2017 Chevrolet Bolt Review – First Drive

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Electric vehicles have it tough: typically, people think they’re slow, they take a long time to recharge, they’re limited in range and they’re expensive.

The popular Tesla Model S handles the former three elements, offering a blistering fast sedan, about 270 miles of range and a network of fast-charging stations that will give the car an additional 170 miles after just 30 minutes of charging. But with a price tag that can easily reach six digits, the Model S just isn’t feasible for many car owners.

That’s where Chevrolet is stepping in with the Bolt, an electric car for the masses. Not only is it promising 200 miles of range on a single charge, but it intends to do that while coming in at about $30,000 after government incentives, a price point that’s attractive for anyone.

We had a chance to drive a pre-production version of the Bolt, which was described as 80 percent of the finished vehicle. It was indeed missing final headlights and tail lights, and the interior was covered, but the key components were all there. Here’s what we can report on:

Interior

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The moment you jump into the Bolt, it becomes clear that Chevy is going heavy on the high-tech vibe. Like the Volt, there’s an eight-inch digital gauge that shows your speed and remaining range. In the center of the dashboard is a 10.2-inch touchscreen that has very unique design language. Instead of the dark and drab look of Chevrolet’s MyLink, the Bolt’s screen has a white background, with bright images and large icons. It reminds me of an iPad and when the screen starts to display driving statistics, the graphics are easy to understand at a glance.

The gear selector reminds me of  a BMW’s. It’s a toggle that re-centers after your nudge it up (for Neutral) or down (for Drive.) There’s also a Park button on the stalk. Glance upwards toward the rear-view mirror and you’ll see not just a mirror, but a display. Indeed, this is a live display of the Bolt’s rear-view camera, and it’s on all the time. The technology, previously announced for the prestigious Cadillac CT6, has huge safety benefits, as it features an 80-degree range of vision, instead of the 22 degrees that a typical rear-view mirror provides.

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Other parts of the interior of the car were still covered in a black fabric, sending the message that it wasn’t quite ready for the prime time yet. But it’s clear the Bolt has a center stack that’s unlike any other Chevy in the lineup.

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With loads of passenger space, the Bolt felt airy and comfortable to be in. The trunk capacity is listed as 16.9 cubic feet, which is more than the Honda Fit EV and BMW i3, but less than the Nissan Leaf and Kia Soul EV. The rear seats are split 60/40 and when folded flat, offer a total of 56.6 cubic feet of storage. The purpose-built platform allows Chevy to place the 60 kWh lithium-ion battery low and maintain a flat floor for passengers. This also makes entry and exit for passengers easy. The battery itself is quite interesting, featuring 288 lithium ion cells and weighing in at 960 lbs. 

On the Go

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As usual with any EV, the Bolt hardly makes a sound when put into Drive. Curiously, it creeps forward, mimicking a conventional gas powertrain. Step on the accelerator, and the car reacts quickly. There’s instant torque and the Bolt blasts off the line. Zero to 60 mph is expected in less than seven seconds, making it faster than other EVs like the Leaf and even hybrids like the Prius. The electric motor is good for 266 lb-ft of instant torque and 200 hp, making this Bolt feel like a quiet little hot hatch off the line. 

Braking is smooth, though not a solely one-pedal ordeal like the BMW i3 and Tesla Model S. There’s also a paddle on the steering wheel you can pull on that activates a stronger regenerative braking function. Chevrolet also says the “Low” gear mode will limit coasting and engage the regenerative braking quickly. There was no strange switchover feeling between mechanical braking and regenerative braking, as the whole process was very smooth.

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According to the Chevrolet, the Bolt will fully recharge in 9 hours using an available 240-volt charger, and can charge up to 25 miles of range per hour of charge. The Bolt will also offer an optional DC Fast Charging system using the industry standard SAE Combo connector. Using DC Fast Charging, the Bolt EV battery can be charged for up to 90 miles of range in 30 minutes.

What surprised me about the Bolt was how alive the steering felt. There was an immediate response on turn-in from the steering, it was quick to return to center and the steering feel is nice and heavy. It makes the car feel serious, though heavy steering may be annoying in close-quarter situations like parking lots if that trait makes it to the production vehicle.

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While not exactly agile, the Bolt was fairly flat on the test circuit, and was easy to drive overall. In addition to the responsive powertrain and steering, the car has great visibility with a steeply raked windshield and large windows with thin A and B pillars.

Features

The Bolt we tested had a number of features, although it’s not clear whether some of those will make it to the production vehicle and what kind of trim levels they will be offered in. There were buttons for automatic climate control, heated seats and even a heated steering wheel.

