2017 Chevrolet Bolt Review

Don’t let the popularity of the Tesla Model S fool you: Electric vehicles aren’t selling as well as perhaps they should be.

In fact, less than one percent of the nearly 20 million or so cars, trucks and sport utilities sold in North America last year were electric. It’s not all bad news on the EV front, though, and optimists will be quick to note the progress they have made in their short history on the market. After all, sales of battery electric vehicles have continued to climb steadily, surpassing 160,000 units between the United States and Canada in 2016, or almost the same number of vehicles Honda sold in Canada last year. Regardless, proponents of electric propulsion are still waiting for EVs to carve out a more significant share of the market. And perhaps the biggest obstacle in the way is price.

Get past range anxiety and long charging times, and the astronomical upfront cost of EV ownership is no doubt keeping plenty of potential buyers away. Yet in an ironic twist — and one that’s akin to the issue of the chicken or the egg — those prices are likely to remain high until more buyers opt for EVs. Automakers know this all too well, and a handful are working on electrified solutions that fit the needs — and budgets — of the masses. And the first of this new class of relatively affordable, everyday-friendly EVs to hit the market is the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt.

All The Way Electric

But what does this new electric hatchback bring to the table that the existing Chevrolet Volt doesn’t? Aside from its confounding name — conversations about the car invariably include descriptors like “that’s Bolt with a ‘B’” for clarity’s sake — the Bolt joins the alternative fuel fray with little doubt about its electric origins. Because unlike the Volt, which features a gas engine (it doesn’t send power to the wheels directly but essentially generates more electricity on the fly), the Bolt is powered by pure electrons.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime Review

Sort through the complex web of wires necessary to make the whole thing work, and the Bolt’s powertrain is fairly straightforward. Propulsion is made possible by an electric motor that draws power from the car’s floor-mounted battery pack, and what’s essentially a fixed ratio transmission that sends it to the front wheels.

The 60-kilowatt-hour battery pack, a lithium-ion unit, spans the entire length of the car’s cabin and can be plugged into Levels I, II or III charging stations. Using the former means long charging times, while the latter, known as DC Fast Charging, can top the battery up with 90 miles (145 kilometers) of range in about 30 minutes, or juice it up completely in about two hours. Topping the battery up completely using a Level II charger, meanwhile, takes a little less than 10 hours and provides an estimated range of 238 miles (383 kilometers).

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What Range Anxiety?

That differs greatly from the Volt, which only ekes out a paltry 53 miles (85 kilometers) of pure electric driving from its much smaller 18.4-kWh battery pack. It also means range anxiety is almost nonexistent in the Bolt in most driving situations.

Departing Menlo Park, Calif., with a fully charged battery — and an indicated 234 miles (377 kilometers) of range — our tester was more than fit for an extended tour of the rain-soaked San Francisco Bay Area. With a roundabout journey spanning about 100 miles (160 kilometers) on the day’s docket, battery life was of little concern.

With the instant torque provided by the electric powertrain, the Bolt offered impressive acceleration — a useful tool not for racing along city streets, but rather when passing and merging. The electrified gusto did, however, combine well with the Bolt’s responsive ride, a product of wheels that sit as near as possible to the corners, and low center of gravity, created by the battery pack, to have a little bit of fun when called upon.

ALSO SEE: Here’s What Will be Powering Next-Generation Electric Cars

The battery pack’s low positioning in the car isn’t always smile-inducing, though. Tipping the scales at 960 lb (435 kg), it creates a weight imbalance in the Bolt that can lead to a seesawing effect over uneven pavement, something that became quickly evident on the Bay Area’s roly-poly highways. It’s definitely not a deal-breaker, but does take some getting used to — particularly for those who are new to electric vehicles.

The Bolt’s regenerative brakes, as well as the transmission’s ‘Low’ mode, also require some acclimation. It didn’t take much time in the car — and particularly the passenger seat — to understand why a pack of motion sickness pills had been tossed in the glove box for our drive. Like the Volt, the Bolt features a steering wheel-mounted paddle that can be used to slow the car while putting power back into the battery, though doing so can be jarring, with the brakes feeling especially grabby and tough to modulate. Likewise, the Low mode on the gear selector, which acts almost as an engine brake, applies an extra dose of regenerative braking when the accelerator isn’t applied. It can also make the road feel like it’s made of magnets, with the car slowing very abruptly.

With a little bit of time behind the wheel, it’s not difficult to adjust to the aggressive nature of the regenerative braking system. It’s also an easy way to maximize — and even extend — the Bolt’s range, allowing for one-pedal driving that almost eliminates the need to touch the brake pedal.

