At this point I have probably driven over 75 cars in the last few years, each for at least a few hundred miles and at least a week of city, highway, suburbs, mountain and even just a short jaunt to the market. Lots to like in most of these vehicles and obvious differences between, say, a pickup truck, a large luxury SUV and a sporty compact. Most of them have had one thing in common, however: An internal combustion engine, or “ICE”, as the industry calls it. I’ve driving hybrids – which I like a lot – and even plug-in hybrids – which might be one of the best all around transitional vehicle designs for the next few years, but all-electric and only electric? The 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier is one of the very first true EV’s I’ve driven.
And I loved it!
Now don’t get confused: Chevrolet used to have the Volt in its lineup too, but that was discontinued in 2019. The Volt is a plug-in hybrid. The Bolt is a full EV with no internal combustion engine. If you run out of electricity in your batteries, you stop. Which has always left the great question of EVs being what’s your range? The base measure for the Bolt EV is 259 miles, which sounds like a lot if you’re just going to work and back, but isn’t so much if you’re poised for a cross-country road trip.
Not only that, but our timing was perfect as I was able to enjoy the Bolt during National Drive Electric Week (Sep 26-Oct 4). Very trendy, eh?
Let’s start with a photo of this cute, very euro-style four door:
Like Doctor Who’s fabled TARDIS, the Bolt is definitely bigger on the inside. In fact, through some smart design decisions, the vehicle is quite small in a parking lot, but surprisingly roomy inside. Part of the reason is that you don’t need a long hood for that ICE, it’s a much simpler, more compact design:
What does all of this do? No idea, clearly this is not a user serviceable vehicle for all but the most dedicated of owners. There’s no transmission either, the relationship between acceleration and speed is much more linear and logical; you push on the accelerator and you accelerate. But don’t let the tiny size fool you in this regard either, because the Bolt EV is super fun to drive because it really goes when you want to speed up. If you’ve ever watched a Tesla drive weave through traffic, this offers that same level of zip, but in a more modest form (and price tag).
THE WORLD OF EV CHARGING AND POWER
It is a whole new world, however, so instead of talking about something like miles per gallon to ascertain fuel efficiency, an EV is all about miles per kilowatt-hour, or m/kWh. I did pretty well in that department, averaging about 4.1 miles/kWh (as shown below). This lets you do the math because the 2020 Bolt features a 60kW charge capacity. So if I can get 4.1 miles per kWh, my estimated range is therefore 4.1 * 60 = 246 miles.
But overall theoretical range isn’t that helpful, so the Bolt shows you most likely distance to zero (211 miles, given the current charge level), optimal distance to zero (248 miles) and minimum given worst case driving and environmental conditions (172 miles). This also leads into the other key discussion with an EV: charging.
There are public chargers, some free, some that cost a nominal fee to use:
But with its long range, most users are likely to be charging at home and that’s a surprisingly complicated math too because there are 120V and 240V chargers for home and you can draw 8 amps or 12 amps (or more) on a charge. The kindest to the electrical grid is 120V @ 8 amps, but that can take over 24 hours for a charge if the Bolt is almost at zero. Jump that to 12 amps – almost always doable on a regular home circuit, most of which are designed to push out 30 watts without tripping the breaker – and you can speed things up about 33%. But jump to a 240V charging system at home and you can really cut things down, where a 50% charge is under 5 hours total (easily done overnight). If you’re near a public 240V charger, however, it’s delightful to top up your batteries while working, shopping, or going for a hike.
Though I was surprised that when I pulled up to the ChargePoint station above, two of the four chargers were broken and a third was damaged and required some fiddling to work properly. Imagine if you were planning a cross-country trip and stopped at a fast charger just to find it was broken. Not good.
INSIDE THE 2020 CHEVY BOLT EV
The vehicle itself is nicely designed inside and out. For example, the driver’s cockpit area:
All EV’s I’ve ever seen seem to be characterized by really big infotainment and navigation screens and the Bolt EV Premier follows this trend with its 10.2″ display, as you can see. A big, bright display screen with a nice and human friendly design. Notice also the big space just under the main console area, plenty of space for a handbag or similar.
