PALO ALTO, California — Greetings from Sustainability, California. The Silicon Valley suburb is where the official launch of the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV was held — in the home of one of the first Bolt buyers, no less. A beautiful, sustainable, and connected home. One that sits nestled between two rivers in the tony Portola Valley.
There we met with Bolt engineers, designers, and marketers. We even managed to grab some seat time in GM’s electrified little jewel, which is already on sale in California and Oregon. (It is expected to fully roll out around the rest of the U.S. by early September.)
The front-wheel-drive hatchback has a feisty motor beneath its short hood that packs 200 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. Mated to a single-speed transmission, it delivers a good blast of passing power when needed. Sharing front bay space with the motor are a traditional car battery, three separate cooling tanks, and a brake fluid reservoir.
With a starting MSRP of $37,495, the cutting-edge Bolt is not cheap (some of its plastic interior bits certainly are), although this drops to $29,995 after deducting $7,500 for the federal tax credit. Still, it’s affordable compared to a luxurious Tesla Model S, and it’s a fair price for a stylish, pint-sized hatchback that’s actually quite roomy on the inside and can seat up to five, as long as nobody in the back has personal space issues.
With 36.5 inches of rear legroom and 37.9 inches of rear headroom on offer, taller passengers have plenty of space to stretch out in. The front row is slightly roomier, offering 39.7 inches of headroom and 41.6 inches of legroom. The front seats are slim, with plastic trim, leather or cloth wraps, and foamy cushions that resemble slightly stylish commercial airliner seats. A mere 16.9 cubic feet of cargo room is available behind the rear seats, but that expands to 56.6 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats folded for those big trips to the farmer’s market.
The BMW i3 looks like an AMC Gremlin, and the Nissan Leaf looks just plain silly compared to the simple and breezy design of the Bolt. Plus, the Bolt offers a range that easily doubles its two closest sized competitors. The upcoming Tesla Model 3 should take note of the overall fit and finish of this little marvel and plan accordingly.
Range for the Bolt will naturally vary depending on the way you drive it, the temperature, and type of terrain covered. It has an estimated 238-mile range on a full charge, which is more than enough for most commuters as well as day-to-day drives around town.
A Level 2 charger with a 240-volt connector ($699, plus installation) requires at least 9.3 hours to charge the vehicle when the Bolt’s battery is completely empty. A 120-volt connector, the type you would use to power a phone will take much longer. Tesla’s Supercharger network is definitely at an advantage here, but Chevy is extremely optimistic and believes most Bolt owners will charge it at home and only when necessary. Road trips outside of your home base will definitely require logistical planning.
The Bolt’s charge port is found on the driver’s side above the front wheel well, just like the one on the 82-mile Chevy Spark EV. The Bolt’s 60-kWh battery is made by South Korea’s LG Chem Ltd. It extends from under the floor from the front end to the rear seats. The battery weighs 949 pounds and gives the car a lower center of gravity. It also firms up and tightens the well-constructed frame, which is comprised of several different grades of high strength steel and aluminum. It gives the tallish hatch a secure feel and inspires confidence as you throw the porky, 3,580-pounder into twisty turns.
You can drive the Bolt like a traditional car by pushing the pedal and its squishy brake with your foot, or you can drive it in low mode and use the regenerative brakes to slow the EV down while coasting. More aggressive regenerative braking can also be managed on demand by holding the paddle shifter on the left side of the steering wheel.
One-pedal driving makes commuting around the hilly streets of San Francisco more entertaining. Plus, you capture energy that goes back to the battery. Drivers get speed, mileage, and range updates from an easy to read 8.0-inch digital instrument cluster. There are three modes to choose from — classic, modern, and enhanced.
To start the Bolt, you press a blue power button and use the electronic shifter to select between reverse, neutral, drive, park and low. There’s a chunky steering wheel and a 10.2-inch touch screen that controls everything from the stereo to the Bolt’s energy readouts. It’s compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which you’ll need to use if you want to use navigation functionality. There’s also a volume knob and climate control knob in addition to the touch screen controls.
A built-in Wi-Fi hotspot is available and offers enough bandwidth for up to seven devices. There are plenty of USB ports, including two in the back for rear passengers.
Chevy offers the Bolt in eight shades with the choice of leather or fabric interior upholstery. There are also two types of aluminum wheel designs for the LT and Premier trims.
A basic warranty covers the Bolt for 3 years/36,000 miles and the powertrain gets an 8-year/100,000 miles warranty, which should satisfy most buyers. Leasing is another option to consider since living with an all-electric vehicle is a relatively new concept for average consumers.
Overall, the broadly appealing Bolt is a solid little ride that offers substantial range and decent technology for the money, as long as the tax credits hold out.
2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV
|ON SALE||Now (California, Oregon); September 2017 (rest of U.S.)|
|ENGINE||Electric motor/200 hp, 266 lb-ft|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, electric motor, FWD hatchback|
|EPA MILEAGE||128/110 mpg-e city/hwy|
|L X W X H||164 x 69.5 x 63 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.5 sec|
|TOP SPEED||93.1 mph|