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Advanced Interior

Just as transformative as the Bolt’s drive is its advanced interior. An eight-inch digital gauge display is joined by a massive 10.2-inch touchscreen infotainment screen like the one found in the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid. Both screens are bright and easy to read, and can be used to monitor the Bolt’s energy flow and efficiency ratings, including an energy usage scoring page. It could perhaps benefit from some additional scoring apps to encourage efficient driving, but those are sure to come thanks to the infotainment system’s smartphone integration.

Like all other new GM vehicles on the market, the Bolt benefits from the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as 4G LTE with Wi-Fi. It doesn’t, however, feature a native navigation system, a decision that was made due to the rapid pace at which software is rendered obsolete.

ALSO SEE: 2017 BMW i3 Officially Gets 114-Mile Range

Elsewhere inside, the Bolt features clean lines and bright materials, matching will with the car’s extensive use of glass to creates a fishbowl-like atmosphere from within. Helping to provide an even more extensive view of what’s going on around the Bolt is its available rear camera mirror like the one introduced on the Cadillac CT6 and the first surround view monitor to appear on a Chevrolet vehicle.

Despite its shapely proportions, the Bolt’s cargo room isn’t quite as generous as it may appear to be. At 16.9 cu-ft (479 liters), it offers more space for stuff than the smaller BMW i3, but a tall load floor created by the battery pack means far less room on offer than the average hatchback. Thankfully the passenger compartment is roomy enough to fit a family of four, with rear seat headroom the only weak link.

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Affordable For Some

When it comes to cost, just how frugal the Bolt really is will no doubt be a topic of debate. While Chevrolet is quick to note the Bolt’s price after available government incentives — about $30,000 in the U.S., and $32,000 in the province of Ontario — the numbers can be a bit deceiving. With a base price of $37,495 before incentives ($42,795 in Canada), the Bolt is anything but inexpensive. Pricier still is the leather-lined Premier trim, which has an MSRP of $40,905 ($47,795 in Canada) and doesn’t include active safety features like lane-keep assist and autonomous emergency braking. That means those who don’t qualify for the rebate — or live outside the provinces British Columbia, Ontario or Quebec — are looking at quite the pricey proposition. Sadly, that cost conundrum will only be exacerbated by current gas prices, which are enough to make EVs an even tougher sell.

The Verdict: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt Review

In one fell swoop, Chevrolet is looking to tackle both the cost and range issues associated with electric vehicles. And so far it looks like the Bolt has done an impressive job. Sure, it’s still pricey, particularly for a loaded Premier model, but it does a lot right to warrant all the hype it has earned. And maybe — just maybe — the Bolt has what it takes to keep EVs trending in an upward direction.

  • Joan Brown

    If they want to sell a bunch of these electric vehicles, the price has to come down, down, down.

  • mr215

    aside from high price and poor range specs the design is outlandish glitz. unlike Tesla clean elegant. design over function. gone mad.

  • Prices will come down in time. New tech = high $.

  • Larry Allin

    While not as sporting as the proposed Tesla Model 3, the Bolt does appear to be more practical for the average driver. The high cost of batteries makes the 380 km range the current sweet spot. With the Ontario rebate the total cost of ownership is less than the average gas vehicle.

  • patrickmcswain

    A white 2017 Tesla Model S 60kWh with no options and 210 miles EPA range can be had for $70,700 USD MSRP.

    Request an insurance quote for a real eye-opener.

  • patrickmcswain

    EV’s on the used market are a great value. Lots of choices with low mileage for under $10k. This is because the used market is affected by the government rebate programs on the new cars when sold. While you cannot file for a rebate for a used car in most areas, the price is still adjusted downwards by it.

    The Bolt EV is the cheapest EV with a 200+ mile range, but it is more expensive than some other choices with less range.

    If it’s any consolation, the 2017 Bolt EV when corrected for inflation is about the same price that the 2011 Leaf EV was. Except the Bolt has nearly double the horsepower, and over triple the range.

    NOTE: As an added bonus, used EV’s are rarely smoker’s cars. You might find tofu stains on the upholstery, but no cigarette burns.

  • steveinglendale

    Agreed. Look what happened with the Volt. Good times coming for EV’s, finally.

  • John Thomson

    But it doesn’t, doesn’t, doesn’t.

  • John Thomson

    Design isn’t bad, but I hope they have some better options than that godawful copper color. Cool wheels though.

  • John Thomson

    We’re waiting…

  • beardedman

    Certainly a lot of mis-information here, along with some pure ignorance. We used to see a lot of articles like this years ago, written by people who had never been in an EV before. It was understandable five or six years ago. These days, an automotive-centered writer reviewing an advanced EV with this kind of inexperience is simply unacceptable.

    EV’s have astronomical prices? Hardly. They are only slightly above the average new car price before incentives and right there in the average with incentives. (And then there is Total Cost of Ownership, which skews in favor of EVs.)

