The race for the first affordable, long-range electric vehicle is over. General Motors is the winner, and the product is the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, the automaker’s deep dive into green driving. It has the range to make you stop counting miles and get back to your life, and it starts below $30,000 after claiming the tax credit — less if you live in one of the EV-friendly states.
We said we’d believe it when we’d see it, and that day has come. Over a fast-moving 24 hours, spanning from Palo Alto to San Francisco, California, we got a chance to take an extended drive in the new Chevrolet Bolt EV. Chevy made sure to plot a route that took us through narrow streets, winding mountain roads, steep descents, crazy California highways, and avenues covered in cable car tracks.
In other words, we faced just about every challenge a driver might encounter in a day’s travel. All the while, the Chevrolet Bolt EV held its own and pleasantly surprised us at some points. Here are 10 things worth knowing about the first everyman EV to land in America.
1. The range is real
Every electric car we’ve tested for an extended period of time had trouble holding its range, especially on the highway. In fact, the mile count you see on the display at the start of your drive is rarely what you get with first-generation plug-ins. But that’s not the case with the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV. This model manages its range better than its predecessors by using active thermal conditioning for the battery. In our drive — which lasted nearly 60 miles with the stereo cranked loud and climate control going the entire time — the difference in range estimate and performance was negligible.
To put it in regular trip terms, we started with the full 238 miles, driving from Palo Alto to Half Moon Bay through very steep terrain (typically a range-drainer). Then we hopped on the highway and rode up to San Francisco without modifying our driving style in any way. Next, we took a tour through the city, climbing some of those famous hills. When we finally arrived downtown after driving about 60 miles, we were only a few ticks off the original estimate. The Chevy Bolt EV was not fazed in the slightest by the trip, and it had 160 miles left to kick around.
2. It’s bigger than it looks
You’d be amazed how much space you have when there is no gas engine, and when designers aren’t forced to work around a chassis built for something else. The 2017 Chevy Bolt EV team took advantage of every inch to make the car feel like a midsize sedan, all while retaining the footprint of a compact car. You don’t notice it until you’re inside, but once you’re in there, the amount of legroom and extra head room is impressive. The Chevy Bolt EV’s 16.9 cubic feet of cargo space is more than what the Toyota Camry (15.3) offers. It’s also less cramped than the Chevy Volt. In the end, you have more space than you expected.
3. You decide how the Bolt EV drives
Whether you plan to drive recklessly, conservatively, or various ways in between, it’s your call in a Chevy Bolt EV. Regular drive mode allows you to stop and start with standard regenerative braking. If you want to go heavier on the regeneration, you can use the “demand” paddle on the steering wheel. In “low” mode, drivers get the full one-pedal experience. This system will bring the car to a stop without braking. You can even augment this full-regeneration mode with the aforementioned demand paddle. Finally, if you want to cut loose and experience the Bolt EV’s full power, leave it in drive and click on the sport mode.
4. Simple display and controls
Inside, the Chevy Bolt EV has an odd combination of a 10.2-inch touchscreen (intuitive, responsive) and plastic buttons for sound and climate control. Operating the system is simple enough, and we had no trouble finding our music or adjusting the temperature while driving — all without the help from a manual. Shifting is also straightforward: With a flick of the wrist, you adjust from drive to low for more regenerative braking. Likewise, the paddles on the steering wheel allow you to adjust as you drive without distraction.
My driving companion was not fond of the display console’s placement, and we agree that it hangs low. You feel the advanced technology at work inside the Chevrolet Bolt EV, though the cabin does not have a premium feel. (We’re not sure an everyman EV needs it.) Perhaps its best feature is the surround vision that comes along with the rear-view camera while you’re in reverse. It may very well be impossible to ding your car backing out of the garage while paying attention to this view.
5. Power you can enjoy
Affordable EVs of the past were cursed in a way. Most offered great acceleration and were fun to drive, but you had to temper your enthusiasm due to range concerns. Chevy’s breakthrough EV lets you leave these cares behind. You can use the full 200 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque without thinking of your next charge. Unless you commute 100 miles in one direction, you won’t think about range until you take a road trip. Only in that scenario should you plan how you will fast-charge en route.
6. Color combos to avoid
We’ve heard a wide variety of takes on the Chevrolet Bolt EV’s style. While it’s not quite polarizing, some people dislike it intensely while others find it cool in a techie sort of way. Chevy clearly prioritized function here, and we applaud their commitment to efficiency and convenience. With that said, there are some color combinations that are not pleasing to the eye. Summit white and silver ice (both with black grille) are just two examples that we found unappealing. On the flip side, we found those with the Volt-esque silver grille (orange burst, mosaic black) to be far more attractive.
7. How to manage fast-charging
General Motors is not Tesla, and so it does not have its own fast-charging (i.e., Supercharger) network. So you’re on your own when planning a road trip, though quick-charging stations are coming online fast. The Chevrolet Bolt EV will DC-fast charge using the SAE Combo connector (as opposed to the CHAdeMO standard for Nissan Leaf). ChargePoint, Blink, and SemaConnect are three major charging station operators that you can put to use, but you will need to set up accounts and download apps to use any of them. Once you are set, though, you can add 90 miles of range per 30 minutes charging.
8. Charging at home
Most EV drivers charge at home using a Level 2 (240v) system they install in the garage. You can get 25 miles of charge per hour for the Chevrolet Bolt EV on this standard. Many public chargers also operate on the Level 2 standard if you hope to charge your vehicle while visiting the beach, shopping mall, or similar destinations. Chevy communications said that Bolt EV buyers can pay as low as $20 per month to purchase a 32-amp Level 2 station (installation costs not included) when adding it to a 36-month lease payment.
9. Infotainment and safety features
Chevy took a “both sides” approach to smartphone standards here. Drivers can connect via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, and there are charging jacks for both phones between the front seats. Built-in Wi-Fi acts as a hotspot and can keep seven devices going at once. The myChevrolet mobile app allows you to remotely start, charge, or lock the Chevrolet Bolt EV from your phone. Safety-wise, Chevy offers the latest in crash prevention features (including auto braking and blind spot alert) as options. A rear vision camera comes standard.
10. The EV without compromises
The Chevrolet Bolt EV didn’t win Green Car of the Year, Motor Trend Car of the Year, and other awards for nothing. Whereas other EVs are limited in range, boring to drive, cramped, or too expensive, Chevy delivered its long-range model with cargo space, comfort, and a powertrain everyone can enjoy. Naturally, the greenest of drivers have their wish with a combined 119 MPGe. The Chevrolet Bolt EV does not compromise, and we consider that the highest compliment you can pay an electric vehicle. You might want a flashier style or 300 miles of range, but at its current price point ($37,495 before incentives), there is nothing close to this EV in 2017.
Disclosure: In order to bring this first drive report to our readers, the Autos Cheat Sheet reporter received complimentary airfare, accommodations, and meals while attending the Chevrolet event in California.