use of hard plastics gives an economy feel. You can spruce up with the appointments with the Premiere trim, which replaces the cloth seats with leather, providing heat to both front and rear seats, and adding many other tech enhancements.
Regardless of trim, the dashboard provides a digital 8-inch instrument cluster and 10.2-inch color touchscreen for artfully display the cabin’s core functions. Those high-tech features are complimented by a digital rearview mirror, which uses a rear camera to provide an 80-degree view in back. (An optional surround-view camera is also available.) Other high-tech features include Wi-Fi connectivity for up to seven devices and EV-specific routing for the navigation.
Safety testing for the Bolt has not been conducted yet by NHTSA or the IIHS.
The Bolt uses Michelin's self-sealing tires. The technology eliminates both a spare tire and the inflator kit for flats.
The 2017 Chevy Bolt comes standard with a rearview camera. However, it does not provide an option for adaptive cruise control.
Available safety features include blind spot monitoring, lane change alerts, lane departure warnings, rear parking sensors, rear cross traffic alerts, a rearview mirror that displays a live camera feed, forward collision warnings with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, and high beam assist, which automatically switch to low beams when it detects an approaching car.
The Bolt is offered at a starting price of $37,500, and will eligible for a $7,500 tax credit to yield a net price tag of $30,000 (before local incentives).
The entry-level Bolt LT comes with the 10.2-inch touchscreen, support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a Wi-Fi hot spot, a rearview camera, Bluetooth, voice recognition, two USB ports, satellite radio, proximity keyless entry, and an 8-inch driver information display (with speed, distanced traveled, remaining battery charge, and other pertinent information). The $550 Comfort and Convenience package adds heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. The $495 Driver Confidence package provides rear parking sensors, rear cross traffic alerts, blind spot monitoring, and lane change alerts.
The Bolt Premier trim starts at almost $42,000, adding leather upholstery, front and rear heated seats, a 360-degree parking camera system, the safety features found in the LT’s Driver Confidence package, and the rearview mirror with an integrated camera feed. The $485 Infotainment package adds a wireless device charging station, Bose audio system, and two USB ports for rear passengers. The $495 Driver Confidence II package includes high beam assists, forward collision warnings, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warnings.
Comparison with Similar Vehicles
Until the arrival of the Tesla Model 3—sometime in late 2017 or early 2018—the Bolt stands alone as by far the most affordable car offering anywhere close to 238 miles of driving range. Sure, you could save a few thousand dollars by buying a Nissan LEAF, but by the critical measure of total driving range (or even miles of driving range per dollar), Nissan’s electric car is not in the Bolt’s league. Beyond that, the Bolt offers more interior space for passengers and cargo than the LEAF—and by most standards is a more attractive vehicle. The Bolt provides a longer list of high-tech and safety features as well.
Of course, the Bolt is a Chevy and not a luxury vehicle. But if you’re looking for finest appointments and nicest creature comforts—at least what you can find in the plug-in market—then perhaps you could consider either the BMW i3 or Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive. The i3 does have a beautiful Scan-design quality, but from our perspective, luxury equals range. On that account, the Bolt deserves a look and a test drive, even if you're accustomed to a luxury brand.
So, if you can wait until the Tesla Model 3 arrives to make a comparison with the Bolt, then, by all means, hold off for now. But until the Model 3 arrives and is available to purchase, we don’t know how it will stack up. In the meantime, the Bolt is here now—with plenty of range, power, good looks, and practicality.
In early 2017, the Bolt is only available in California and Oregon. Pay a visit or place a call to your local Chevy dealership or car buying service. General Motors plans to roll the Bolt out to all 50 states over the course of 2017. If you’re outside California and Oregon, it might make sense to get on a waiting list.