September 12, 2016

Finally, we’re getting a practical, mass market electric car that people can afford and it isn’t a Tesla. Chevrolet has beaten Elon Musk’s Model 3 by at least a year and it has a chance to bask in the spotlight.

This will gnaw at Musk’s soul for a while, but when the entry-level Tesla arrives then it’s going to be a different story. We think the Chevy Bolt vs Tesla Model 3 battle could be an easy win for the Tesla. It’s cheaper, faster, more luxurious and boasts a higher level of autonomy after all.

But it isn’t here yet and it won’t be for a long time. So right now the Chevy Bolt is the only real-world electric car you can buy from a major manufacturer with a 200-mile range, four seats and all the features you’d expect for less than $40,000.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has publicly said he might chop in his Model S for a Bolt, which has got to sting for Musk. He won’t be the last, the Chevrolet Bolt is really all the car anybody needs for daily use.

So what do you need to know about the Chevrolet Bolt? Read on to find out more.

Chevrolet Bolt launch date

You can order your Chevy Bolt right now and production starts in October. There’s no sign of an outrageous Chevy Bolt waiting list, so technically you could go in to a dealer, spec your car and have it on your drive before Christmas. That’s a big plus, right there, for the Chevy.

Chevrolet Bolt price

This one’s a bitter pill, especially when the svelte Tesla is actually cheaper. The Bolt costs $37,500 before the Federal tax credits come into play. Chevy reckons your final bill will be somewhere close to $30,000, which sounds more reasonable, but everybody else gets the tax break too.

It’s still a sizeable chunk of money and one that gives us pause for thought every time we look at the Bolt. This is a hatchback and not an especially premium one. It’s kind of galling that it costs that much when there are slicker, cuter options almost on the market for less.

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Chevrolet Bolt design

There’s nothing wrong with the Chevrolt Bolt design. It isn’t ugly, some might even call it elegant. But it isn’t stunning and it isn’t a high-end car. It looks like a mid-range hatchback, because that’s what it is.

The fake vents at the front do serve an aesthetic purpose, the wraparound LED headlights and that flash of black down the side gives a muscular look to the Bolt. The angled shoulder and the tapered windows gives it an added hint of aggression and the chopped rear and sculpted haunches look strong.

Overall, the Bolt won’t win any design awards and it just doesn’t have the wow factor of the quirky BMW i3, but it is a well-proportioned car.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Chevy Bolt interior

It’s more of the same with the Chevrolet Bolt interior. It’s competent, good even, but it doesn’t have that flash of inspiration on offer from its nearest rival.

The Chevrolet Bolt interior looks and feels more like a normal car and the cockpit comes with an array of buttons and switches on the wheel and center console. Chevy has opted to give you options. So you can control the HVAC through the 10.2” screen, or you can opt to twist a knob and push a button. At 55mph, there’s something to be said for tactile controls rather than a sub menu.

Another screen replaces the instrument binnacle and if we compare the Chevrolet Bolt Interior to the rest of the market then it scores well. With the two-tone dash that we’ve seen so far it’s dynamic and there’s a sense of motion and speed, too. It’s busy, but it’s well thought out.

The low profile battery pack in the floor gives solid storage space despite the car’s relatively small dimensions. The Chevrolet Bolt storage space of 16.9 cubic foot compares well the 15.1 cubic foot offered by the BMW i3 and Honda Fit’s 16.6 cubic feet.

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Chevrolet Bolt power

The Bolt comes with a perfectly respectable 150kW (200bhp) powerplant that comes with a 7.05:1 final drive ratio. Like most small Chevrolets it is front-wheel-drive and the Chevrolet Bolt power really won’t set your hair on fire. Once again, that isn’t the point of the car.

Stats and numbers are all well and good, but this is a car designed to get you to work and to the mall. It’s not a sportscar, so the power figures are more than adequate. It will be usurped by the elephant that isn’t in the room yet and Chevrolet knows this. The Dearborn marque simply isn’t trying to compete on that playing field.

The Electronic Precision Shift system meters the power according to the drive mode and your own inputs with the throttle. This has all gone through the kind of R&D program you associate with a big name auto manufacturer, too, so we’re keen to see how it works in the real world compared to the obvious competition.

Chevrolet Bolt top speed

One of Chevrolet’s own engineers described the Bolt as an aerodynamic brick, it’s a hatchback and top speed was way down the list of priorities in the design phase. Still, there are only a handful of places left on Earth where it’s considered socially acceptable to go faster than 91mph.

Of course you could take your car to the track and then you could bemoan the lack of triple figure top speeds. But why would you?

Chevy decided to sacrifice top end speed in the name of range, acceleration and packaging. Considering the market, that was a wise move.

