I just might be a convert. This is really good.
Here’s the thing about electric cars (or EVs as they’re known): From the outside they’re often square little geek-mobiles, with drivers more concerned about what is going on inside than what they look like on the outside. That’s changing, of course, as sporty, stylish electrified cars grow in popularity.
But as our mothers taught us, beauty is on the inside, right? So I was excited to get behind the wheel of the Chevrolet Bolt for a road trip to see what this little car is all about. Not only was this well-priced car a lovely surprise (prices start at $37,500 for the LT and top out at about $44,000 for the Premium model; incentives can shave a hefty 25% or more off the price), but there were a number of things about this car that won my heart.
While I got to see the beautiful sights of Cape Cod on my trip, I also learned why drivers and critics love the Bolt, and how much fun geeking out can be in a smartly engineered EV.
Pick your charge type: Fast or faster
Chevrolet went with the most common type of charger in the Bolt — it’s what you’ll find at most charge stations. The only cars that don’t work with this plug type are Tesla and Nissan’s Leaf.
Two types of charging are common at charge stations: level 2 and level 3. Level 1 is essentially the speed of charging from a typical household plug; fast enough for your phone, but putting 30 miles on your battery takes 7 hours or more. Level 2 bumps up the speed so a full charge to the Bolt’s battery can be done overnight. Level 3 is even more efficient; the Bolt’s battery can be 80% charged in about 3 hours and fully charged in less than 4.
Here’s a look at the Chevy Bolt, with questions from our Facebook fam:
On our trip we pulled into a Whole Foods in Barnstable, snagged a charging spot and plugged the Bolt in. Once plugged in, the dash showed we would need an hour to recharge the battery to 80% of capacity, or about 100 miles. If we had needed the charge, this would have been a great place to stop for lunch; and also, at Whole Foods, charging is free!
Get your power back, and add power back to the battery
On the back of the Bolt’s steering wheel is a regeneration paddle (similar to a paddle shifter). When you need to slow the car, use it instead of the brake; press the regen paddle and it redirects the engine’s power, feeding it back into the battery and slowing the car. This is great for slowing on the highway, approaching an intersection or stop sign. If you’re slowing quickly enough, the brake lights come on warning drivers behind you. This works so well you might not even need to use the brake.
One pedal driving rocks. Seriously.
This one surprised me: One pedal driving. What this means is that when you lift your foot off the accelerator, the Bolt redirects power back to the battery, slowing the car. This is available in the Bolt’s L mode, which is right below Drive (“D”) on the gear shift. If you drive in D mode the Bolt functions just like a regular car.
The only thing I didn’t love about the L mode is that when the motor shifts to regen mode, there’s a discernible ‘shift shock’ and I could see Nicole, my drive mate, lurching forward slightly as the car slowed (she was a good sport and didn’t complain). I didn’t feel it as much when I was by myself, though, and my guess is that, as with my stick shift, I could learn to ease up on the accelerator to make the ride more comfortable for my passengers.
But overall, I LOVED one pedal driving; once I started using it I used it almost the whole drive, even when I had plenty of range on the battery.
The range is nice and with good driving, you can actually increase it!
Not having range anxiety is awesome. This happens all the time with gas cars: I usually let the tank go below 1/8th before I fill up again; if I forget (or can’t find a station) I start to worry we’ll run out of gas. That’s called range anxiety and it stinks. I love cars that tell me how many miles are left on the tank and that is usually my default driver information setting.
But with the Bolt, range is the game. A full charge will take you about 238 miles; less if you blast the A/C or heat, more if you can restrain. But you can do better using the L mode and regen paddle, maintaining a lower speed and not sucking up electricity with things like radio, USB charging and more.
Another nice feature in the Bolt is the “confidence meter.” One of the driver feedback screens allows you to see what your range is as well as your optimal range if you’re using the regeneration features, and what your minimum range is if you’re not giving a hoot about how much electricity you use. And, as you brake, regen and recharge, the range fluctuates. It’s nice to see your range actually increase as you drive.
The Bolt is your performance coach
This isn’t just a car, it’s a video game. Really. There are scores, points and prior performance to beat. You can outperform your last drive and overcome obstacles such as terrain, weather and your own bad driving habits. Different feedback displays show you how you’re doing and coach you to do better.
