The future is electric, and the Chevy Bolt is an affordable contender

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt isn't the prettiest, but it is extremely clever, and a leading contender in the EV race.
The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt isn't the prettiest, but it is extremely clever, and a leading contender in the EV race. –Austin Rexinger

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Not to be confused with the Chevrolet Volt, which uses a gas generator in conjunction with battery power, the similarly named Chevy Bolt is an all-electric drive. The Bolt offers a quiet ride, along with smooth, instant power delivery and the best driving range among all-electric vehicles with similar price tags.

The Bolt’s battery system, which contains 288 lithium-ion cells, delivers 266 pound-feet of torque and an EPA-estimated 238-mile range from a single charge. Sure, the Tesla Model S beats that range, but two Bolts are the price of one Tesla.

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One of the Bolt’s niftiest features is regenerative braking, which allows for one-pedal driving. This “one-pedal” feature was developed by Nate Michaluk, a controls algorithm engineer for General Motors and MIT grad. A paddle located behind the left side of the steering wheel slows the vehicle down while simultaneously directing the absorbed energy back into the battery. The Bolt can come to a complete stop using the paddle, giving it the “one-pedal” moniker. 

“I think people enjoy this kind of [regenerative braking] because, you know, you’re saving that energy and you know you have a way to brake without using the friction brakes,” said Michaluk.

The Bolt especially excels in its everyday usability and practicality. Its range allows drivers to go days without a charge. The deep trunk space and extensive passenger leg room make for enjoyable trips, whether down the street or across the state.

The Bolt isn’t perfect, though. The manually adjustable driver’s seat, which provides minimal lumbar support, is uncomfortable. The ride quality needs improvement, too. It shutters about while navigating Boston’s roadways. At times it feels floaty and bouncy, like sitting on a trampoline while bopping along Storrow Drive.

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But the overall experience of the Chevy Bolt leaves us with optimism. With features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with safety gadgets like low-speed automatic braking and pedestrian detection, the Bolt is fun and functional.

The interior of the Bolt is well thought out, but uses low-rent materials to cut costs. —Austin Rexinger

What the experts are saying:

“Like a Tesla, the Bolt is able to go well over 200 miles on a single charge — and for a lot less money. This Chevrolet is also quick, quiet, and can be a viable option for those ready to embrace a fully electric car.” — Mike Quincy, auto content specialist, Consumer Reports

“Those in the market for a well-priced, pure electric vehicle need to look no further than the Chevrolet Bolt. It’s stylish, roomy, and fun to drive, and Chevrolet’s expansive national dealer network adds peace of mind for those wary of the technology. The Bolt is today’s hot EV.” — Michael Harley, group managing editor, Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book

The Good:

1. The regenerative braking feature, which has the ability to provide one-pedal driving, adds another element to the electric driving experience while also improving efficiency and comfort. When used with finesse, the smoothness while decelerating is top-notch. 

2. The instant torque shove is incredibly exciting, but its benefits draw further than just enthusiasm. The instant availability of power allows for quick lane changes, and makes on-ramps disappear like a sports car. 

3. It’s surprisingly quiet. The main noise comes from the tires, the road, and wind. Otherwise, there is just a faint whine from the electric motor during acceleration. Add in the optional Bose Audio, and you can drown out any unwanted noises.

The Bad:

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1. The Michelin Energy Saver tires are only 215 millimeters wide, and struggle to keep traction on wet roadways. The Bolt’s instant power delivery only worsens this dilemma. Grip is sacrificed for efficiency, so the traction control system is forced to work harder.

2. The driver’s seat is uncomfortable. It feels as though it were removed from a base-model Chevy. Even though most buyers will save a significant amount of money after federal and state incentives for electric cars, this is still a $40,000 vehicle with stiff, manually adjustable seats. 

3. Boston roads expose the inconsistent ride quality, which varies between too stiff and too bouncy. The benefits of the quiet ride are discounted by the suspension.  

Under the Hood:

Battery System: 288 lithium-ion cells, 60 kWh

Engine: Permanent magnetic drive motor

Transmission: Single motor and gear-set

Drivetrain: Front-wheel-drive

Power: 200-horsepower, 266 pound-feet of torque

Fuel economy: 119 MPGe (miles per gallon gasoline equivalent), 128/110 city/highway, EPA-estimated 238 miles of total driving range

Charge time: Full charge in 9.3 hours (@ 240V), 90 miles in 30 minutes (DC Fast Charging), 4 miles of range per hour (@ 120V)

0-60 acceleration: 6.5 seconds

Also Consider:

Tesla Model 3: The upcoming Model 3 will achieve 220 miles of range with a starting price of $35,000 before incentives. But, like other Tesla models, the options quickly add up. Prospective owners will have to wait 12 to 18 months for delivery, according to Tesla’s website. 

Toyota Prius Prime: Being a plug-in hybrid, the Prius Prime can run on electric or gasoline power, but the all-electric range is only 25 miles. The hybrid capability can relieve range-anxiety associated with all-electric cars, while still providing tremendous combined fuel efficiency.