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Chevrolet Bolt range

This is the big one and it’s where the Chevy wins some major points. More than 1.3 billion test miles with the Volt helped the team develop the 60kWh battery, which is all-new in the Bolt. You get 288 Lithium-Ion cells split into five sections and 10 modules.

That’s enough to keep the Bolt going for an EPA-certified 200 miles, which is a huge deal at a time when the likes of the Ford Focus Electric and BMW’s i3 is getting upgraded to a 114-mile range. Chevy has put in some serious work and has blown the competition into the weeds.

Of course the Chevy Bolt vs Tesla Model 3 is the one that everybody is talking about, but Chevrolet should take that as a serious compliment. It’s a long way beyond the others and until VW and Mercedes enter this battle properly then the EV world is a total two horse race when it comes to range. And one of the horses hasn’t turned up yet.

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Chevy Bolt fast charging

Like Tesla, Chevrolet has focused on the fast charging ability of the Bolt. It knows that its customers will get caught short and they need to be up and rolling again as soon as possible. So if you hook the Bolt up to a DC fast charging station equipped with the optional SAE Combo plug then you’ll get 90 miles of range in 30 minutes and 80% charge in an hour.

Of course you can and probably will get a home charger, too, which uses a 240-volt unit and gives you 25 miles per hour on charge. The Bolt will be fully juiced within nine hours, so as long as you charge it every night then you shouldn’t need to worry about range anxiety unless you’re going on a serious road trip.

Chevrolet Bolt one pedal driving

Chevrolet has made a big deal about the Bolt one pedal driving option, which essentially trims the regenerative braking system so you can leave the brake pedal alone. It takes the right drive mode and you have to engage a Regen on Demand paddle behind the wheel. We still wonder if it’s a good idea.

It will give 5% more range and if this was on a niche enthusiast’s car then it would be awesome. But the Bolt is a car for everyman, and everyman tends to make mistakes. So having a car that jolts like you’ve hit the brakes if you drop the gas in a nervous, ingrained response to action up ahead could be a problem.

We have to see and feel this system in action. It might be fine, but there’s a niggling doubt that one-pedal driving is a clever addition to the Bolt and we think it might do more harm than good.

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Chevrolet Bolt safety

The Chevrolet Bolt safety measures are solid and the car comes equipped with radar and camera systems designed to keep you safe. It gives you alerts, rather than taking the wheel and avoiding danger. All the actual evasive action is down to you, as it is with most manufacturers.

You won’t see an Autopilot equivalent on the Chevy Bolt for a long time, as Chevrolet recently denied it would launch a self-driving taxi service early in 2019. So for now the Chevrolet Bolt safety measures are passive and it’s up to you to drive it.

If you do crash, there are 10 airbags to catch you and if you tick the box then you get OnStar assistance and automatic emergency services help. So there’s that…

We don’t have NHTSA crash test results as yet, but the Volt scored five stars across the board apart from a four-star result on the frontal crash test. So we can assume that the Bolt will be a five-star car and once you’re in a crash it’s a solid piece of metal to have around you.

Chevrolet Bolt dealer support

This is where Chevrolet scores big. It has the heavyweight support of GM behind it and this company has had its cash crisis, gone bankrupt and come out the other side. Chevrolet is going nowhere.

It sells 4.8 million cars a year in 115 countries. The battery unit comes with an eight-year guarantee, there are dealers in every town and you’re never too far from a service center. They will also be here in a few years to take your car back as a part exchange. This matters.

Chevrolet Bolt specs

Right now there don’t seem to be a whole lot of options for the Chevrolet Bolt. There are rumours of a four-wheel-drive version, but we just don’t have firm information. For now, if you buy a Bolt, you get a Bolt. We’re sure there are special editions to come, but right now Chevrolet is concentrating on the basics.

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Wrap up

We really want to love the Chevrolet Bolt and in a lot of ways we do. GM deserves major props for putting in the hard yards with the battery tech and bringing this car to market so early.

Other makers are talking a good fight, but they’re taking baby steps and Chevrolet has really brought us all the car we ever needed in a usable, elegant and solid package.

There’s just one problem: Tesla.

Chevrolet has brought us a high tech concept presented in a pretty low-tech package and the Bolt just doesn’t feel special.

Now we can argue that Tesla ran before it could walk and that all the bells and whistles really aren’t necessary or even relevant. But the Model 3 is inspired, brilliant, elegant and exciting. The Bolt is solid, dependable and respectable.

Chevrolet has produced a very solid PC that does everything you need to do. But Palo Alto has a MacBook, for less money. Or it will have.

It isn’t here. It’s not even close. So the Bolt’s main USP is that you can actually buy it. It does everything well, it’s a good car and yet we don’t feel anybody will truly love it. This is an appliance. It’s an EV for people that don’t care about cars.

That’s a massive market, though, so Chevrolet shouldn’t shed any tears over this. The Bolt looks solid and will sell like hot cakes, which is what really matters in the end.

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