Driving a completely electric vehicle is a different experience if you’ve spent your whole life with the internal combustion engine. No gas stations, no quick top up to get you that last 20 miles, and no 500+ mile road trips in a day. Instead, there’s a constant drumbeat that keeps reminding you that you need to find a charging plug or even a power plug and allocate the time for the vehicle to charge up. Total range, best case, with the 2019 Chevy Bolt EV Premier is 238 miles, but you can end up with less range if you’re super aggressive as a driver. EV’s are measured in KW hours/100 miles and the Bolt EV manages to only consume 28 KWh/100mi.
Having said that, I have to admit that I loved driving the Bolt EV. It’s tiny, but I fit just fine – at 6’2″ – and found the interior comfortable. As with all hybrid or EV cars, the Bolt also is really peppy and has a smooth and aggressive acceleration if you really want to push the vehicle. You’ll be doing 80mph before you realize it and there’s never that stutter of gear shifting with its continuously variable transmission system. Well, Chevrolet calls it an Electronic Precision Shift.
Chevy loaned me the Bolt EV Premier for a week to drive and experience. In the middle of that week, we here in Boulder, Colorado had a one day blizzard appear, followed by sub-freezing temperatures overnight, which left the road in a condition that encouraged everyone to just stay home or go for a (careful) walk. Even in those conditions, however, the Bolt handled surprisingly well and the anti-lock brakes were pretty darn amazing when I tried to swerve or weave on ice. You can do it, but it’s a whole lot of work compared to a classic rear wheel drive muscle car!
There are also rumors that the Bolt EV will be discontinued, but that’s not only not true, the opposite is true: Chevy is moving aggressively to an EV future. GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra shared that the company “… has the ambition, the talent and the technology to create a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.” This is good news because the Bolt EV is really fun and remarkably inexpensive to operate. As gas prices go up, being able to plug into a ChargePoint or other (often free!) power charger will be a better and better deal too.
But let’s look at some photos starting with the exterior:
It’s definitely a small vehicle, but as a small “wagon” class vehicle, it does okay with storage and space. The lines are attractive and outside of the American market where everyone wants to drive an enormous vehicle, this sort of compact design fits right in with European, Japanese or Chinese preferences. The front grill is interesting too because modern cars have so many sensors. Nonetheless, this was all streamlined and as the driver you aren’t aware of cameras or clumsy boxes affixed to the front windshield or grill. This is slate gray metallic, and the interior color is light ash gray.
In fact, here are the interior driver’s controls and cockpit design:
The navigation and control screen isn’t as big as the monster on Tesla vehicles, but it’s still a nice, bright and very easy to read display that compliments the dashboard gauges.
Let’s look a bit more closely at the gauges behind the steering wheel, though, because that’s one of the screens you’ll look at the most:
The reason this is going to be a screen you look at a lot is because of the battery charge level indicator on the left. You can see I’m almost exactly at 3/4 charged and with the current charge my most likely range is 156 miles, though worst case could be 122 (bottom of the display) and best case 184 (top of display). Current speed (53mph), cruise control set speed target (57mph) and instantaneous power usage (26kW) are all shown in various spots too.
The first few days with the car were stressful, actually. I got the ChargePoint app and tried to figure out how to find fast charge plugs without success. But I could plug it into my own 110V garage outlet, which draws barely enough amps to be useful. An overnight charge was less than 50% of the battery capacity, so that’s not a great long-term solution for keeping it charged. Fortunately I learned more about how to find charging stations and found that if I left it at one for a couple of hours, it could charge it quite a bit. Better, many are free.
Above you can see it plugged in and charging (above front left wheel) at a ChargePoint station in underground parking at the local public library. For non-free pumps, charging does cost, but it’s pretty minimal, around $1.00/hr or thereabouts. I believe that’s dependant on how much amperage you draw, but my estimates is that a typical charge plug can give you a full charge in 5-6 hours, which is a long time, but a lot less expensive than a tank of gas, even nowadays.
There are actually two different charging plugs too:
The top, round one is the common SAE J1772-2009 that you see everywhere, but the addition of the two sockets on the bottom portion means that the Bolt EV also supports the SAE J1772 Combined Charging System which supports charging of up to 200 amps. That’s a really fast charger, known as a level 3 charger. I never found one to try out, but my understanding is that they’re pretty darn fast and probably vast overkill for home use.
Once I got the hang of working with EV plugs, however, I found that it was easy to find a convenient charging station within walking distance of places I wanted to visit, from a gaming afternoon at a friend’s house to work trips to various companies. Some chargers are a bit hard to find, but I also typically charged it overnight too to get whatever I could get, whether it was a lot or just a top-up. Not much hassle at all, and after a few more weeks with the Bolt EV I’m sure I would have been an old pro at finding and utilizing charge points.
The only thing I never figured out was charging point etiquette. I assume that leaving your vehicle plugged in and charging for hours and hours is rude, but what is the commonly agreed upon way of working with these units? An hour in a busy spot? Two hours? 30 minutes? Or does it depend on how powerful they are?
Back to the dashboard…
As is obvious, it’s big and easy to work with, from the entertainment screen to the environmental controls. The three unlabeled non-functioning buttons on the bottom? Just a mystery; what could they be used for? One thing I did find frustrating is that the entertainment system doesn’t have memory of its last connection so I frequently found that I would be listening to audio from my phone via bluetooth, would stop the car, start it up again, and find myself listening to the radio at the (loud) volume I’d set for an audio book or similar. The car also has no built-in navigation support or maps; it’s all assumed to be via CarPlay or Android Auto. Not a big deal for most people, but worth knowing if you might prefer a standalone GPS.
And how about space? It’s a small car so it should be no surprise that there’s not a lot of back seat legroom:
Indeed, unless you have atypically short drivers and front seat passengers, the back seat is probably better for children than adults, at least for longer drives. We did get four teens and young adults into the car, but it was cozy. What you can’t see in the above photo, by the way, is that there are two USB charging ports conveniently located in the unit between the front seats. Much appreciated by the younger set!
Now let’s step outside for a moment:
It’s narrow, but there’s a surprising amount of space inside the Bolt EV. In particular the back compartment is an interesting design because there’s a shelf that hides the lower storage area, as you can see in this photo:
The shelf itself feels like polystyrene with fabric glued on which makes me wonder if it’s relatively easy to break, but hopefully that’s not an issue with owners. I just really liked a hidden storage area and wish my regular car had one of these too!
So that’s my tour. The 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier edition. And it’s a really fun, future looking vehicle with a great drive experience, tight steering, surprisingly good cold weather handling and no ability to consume even a single gallon of gasoline. Definitely worth checking out if you’re looking to be part of the future of vehicles, a glimpse into a world where we won’t be using any gasoline at all.
AS DRIVEN: 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier in Slate Gray Metallic with Light Ash Gray interior, Options: DC fast charging, driver confidence package and infotainment package. BASE PRICE: $40,905.00. AS DRIVEN: $43,510.00.
Disclosure: Chevrolet loaned me the Bolt EV Premier for a week for this review.