2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV Review
Electric cars are alive and well, and the latest iteration of the breed is the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV. The Bolt EV is a mainstream carmaker's first serious attempt at assuaging "range anxiety," the very real electric car phenomena that causes concern, worry, and sometimes panic in association with potentially getting stranded without a source of electricity. Thanks to its estimated 238-mile driving range, the Bolt EV tackles all but the longest of commutes, making it easy to own a vehicle that never needs gasoline.
A very important part of the definition of "easy" is the Bolt EV's real-world affordability. Electric vehicles (EVs) have been able to travel more than 200 miles on a full battery charge for several years, but only in the form of a Tesla Model S or Model X–luxury vehicles with prices to match. Tesla has been teasing the launch of the new and more affordable Tesla Model 3 for a while now, but Chevrolet is first to make a long-range EV for the masses, thundering in with the Bolt EV and potentially sapping some of the energy behind the Model 3.
For this review, we evaluated a Bolt EV Premier with the Infotainment package, Driver Confidence II package, and DC Fast Charging capability. The price came to $43,510, including the $875 destination charge. A federal tax credit of up to $7,500 helps to offset this cost, and state rebates and incentives can reduce the price by thousands more.
What Owners Say
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the new Bolt EV, it's helpful to understand who buys electric cars. By creating a sub-set of data specific to EV buyers, J.D. Power has determined the following:
- More than half (52%) identify themselves primarily as practical buyers
- Exactly half (50%) agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place
- 80% agree that they are willing to pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly
- 78% agree that their first consideration in choosing a vehicle is miles per gallon
- 60% agree that their family and friends consider them to be someone who knows a great deal about autos
- 60% agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd
- 31% agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company
What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own assessment of how the new Chevrolet Bolt performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM
The Tesla Model S is renowned for its sinuous curves, lifted straight from a low-slung European sports sedan, but its alluring style makes it an outlier among electric vehicles. Comparatively, the Chevy Bolt is probably closer to what people have in mind when asked to imagine an EV.
Featuring a distinctive, wedge-shaped silhouette, the Bolt EV reflects a sense of style but is undeniably utilitarian. Styling cues are lifted from Chevrolet's appealing car lineup, though unique treatments create the appearance of a "floating" roof. Choosing the Premier trim level adds an extra dash of fancy to the car's looks.
Chevrolet says the Bolt EV is a small wagon, an apt description for the car.
Step inside the Bolt EV's cabin and, while there are a few design cues that let on to the fact that this is no ordinary vehicle, the controls and their placement is instantly familiar. This car's interior is futuristic without causing alienation.
My test vehicle had the Dark Galvanized Gray leather interior, which offers high-contrast Sky Cool Gray trim on the dashboard and red contrast stitching. The lighter trim provided welcome relief from the otherwise monotone cabin treatment.
Because the Bolt EV is built on a huge battery serving as the car's platform, it boasts a taller ride height and seating hip point. This lets you pretend that you're driving a crossover SUV while making vehicle entry and exit easier on tired knees and backs.
Slender front seatbacks are reminiscent of modern passenger airplanes. The difference is that the Chevy's seats are pretty comfortable, whereas most airplane seats are not. Also, the sliding center armrest was a nice touch.
As the Bolt looks tall in height, short in length, and skinny in width, it appears that it might be difficult to fit 5 people into this car. With my husband's father along for a ride, my family had no trouble thanks to two school-aged children. Three full-size adults, however, might find it difficult to squeeze into the rear seat, despite generous amounts of legroom.
There aren't any air vents for rear-seat occupants, either, but we did enjoy the two USB ports.
Climate Control System/Infotainment System
Climate Control System
Changing interior temperature is easy thanks to a big knob located under the oversized MyLink infotainment screen, and grouped with climate-related buttons that are clearly marked. Chevy even employs a Volvo-style pictogram to demonstrate how different selections will deliver warm or cool air flow to different portions of the cabin. Heated seats were appreciated on an unseasonably chilly and drizzly day.
Infotainment SystemA new version of Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system is installed in the Bolt EV, boasting a large 10.2-in. touch-screen display that dominates the center of the dashboard. It includes a wide range of features, including smartphone projection and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi connection, and Chevy supplies a knob for controlling stereo volume along with buttons for tuning stations.
Interestingly, a navigation system is not offered in the Bolt EV at any price. Chevy expects that most people will connect their phones and make do with a maps app mirrored through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Speaking of which, the Apple CarPlay setup offered the easiest interface that I've used in a test vehicle thus far, while the Wi-Fi connection let me stream music without using up my own data.
The gauges on the dashboard were all digital, too, with appealing graphics and fonts and providing all kinds of relevant information about the car's capabilities and performance.
Storage and Space
A Bolt EV holds 16.9 cu. ft. of cargo behind its rear seat, which is more than any midsize sedan. With the rear seat folded, you'll get 56.6 cu. ft. of capacity–about as much as a subcompact crossover SUV. In fact, if the Bolt offered all-wheel drive and more ground clearance, I'd be inclined to classify it as a crossover.
Inside, the Bolt EV's center console storage bin was average in terms of size. However, Chevy did a good job of creating little nooks and crannies in which to store a smartphone and house keys by minimizing the real estate required by the electronic transmission shifter. Bins, trays, and slots are plentiful, too.
Visibility and Safety
Thanks to the Bolt EV's sloping hood, skinny windshield pillars, huge side windows, and tall seating position, the view out from the driver's seat is sprawling. You might also be happy to find yourself at eye level with people who drive midsize crossover SUVs, as the ride height is similar.
An interesting feature making its way into some General Motors vehicles is a rear-camera mirror, which transforms the rearview mirror into a video screen showing a wide-angle view of what's in back of you.