    Volt’s gas engine recharges the battery pack on the fly? Wrong! Using gas to charge the battery is far more expensive that plugging in to charge, so the engine merely provides power to operate the car when the battery has been run down below a certain level. That’s why it’s referred to as a “range extender”, so you can keep driving beyond the range of the battery. There are some subtleties of operation beyond this basic description but it’s not intended to “charge the battery”.

    Volt ekes out a paltry 53 miles on battery? Yes, and then can continue to drive another 300+ on gas, seamlessly and without you even being aware it switched over to gas. And how far is your average commute? For most people, it’s around 30. So you’ll only use the engine on longer trips. And until the Bolt came along, most pure battery-only cars were in the 80 to 100 mile range and then couldn’t move any further without a charge or a tow. So the range of a Volt this writer thinks is paltry is actually excellent. It’s also about 20 miles more than the original, first generation Volt.

    The Bolt’s regenerative brakes required this writer to need motion sickness pills? Does he need those on elevators and escalators too? Does he have similar problems using a manual transmission car in lower gears when taking his foot off the gas? Again, this writer is showing extreme lack of experience with EV operation and isn’t qualified to review cars, let alone EVs. Grabby and tough to modulate? Simply untrue.

    Let’s just say, like the Volt back in 2010, this car scares people because it does things gas cars can’t, needs little to no maintenance (which is a part of the total cost to own a car), and it’s a very well built car.

  • I’ve clearly touched a nerve here, @beardedman:disqus, though I’m struggling to understand why you’ve reduced yourself to throwing insults my way. In any case, allow me to try and address some of your concerns.

    For starters, electric vehicles are priced astronomically higher than their gas-powered equivalents, and that’s a fact that’s tough to argue. Staying within Chevrolet’s lineup, let’s take a closer look at the Cruze hatchback considering it’s most comparable in both form and function. The Cruze hatch starts at about $18,000 in the U.S., and a shade less than $21,000 in Canada. The Bolt, meanwhile, starts at $37,495 in the U.S. and $42,795 in Canada — both before any available incentives. Applying the available — though not guaranteed — federal tax credit in the U.S. brings the price of the Bolt down to $29,995. That’s still almost $12,000 more for the Bolt. In Canada, there is no federal tax credit. Assuming we’re using Ontario, the province with the largest available rebate, for reference, the price difference would still be somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000 for a base Bolt.

    When it comes to the Volt’s gas generator or “range extender,” it does, indeed, put surplus power back into the battery pack, so I’m not sure what the argument is here. And as for its electric-only range of 53 miles, I stand by my statement that it’s paltry in comparison to the Bolt’s range. (The point here, after all, is how the two stack up.)

    And finally, there’s little doubt that the Bolt’s regenerative brakes are jarring. I’ve driven plenty of electric and hybrid vehicles to know that the Bolt’s brakes grab harder and faster than most. (As an aside, I didn’t take the motion sickness pilled that were supplied, as you inaccurately stated; as I wrote, I simply now “understand why a pack of motion sickness pills had been tossed in the glove box for our drive.” I can see how a person who has little or no experience with EVs could be bothered by the harsh brakes.)

    I hope this provides some clarity.

  • beardedman

    If you want to compare a Cruze to a Bolt, then you are doing a far different comparison. I said I was comparing the average new car price as a measure of affordability, not a specific economy car. You may genuinely believe that an $18k stripper econobox is a fair comparison to a cutting edge EV, but it’s not. It IS, however, comparable to an average new car when equipped similarly. “Affordable” is not the same as “entry level”. And your use of “astronomical” is just hyperbole. “Astronomical” is Rolls Royce Dawn territory, or Tesla Ludicrous territory. Not “Average New Car Price” territory. A little perspective helps.

    Since I’ve driven two model year Volts over six years, I know from actual driving experience that the engine is not there to charge the battery. I mentioned there are some subtleties of operation beyond my basic description. For example, in Mountain mode, for the specific purpose of providing extra power for very hilly terrain, the engine will push additional power to raise the battery level for extra reserve. That is a special mode for a specific, unusual circumstance. Your article alludes that charging the battery with the engine happens all the time and is the normal function, which is untrue. People will read your misinformation and take your word as gospel. Hardly providing clarity.

