Last year, General Motors (GM) unveiled what is considered one of the most important automobiles of all time: The Chevrolet Bolt. The Bolt basically gives consumers a 240-mile range of pure electricity, something that can currently only be found on the Tesla Model S (a car that costs more than double the Bolt), at the affordable price of $35,000. By the time it hit showrooms in late 2016, it competed purely in a class of its own with the only foreseeable competition coming from Tesla’s upcoming Model 3, which isn’t expected to arrive until 2018.
Electric cars seem to be a modern innovation to the automobile; however, what the average person doesn’t know is that electric cars were the dominant over-conventional, gas-powered cars at the beginning of the the 20th century. The preference for electric cars died when more advancements were made to the internal-combustion engine (what powers gas-powered automobiles) and to its infrastructure (gas stations).
Electric cars were nearly non-existent then up until the the 1990s when the California Air Resources Board called for a push toward more environmentally friendly low and zero-emission vehicles. The result was cars like the Ford Ranger EV, Toyota Rav4 EV, Honda EV Plus and the GM EV1. None of these sold well mostly because they all wore outrageous price tags, the main exception being the GM EV1. GM only allowed customers to lease the EV1, and by 2002 they had leased over 1,000 cars when they decided to pull the plug and take back and scrap nearly every single one, creating a huge controversy.
Electric cars didn’t truly make a full comeback until the late 2000s with cars like the Tesla Roadster, Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt. At the time it was released, the Volt was a very important car for GM. Fresh out of the recession, GM needed to step up and bring exciting new products to revitalize sales.
Unlike its similarly priced rival, the Nissan Leaf, the Volt was not fully electric. Instead it only had 40 miles of electric range and thereafter it was backed up by a gasoline engine. This sort of setup is called a plug-in hybrid and differs from a traditional hybrid in the regard that it has the capacity to go further on pure electricity and requires it to be plugged-in in order to be charged. GM argued that this sort of setup was much more practical since most Americans have an average daily commute of around 40 miles. If you needed to travel further, there is a very fuel-efficient gas engine at your disposal, meaning you don’t need to worry about where to stop and charge as you would with a fully electric car such as the Nissan Leaf.
Electric cars didn’t really get on people’s radars until 2012 when Tesla released the Model S luxury sedan. The Model S started at over $70,000 but was the first to boast a range of over 200 miles per charge, making it one of the first practical electric cars. At $70,000, it’s safe to say that it’s out of reach for most Americans which is why Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised to make an electric car with over 200 miles of range for the “common man.”
Last year, after GM previewed the Bolt, Tesla showed us the revolutionary Model 3, a car that promises a range of over 200 miles with a price of $35,000 set for release in 2018. The two cars are set to compete head-to-head; however, the Bolt has hit showroom floors over a year before the Model 3 will,, putting the Bolt in a class of its own.
While it shows off very promising technology and could potentially be the first mainstream electric car, it’s still incomplete.
At first glance, the Bolt proportionally resembles Chevrolet’s subcompact Sonic Hatchback. I personally think it looks better than most cheaper electric cars but I still find it unattractive. I feel like it’s a bit over-styled with lines and cladding that don’t quite complement each other. The interior is well-designed and made out of decent materials but still feels overly cheap compared to anything else in its price range. Despite being a tiny car, the Bolt was plenty roomy. There was plenty of head, shoulder and legroom, both in the front and rear for someone of my height (6’2”). I wasn’t a big fan of the Bolt’s seats however — they were too narrow and didn’t have enough bolstering or thigh support.
The Bolt comes in two different trim levels: The base LT model starting at around $37,495 and the top-of-the-line Premier model starting at $41,780 (all before a federal tax rebate of $7,500). The Bolt comes with numerous standard features like a back-up camera and Apple CarPlay connectivity but these are the same features that come standard on the similarly sized gas-powered Chevrolet Sonic, which starts at over $20,000 less. When you upgrade to the Premier, you get heated leather seating, a blind-spot monitor, parking sensors and a neat rear view mirror that’s actually a camera instead. However, for a car that’s over $40,000, the Bolt was missing some basic key features such as a moonroof and power seats that, albeit are not completely necessary, are found as an option in nearly every car on the market.