My test vehicle came with features like lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring, but lacked an adaptive cruise control system. Also, its automatic braking system engages only at lower vehicle speeds. If you're traveling at a fast velocity, you must react on your own to any alerts issued by the forward-collision warning system.
As this review was written, the Bolt EV had not been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
At the heart of the Chevy Bolt EV is a big, fat pallet of a liquid-cooled, 60-kilowatt-hour Lithium-ion battery that served as the car's primary structural element. It powers the Bolt's "engine"–an electric drive unit, to be precise–that can create 200 horsepower and an impressive 266 lb.-ft. of torque. Power is delivered to the front wheels through a single-speed transmission.
You can feel all of that torque right away. Press the accelerator and prepare to be pleasantly surprised by the surge of forward thrust. Chevy says that the Bolt EV launches from a standstill to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds. And it doesn't lose steam like some plug-in hybrids do, even when merging onto freeway lanes while climbing a hill.
Aside from plugging in the Bolt EV to juice it up, the battery can also capture some of the kinetic energy that is normally lost through coasting or braking.
A sophisticated blended regenerative braking system is the ordinary way to accomplish this task; simply use the left pedal to bring the car to a stop. Or, if you just need to coast down a hill, let your foot off of the accelerator pedal to recapture some energy and feed it to the battery.
Other methods include the "Low" mode for the transmission, which aggressively slows the car down as soon as you lift your foot off the accelerator and can bring the car to a complete stop. This allows for "one pedal driving," though it takes some getting used to. You can also use the left paddle on the steering wheel to slow and stop the vehicle, a less aggressive form of "one pedal driving."
Personally, I found the Low transmission mode and the steering wheel paddle hard to get used to, and aside from tinkering around with them I never really utilized them.
According to Chevrolet's marketing materials, the average round-trip commute in America is less than 40 miles. Throw in some errands, taking your kids to activities, and perhaps even a run for some take-out, and a typical family could drive the Bolt EV for a few days before needing to plug this car in. Therefore, if your Bolt is solely used for commuting or running about town, it could be an ideal solution to your transportation needs.
Keep in mind, however, that the estimated range of 238 miles is based upon optimal conditions, with minimal use of the climate control system and driving in a fairly flat geographic region. I live in a hilly area subject to regular heat waves, and so I would expect my total range to be variable.
Also, while the Bolt EV is supposed to eliminate range anxiety, I'd still need to think long and hard about taking some local round-trips. For example, the distance from my house to Disneyland is about 85 miles through the dense traffic of Los Angeles. Disneyland has electric car charging stations, but there is no guarantee that we would get a spot upon arrival. Due to this possibility, I'd probably just leave the Bolt EV at home.
Ultimately, this is the key to electric vehicle ownership, an assurance that you'll be able to charge your vehicle in a timely fashion, either at home or at a destination.
For this, you have several options. You can plug it into any household outlet and get about 3 miles of range for every hour of charging. This means that when the battery is depleted, it will take almost 80 hours to fully recharge the Bolt EV. During the car's stay at my house, it tripped the GFCI outlet on the porch and sat plugged in but not charging for at least 24 hours. We also experienced a couple of strange power interruptions during this period of time, which did not recur after the Bolt's departure.
People committed to the electric car life will want a professional to install a Level 2 home charging station, which costs about $750 plus installation. Using a system like this will give you about 25 miles of range for every hour of charging, which means that the Bolt EV will fully recharge in less than 10 hours.
You can also take it to a public DC Fast Charging station that provides 90 miles of range in about 30 minutes, per Chevy. Apps are available for your smartphone that can help a Bolt EV owner to find a convenient location. However, the network is not particularly robust, and these high-speed charging stations, even in our suburb of Los Angeles, are sparsely located. Oh, and you can't sneak into Tesla stations, either.
Want to take a spur-of-the-moment road trip? Is it possible that you might want to take a meandering drive on a whim? While the Bolt EV accommodates either plan better than other affordable electric vehicles, driving this car typically requires disciplined itineraries.
Imagine a Hot Wheels car hot-glued to a 9-volt battery and you'll get a good idea of how the Bolt EV is built.
The heavy battery essentially serves as the 3,580-lb. car's platform, so the center of gravity is snugged down low. That means that body roll is pretty much nonexistent, and the Bolt EV slaloms in and out of hairpins like a slot car. However, you won't find yourself attempting to explore the limits of the Bolt's athletic abilities, as the modest, low-friction tires howl in protest around every turn.
It's hard to tune a suspension to manage all of that weight, too, and the Bolt EV's ride can be unduly harsh over bumps on the road. Steering feel is natural, weighty, and relatively precise, but the brakes take a bit of getting used to, the car lurching to a stop until you're accustomed to the feel of the regenerative braking system.
By happenstance, I was also evaluating a Toyota Prius during the same week I had the Bolt EV. Compared with Toyota's iconic gas-electric hybrid, the Chevy felt much more lively and engaging to drive, thanks mainly to its surge of electric propulsion each time I stepped on the accelerator.
The Chevrolet Bolt EV is a technological marvel and a feat of engineering. But the path to electric vehicle ownership remains fraught. Choosing to drive something like the Bolt EV requires a significant commitment to a lifestyle that revolves around your ability to find and access a power source for your vehicle. Until a more robust infrastructure to support electric vehicles is in place, it's difficult to make the case for a Bolt EV to serve as a sole source of transportation.
On the other hand, making such a commitment produces an undeniable payoff. With the Bolt EV, you're driving a vehicle that points to the future of mobility, and feeling good about your efforts to do right by the environment. For many people, this can make the extra effort worthwhile, and thanks to its new long-range electric car, Chevy does its part to facilitate EV ownership.
General Motors supplied the vehicle used for this 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV review.