    And the brakes? Well I can not say that the individual car your drove did not have an issue. That much is true. But Chevy’s regenerative brake system on the Volts I’ve been driving are quite smooth (my 2014 is even smoother than my 2011 was) and the brakes on the Bolt I test drove a week or so ago were equally smooth. I tested using them in D, with and without the regen paddle, as well as L, with and without. As I say, I have many years of experience driving EVs from the two Volts I’ve leased, a BMW Active-E test car I had for two years and a Chevy Spark EV leased as a second car. GM is not new to this Rodeo and the first Volts back in 2010 did have some issues with brakes being a bit odd at the transition from regen to friction. But that was resolved early on. One pedal driving is equivalent to driving a gas car in low gear. Taking your foot off the accelerator suddenly will cause a lurch. If you are new to the concept, it might take some time to get the modulation perfect. Fortunately, GM provides a D position that makes the car behave exactly as a gas car with an automatic transmission, right down to the creep when you take your foot off the brake. Braking with the pedal provides regen which increases with the amount you press the pedal until a point where it begins blending in friction from the brake pads. Pressing harder increases the friction part until it’s all friction. They’ve used this system on over 100,000 Volts and probably the same system is also used on the hybrid Malibus. It’s not new to Bolt so if you really had issues it’s not the design but an individual car out of adjustment. But you wouldn’t seem to know that due to your evident lack of experience with EVs.

    An article written like this seven years ago may have been understandable if a little closed-minded. In 2017, coming from a supposed car guide site? It’s not even remotely acceptable.

  • Dennis Tivey

    A correction: the load floor height is not because of the battery pack. It’s a removable floor to provide a flat cargo area when you put the rear seats down. Remove the false floor and the cargo area is quite deep.

    The removable floor is standard only in the Premiere, it’s an (inexpensive) option in the LT. Like DC fast charging, it is a feature that should just be standard across the board.

  • Jeff T

    You cannot make a valid argument about the bolt being around the average new car price. Comparing it to average new car prices people would cross shop this with is more realistic and this car is still expensive. Nobody buying a Porsche cayman or Ford f150 is cross shopping a bolt. Someone buying a mazda 3, yes they may look at the at the Bolt. Electric cars while offer a great experience for many just aren’t realistic and paying a $10000 premium to be electric when you assume 250000km out of a battery in its lifetime and electricity still costing money doesn’t ad up.

  • Jeff T

    Thanks for taking the time to state the facts. Average car price of something comparable to the Bolt is way less then the money savings you will ever see from this Bolt.

  • beardedman

    Respectfully, I think you are conflating “similar price” with being a cross-shoppable car. And simply looking at sticker prices doesn’t work for that. A Cayman starts at $52,600 and has no incentives. A $42K-sh Bolt is the entry level and can have as much as $10K in incentives… which can be taken as a tax credit or factored into a lease program. As you see, quite a huge difference. The whole idea of cross-shopping is a little magical in my experience. People who want a Ford F-150 are looking for a full size pickup, not a compact car. Right? So regardless of price or powertrain, who would be cross-shopping that? And same goes for a Cayman. Let’s be real… no one who wants and can afford a Cayman sports model is going to cross-shop against any Chevy, Ford or similar standard kind of car. 🙂 Not only are they very different cars, but the added cost means added tax, added registration fees (In CA the fee is based on vehicle value) and definitely higher insurance. And then there’s fuel and maintenance. (Even Chevy gas car maintenance vs Porsche maintenance is wildly different cost.) It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.

    As for costs… A person who is going to spend $35k on a car anyway will save money buying electric vs gas in an average case. There are many factors including the previously mentioned maintenance, insurance, lower fuel cost (or no cost if you have solar). It’s certainly true that with current low fuel prices, they are not the slam-dunk saver (based on fuel alone) that they were. But for a lot of people, like me, that isn’t even the point. If you want a Cayman or an F-150, nothing else will do today. But if you *want* to drive electric, and the type of car a Bolt is suits your lifestyle, then the Bolt is currently the best way to do it at an “affordable” price. All the rest of the arguments are just noise.

  • beardedman

    I just test drove a couple weeks ago… the red is awesome but the copper is more baby-diarrhea colored. Gross. The copper that Cadillac used on a few models was great. This is not.

  • Jeff T

    Fair enough my friend. Personally I commute 200kms a day and when I did the math I still couldn’t break even by buying either a Volt or Bolt. Long term though electric cars need to be 2-3 grand more expensive max without incentives once they start paying road tax which is paid in fuel prices. I think with the electric car’s restrictions and petro powered cars becoming more fuel efficient it doesn’t look probable.

  • beardedman

    We can certainly agree to disagree, though I think it’s a case of it works for some and not for others. In either case, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and experiences in a friendly and reasoned way. Happy driving!!

  • Jonny_Vancouver

    I want to pick on the names Chevy has decided to call their cars, the Volt and Bolt. I don’t know which is which, I know one is pure electric I think, but that was a bad marketing move to have the names sound the same and evoke similar imagery. In this seemingly minor naming faux pas, they’ve already lost me from even bothering to look into this further to attempt to understand what they’re trying to sell because it seems like such a noob mistake, which is why I’m just going to wait for the Model 3. At least with that car, I know exactly what I’m getting, and by the sounds of it, it’s costs less too.

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