Tap on the bright green “Energy” tab and you can see how well the batteries are doing:
One funny thing is that Bolt EV owners talk about the blank buttons on the dash, as shown above. Turns out you can buy stickers to label those buttons that look entirely consistent with the existing buttons but offer features like “ROCKET LAUNCH” or similar. I’d definitely add a few 007-themed buttons, personally. I mean, it makes more sense than blank buttons. What are they supposed to be for anyway?
But the real fun with the 2020 Bolt EV is driving in “L” mode. It’s a secret mode that isn’t even labeled on the gear shift (go back two pics and look at the labelled gears) unless you know to drop into it:
“L” mode is super fun, actually, it turns the Bolt EV into a go-kart, essentially; lift your foot off the accelerator and it brakes, push on the accelerator and it speeds up. No brake pedal needed. Sounds weird and it requires a little bit of an adjustment compared to gas & brake pedal driving, but boy is it fun because it’s not only super responsive, but it’s logically how a car should accelerate or slow down for a driver.
SHORTCOMINGS OF THE BOLT EV
There are, however, a few things that I was underwhelmed by, including what I categorize as the “fit and finish”. This is a car with a $43K price tag (before rebates and incentives are factored in) and it has manual adjust seats and a cargo space that barely holds a backpack:
It’s most assuredly not an SUV in any sense of the world, though you can fold down the back seats to gain additional storage capacity. Underneath the pull-out back ‘floor’ is a hidden storage space (which I like a lot), and under that is the storage compartment for the charging cables. Which looks more like packing material for a TV box than part of an expensive car:
Yes, that’s the same hard molded polystyrene-like material you find in electronics boxes for shipping, just sitting in a well of the main metal body component of the vehicle. Even if you pull out the cable and never look in this space again, the aesthetic experience is pretty startling for an otherwise well assembled premium vehicle.
Still, that’s my main complaint with this cute, peppy and technologically advanced electric vehicle, that a bit more attention to the premium experience would make the overall driving and ownership experience better. Not that it seems to affect most Bolt EV drivers, based on a week chatting with people in the Facebook Bolt EV user’s group. They love their car.
It’s clear why. Even with these limitations and the challenge of an EV in cold weather (which dramatically lowers overall range on a charge), the Bolt is a really fun vehicle. It also has an enthusiastic owner community that obsesses over everything Bolt and collaborates on the terrific Chevy Bolt FAQ, well worth reading if you’re really interested in the vehicle.
At the end of the day, there’s a lot that makes me consider buying a Chevy Bolt EV for my own use. I do take long drives, however, so there are also some things that remain obstacles, like that mid-point charge on a typical 500mi driving day on a long haul. Battery and range degradation in cold weather is significant too, and that’s a danger in Colorado where we do get plenty of sub-32F and even some sub-zero days each winter. It’s why I’m just as likely to look for a used Chevy Volt, the plug-in hybrid that offers much of the same fun and efficiency of an EV, but includes a back-up gas powered ICE, just in case you can’t charge up.
CONFIGURATION: 2020 Chevy Bolt EV Premier in Slate Gray Metallic with Dark Galvanized Sky interior. Options: DC Fast Charge, Infotainment Package, Driver Confidence Package. Base price: $41,020. As driven: $43,735.00.
It’s worth noting that there are a lot of tax incentives and other promos that can lower the cost of your EV. Heck, Costco is offering a $3,000 incentive to buy a Bolt through their car buying service. On average, people seem to be able to save $8,000-$10,000 off the sticker price with these rebates and incentives, and remember electricity is also significantly cheaper than gas so you’re saving every month too.
Disclosure: Chevrolet loaned me the Bolt EV for a week in return for this candid writeup. Thanks, Chevy!