Love this: heat and plugs everywhere
There are never enough USB ports in my car (unless I’m by myself). No matter how many plugs there are, there are always more devices that need juice than outlets to provide it. Not so here: There are 4 USB ports, a standard 12V charge port (the cigarette adapter style charger) and a wireless charge pocket for phones that charge wirelessly (not my iPhone 6+ unfortunately). The rear USB ports and wireless charge pocket are part of the infotainment package ($485).
I also loved that all four seats are heated, and so is the steering wheel; these are standard features in the Premium trim and a $555 option in the LT. Offering heated seats isn’t just a luxury, it’s actually strategic: In designing the Bolt and the second generation Volt, Chevrolet surveyed Volt drivers and found that they did everything they could to avoid turning on the heat to save precious electricity. They were wearing gloves, hats and scarves while driving around in sub-zero temperatures!
Moving and positioning the driver’s seat, however, isn’t electric; it’s manual. This was a surprise in this all-electric car. The reason? It adds too much weight to the car. Again, a strategic reason for not having this convenience; I found the manual seat very easy to position.
Using your phone for connectivity — or OnStar (because, Chevrolet)
The Bolt we drove didn’t have navigation, though it did have OnStar and Wifi. That’s because most buyers these days want to use their phone for navigation and connecting to calls, texts and music. I just plugged my phone into the USB port and CarPlay came up. It was super simple to add a destination to my Apple maps, tap the map on the CarPlay screen and be guided. I also loved that my phone stores destinations that can be displayed in CarPlay’s destination menu.
The Bolt, like all General Motors vehicles, also has built in Wifi, and the company has just added a flat rate data plan for $20 a month for unlimited data; add that to the 5 years of free basic OnStar service that comes with the car and you’re set with connected service pretty much anywhere you might go.
Mind your ABCs: Always Be Charging!
Alec Baldwin hammered the point home in in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross with the acronym ABC: Always Be Charging! OK, he didn’t actually say that; Baldwin’s character harangued the cast to Always Be Closing, as in sales, but ABC applies with an EV too: since charge spots are popping everywhere, you can always be charging.
Don’t remember Glengarry Glen Ross? Here’s the “ABC” scene, a fun throwback to pre-internet sales tactics, and quite a few cars make a cameo in the dialogue.
Apps to make the Bolt experience even easier
On our road trip we wanted to stop for a water break, so we pulled up Plug Share. It pointed out that the Whole Foods not only had a Charge Point station but there was a spot open. Other apps include Charge Point’s app which maps out Charge Point stations (some are free, others require a Charge Point account) and the MyChevrolet app, which also lets you set charging hours, shows the level of charge on your battery, has auto start, auto lock/unlock, diagnostics and more.
The Bolt puts major bucks back in your budget
There are two models of the Bolt: The LT, which is lightly loaded with technology but has cloth seats, only two USB ports and a limited package of safety tech (starting price $37,495). The Premium (starting price $41, 780) adds leather trimmed seats, the full suite of safety features, a wireless phone charger, back seat USB ports and more.
Both qualify for the many perks and rebates open to EV owners.
Consider this: The federal government will subsidize your purchase to the tune of $7,500, and your state might too. Tax rebates range from $1,000 to $5,000, and discounts or special pricing are offered by many insurers, cities and electric companies, including subsidies on the cost of installing a charge station in your home.
Add to that the many free charging opportunities and the low maintenance cost of EVs, and either option can be very budget-friendly.
Then, think about this: No oil changes—EVs don’t need them. The brakes last longer thanks to the regeneration process. And the Bolt comes with 5 years of roadside assistance that will cover towing if your battery runs out of charge (not that you want that to happen). It also carries an 8 year/100,000 mile warranty on the electric battery and 5 years/60,000 miles on the power train.
More fun and comfortable than I’d have thought
I have to admit, I love the Volt and the security of a gas engine since gas stations are so plentiful. I also love the roomy front seat and the drive experience; it doesn’t feel like an EV. Now I can say the same about the Bolt: The cabin was roomy, the seats were comfortable and this little car is peppy.
I was completely surprised; on the outside it looks small--and it is. Inside, though, there’s plenty of leg room, head room and space for your stuff. And with the 238+ mile range, the ability to recapture engine power (one-pedal driving is seriously great) and the incentives that reduce the cost, the Bolt is making me think maybe I need one of these in my driveway.
Disclosure: I was Chevrolet’s guest for this test drive; travel and accommodations were provided. All opinions are my own.
Here’s what the Bolt inspired us to listen to on our test drive. Click to play!