The powertrain of the Bolt is where it’s supposed to shine. It’s powered by a 60-kWh battery that delivers around 238 miles of range. On a standard household outlet, it’ll take the Bolt over 30 hours to fully recharge and over 10 hours on the optional upgraded 240-volt outlet. The only way to get a faster charge is to buy the optional $750 fast charging hardware which still requires the driver to find a fast charging station, of which there’s only roughly about 1,100 in the entire country. So unless you live near one, you’re fresh out of luck.
The Bolt sprints to 60 miles an hour in around 6.5 seconds which is by no means a slouch, especially in comparison to other electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf. The Bolt also has a very smooth and quiet ride, very similar to GM’s other projects of late such as the new Cruze and Malibu. I found the steering to be completely lifeless and overly light. That may not seem like a huge problem, but being a front-wheel drive car that produces high amounts of torque, the Bolt tends to torque steer hard to the right on hard acceleration, making the driver wrestle the wheel to regain control. The Bolt also features a neat regenerative braking system that immediately slows the car down when you take your foot off the gas. This system captures the rolling energy from the wheels in order to recharge a small amount of power to the battery.
For a near $40,000 car, the Bolt comes relatively sparsely equipped. I found the surround view backup camera to be neat but with overly low resolution. It’s the same story with the rear view camera mirror: It took some getting used to and was very useful, but the resolution was choppy and I caught the camera lag once or twice during my drive (which can be particularly unsafe).
As an overall car, I have to say I’m pretty unimpressed with the Bolt. While it shows off very promising technology and could potentially be the first mainstream electric car, it’s still incomplete. GM still doesn’t have a very feasible charging network in place like Tesla and doesn’t quite have plans for one yet. From a value and quality standpoint, the Bolt is out of place for its price range.
The average buyer of an electric car is looking to make the switch because they want to reap the benefits of cost savings. What buyers need to take into account is how long they’ll need to drive the Bolt before they actually begin to save money. In Chevrolet’s lineup, the Bolt best compares to the Sonic Hatchback which starts at around $15,000. That means prospective Bolt buyers will not actually begin to save money until they recoup the $20,000 price difference in gas savings.
That being said, there are plenty of fuel-efficient vehicles worth looking at that cost around the same as or even less than the price of the Bolt that will offer better savings, practicality and quality. Cars like the Toyota Prius and Lexus CT200h are hybrids priced under the Bolt that provide some of the best fuel economy and come paired with the legendary quality and dependability. Even Chevrolet’s own Volt can be had much more affordably and is much more practical for primary use.
As it is, the Bolt stands in a class of its own. Currently, no other car can deliver with that much range at this price but, by this time next year, Tesla’s highly anticipated Model 3 sedan is expected to hit the roads. The Model 3 will not only deliver the same range at the same price but vows to compete with cars like the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class, meaning the Model 3 will be built to a significantly higher standard than the bare bones Bolt. For the technology it offers at this price, the Bolt is a huge automotive milestone but it’s only the first to arrive at the party.
Pros: First plausible electric car, comfort/ride, practicality
Cons: Charging infrastructure, boring looks, value
Chief Competitors: BMW i3, Mercedes B250e, Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt
The car used in this review was provided courtesy of Rydell Chevrolet of Northridge.
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|Powertrain & Chassis
|Front Seat Comfort/Space
|Rear Seat Comfort/Space
|Steering Feel & Handling
|Fit and Finish
|permanent-magnet synchronous AC 60-kWh lithium-ion battery pack
|1-speed direct drive
|128 city MPGe 111 highway MPGe
|$37,495 (before rebates and incentives)