The company announced that the car will feature 10 airbags, and be offered with a number of advanced safety features including forward pedestrian alert, forward collision warning, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert. The car will also be available with Chevrolet 4G LTE Internet connectivity.

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Verdict: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt Prototype First Drive

Although we were limited with our time in the car, the Bolt left a strong first impression and felt very refined. It will be interesting to see if owners will be able to push the range over 200 miles, but as it stands, the Bolt will represent a huge move forward for affordable and practical electric vehicles.

Discuss this story on our Chevrolet Bolt Forum

  • dan747

    Good bye Tesla, you were too slow in making an EV that’s not only for the rich!

  • darelldd

    The only negative that I read here – that is unfortunately a biggie for me – is that the cargo space is even smaller than the Leaf. The Prius does passenger AND cargo room correctly. The Leaf’s cargo area is smaller than the Prius, and is inadequate for my needs. And if the bolt is smaller yet again… I’m afraid that this version is not going to be parked in my garage. I don’t need a car to haul ME around. That’s what my bike is for. I need a car to haul big *stuff* around. The big question I need answered: Can I fit a full-size road bike in the back with the seats down… and all wheels attached?

  • Yale U

    think of it this way; driving electric gives less $$ to the terrorists.

  • Jonathan Swain

    As with any vehicle, it’s never “one size fits all”, and every design decision comes with a trade-off. In this case, smaller size probably helps them meet their 200 mile range goal.

    This should be an awesome commuter car for many, many people, and the size might fit all the needs of many people without children, since the cargo capacity is pretty decent with the seats folded down. It may meet the needs of many people with children that have another, larger vehicle for when cargo capacity is important. But some need more, like you, and it won’t quite meet the need. Hopefully it does well enough to justify a larger model down the road that does.

  • darelldd

    I agree on all accounts, and it was on purpose that I only spoke of how it fits *my* needs for an automobile. I take exception to those who claim that because it will not fit *their* needs, that it won’t fit anybody’s needs. We hear that regularly about EVs in general. :sigh: I am very excited for this car and what it means in the bigger picture. The bar has been raised considerably here, and I’m thrilled.

    Make no mistake. I do not want a larger car. If I did, I’d already own a Tesla Model S. What I want is a car with this exterior dimension… but with more interior space. My Leaf and Prius are effective the same outside dimension. But the Prius is significantly more practical and roomy inside. I don’t know the final exterior dimensions of the Bolt – maybe it is as small as a Honda Fit? I’ve jus assumed all along that it will be the size of the Prius, and maybe I’m mistaken, and that they HAVE maximized the interior of a smaller overall car.

    Cheers,
    Darell

  • darelldd

    Surely you jest. With this car, Tesla has already partially won. A large part of their purpose was to spur other auto makers to compete in this sphere. And finally, they almost are competing. GM had 100 year head start on Tesla. How many non-gasoline cars have the two companies sold to date? How many have earned “Best car in the world” awards? How many genuinely fast chargers will the Bolt have access to? There is far more to the answer than making a 200 mile $35k car.

    I give GM full credit for what they’ve done here. But saying goodbye to Tesla? Not a chance. It’s like saying the Prius is done because Ford made some cheaper hybrids.

  • Darr247

    So would our farmers each planting a hundred acres or so of rapeseed (aka Canola), then using SHW panels for catalyst heat and a couple PV panels to run the press and pumps, to make all their own fuel (i.e. biodiesel) to free our agriculture industry from the threat of petro-terrorists.

    The $billions spent on boondoggles like the Conservation Reserve Program could easily pay for a hundred micro-refineries per state powered mostly by the sun, each capable of making 400 gallons per day when their skies are clear.

  • Raymond Ramírez

    It can haul YOU and four more, especially on rainy days and during cold winter storms when you will NEVER use a bike. And the only gas in it will be after you or someone else farted.

  • darelldd

    Ah, very clever reflection of my capitalizing, and the use of flatulence. Top notch humor, that. My favorite part is you voting your own post up! Well done.

    Note that I do not live in an area in which I will NEVER use a bike. Because I AWAYS do if it is just to transport me. Oh, and I understand the uses of EVs. Our main car has been an EV since 2001. Cheers.

  • danwat1234

    Please elaborate on “While not exactly agile” and compare to the Volt

  • Dan Men

    yup the Model 3 is still years away, giga factory is behind schedule, under sized, under funded, GM is gonna mop the floor with Tesla… and then other major players are coming into the fray as well ie BMW, Ford, Toyota etc…

  • DoubleCoppers

    960 pounds of batteries to carry all the time. Even when they have zero charge. That’s not a definition of efficiency. What’s the total weight of this golf-cart?