Review: 2020 Chevrolet Bolt Touts 259 Miles of Range

We put its additional range to the test in the Pacific Northwest.

Ed TahaneyWriter, photographerManufacturerPhotographer

PORTLAND, Oregon—It's been raining hard for most of this blustery autumn day, while the Bolt EV zips along quickly and silently like a ninja warrior. I'm trying to stay within the speed limit as I shuttle three fellow journalists and myself to the airport. Two of my passengers have flights that depart within the next hour. Another's plane has already started boarding, while I have an hour and a half. We're still about 20 miles out with about 35 miles of indicated range remaining on our shiny Mosaic Black Metallic Chevy EV. We joke nervously about running out of juice. I turn off the heater just in case.

For 2020, the compact EV hatchback has an EPA-estimated 259 miles of range on a full charge, up from the 238 the Bolt has boasted since its launch in 2016 as a 2017 model. The updated 2020 Bolt's range beats the Hyundai Kona Electric's by a mile, the Kia Niro Electric's by 20, and the Nissan Leaf Plus's by 33. However, Chevy's fine print was omnipresent during this drive: Your actual range will vary based on several factors, including temperature, terrain, battery age, and how you use and maintain your vehicle. To be fair, the same applies to the competition.

A white Ford Crown Victoria pops into the Bolt's electronic rearview mirror and I let off on the accelerator gently, which slows us down and allows the car to recoup some much-needed energy. Despite this, a "Charge Vehicle Soon" message appears in the dash. The Bolt's new high-definition rearview camera shows the Crown Vic is just a security vehicle. I drop the hammer and we eventually arrive at the Portland airport with just 15 miles of range left to spare—more on how we got to that number in a moment.

Aside from the extra range, the 2020 Bolt remains mostly unchanged from the previous model, which was one of six 2017 Automobile All-Stars. The range increase comes in large part from an enlarged battery-pack capacity, now 66 kWh strong versus 60. Chevy engineers improved the energy density of the cell electrodes by making tiny changes to the chemistry without having to alter the battery pack itself.

The 2020 Bolt is available in LT and Premier trims. This EV is now available in a new shade of Cayenne Orange Metallic, and the other cool new color option is the beach-friendly Oasis Blue. Aside from a similar but slightly more sculpted "grille," the new model looks exactly like the old one from outside. Inside is unchanged except for the rear digital-mirror upgrade and optional high-def rear cameras available on the Premier.

In addition, by downloading and using the myChevrolet app, drivers can use a smartphone to start the car and access other nifty features like Energy Assist, which helps owners find charging stations and help them plan efficient routes. "We have partnerships with a handful of different charging networks with real-time data—EVgo, EV Connect, and a handful of others—so it'll say, 'What is the current state of charge of the vehicle, and how am I going to get there and how am I going to do it in the least amount of time?' So really optimize your travel and make it easier for you to go from point A to point B," Chevrolet explained to us.

With that in mind—but the app admittedly not downloaded to my phone—the next day I began my test of the 2020 Chevy Bolt, which would cover Tacoma to Portland, leaving town with a fully charged Bolt. In the absence of the app, my plan was simple: I'd let Google Maps plan the route to the first scheduled stop in Montesano, Washington, approximately 68.5 miles away. I would keep the EV in its normal drive mode, enjoying the instant torque, and pass 18-wheelers with ease. All the while I'd run it hard like a normal gas-powered car. Temperatures hovered in the 40s Fahrenheit, and there was quite a bit of rain by the time I reached Montesano. The dash range readout, which, like before, shows estimated maximum and minimum figures, predicted between 71 and 102 miles of electric-only motoring remaining.

After a quick cappuccino, dry with an extra shot, I continued south towards Astoria, Oregon, for lunch. It was 78 miles distant, and I was still confident I would reach the destination with ease. Along the way the rain continued to pour, and I used a steering-wheel paddle to switch to a higher level of energy regeneration, useful while driving downhill and braking, and to take advantage of one-pedal driving for regen on demand.

Prior to reaching Astoria, when the Bolt's maximum range dipped below 24 miles, the "Charge Vehicle Soon" message flashed on the dash. By the time I arrived, I had traveled a total of 146.8 miles on the original charge but had just 12 to 17 miles of range left. Fortunately, there were charging stations nearby, and I plugged in the car while comparing notes with other journalists. My figure was notably worse than other drivers, although my driving behavior wasn't notably so, and several others had lower than expected ranges left as well.

I later learned from Chevy my preproduction test vehicle was stuck in what it termed "EV Battery Capacity Learn" mode. The car had thus defaulted to a low charge-capacity level, likely as a safeguard against damage. Chevy PR explained: "In this mode, the vehicle should be discharged and charged so that it can learn its true battery capacity, however in this case it was not completed in the specified amount of time. Since the learn never completed, the vehicle defaulted to an artificially low battery-capacity level. This mode is used primarily by dealers and service providers after service work to the battery and/or control system has been completed. We have since properly set the battery-capacity value on this vehicle and it now shows the same range estimates as the other program vehicles."

On a properly, uh, schooled battery, a 240-volt charger can fully replenish the pack in less than 10 hours, while a DC fast-charger can provide up to 100 miles of range in 30 minutes. I was given a second Bolt to complete the journey to Portland, this one with 70 to 118 miles of range on the gauge. Still, Chevy's engineers recommended a stop at a mall in the town of Kelso, where a 15-minute DC quick-charge would add enough juice to also participate in an autocross challenge before our flights back home.

I arrived at the Electrify America bank of chargers—26 miles of range indicated—just before the other Bolts began trickling into the nearly deserted shopping center. We were still 47.5 miles north of the airport, when several attendees realized they might miss their flights. A Lyft was summoned but didn't arrive quick enough, so I volunteered to drive the group after my 15-minute top-up. There was just enough space in the Bolt for four bags in the 20 cubic feet behind the rear seat, and plenty of leg room—36.5 inches to be exact—for the back passengers.

And now we're where we began. No one has missed their flight, only the autocross event—but we've been there, done that with the Bolt. (Twice, in fact.) The mad dash to the airport, though, is yet another indication that EVs still face an uphill battle to mainstream acceptance, even if the hill has leveled out somewhat. You know what wouldn't have caused the same anxiety? The recently retired Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, which offered 53 miles of all-electric range and 420 miles of total range with a full tank of gas.

 

2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV Specifications

ON SALE Fall 2019
PRICE $37,495/$43,205 (base/as-tested)
MOTOR Permanent magnet synchronous AC; 200 hp, 266 lb-ft
BATTERY 66-kWh lithium-ion
TRANSMISSION 1-speed direct drive
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-motor, FWD hatchback
EPA MILEAGE 127/108 MPGe (city/hwy)
EPA MAX RANGE 259 miles
240V CHARGE TIME 9.3 hours (est. )
L x W x H 164 x 69.5 x 62.8 in
WHEELBASE 102.4 in
WEIGHT 3,563 lb
0-60 MPH 6.5 sec (est)
TOP SPEED 93 mph (mfr)
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