The 2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV is objectively a good car.
Its 238 miles of EPA-estimated range combined with a usable interior make it a great family car. But does that mean that electric vehicle transportation is ready for prime time?
Changes for the 2018 model year are scant. An automatically heated steering wheel comes standard on the Premier trim, and optional on the LT trim with the Comfort and Convenience Package.
The sun visor in the 2018 version is sliding, which is nice. Both of these new features were actually quite useful during the review, but generally speaking, nothing has really changed from the 2017 model that we’ve already reviewed.
So instead of just going through the motions of a car that’s virtually identical to the previous model year, we thought we’d do something a little bit different. Let’s see if the car is viable outside of a big city center as an everyday car.
With 238 miles of range, the Bolt EV could conceivably be someone’s only car. There are gasoline-powered cars out there that don’t get much more range than that. On a full charge, it can get from one big Midwestern city to another, such as Cleveland to Detroit. Why have a gas-powered vehicle at all?
Where I live, there’s no DC fast charging available. When the vehicle was dropped off, the car had approximately 110 miles of range left on the battery. Because I don’t typically have an EV at home, I don’t have a Level 2 charger. I was stuck with the 12-amp charge setting on the portable cable that comes with the car.
You want a Level 2 at home. There is no denying this. Factor it into the purchase of your new EV.
On 8-amp charging, Chevrolet says the Bolt EV gets about 4 miles of charge per hour. A representative at GM told me that at 12-amps, it’s approximately 30 percent faster to charge.
According to PlugShare, there are two Level 2 chargers in my town. I was about to get a lesson in public charging that’ll be repeated during my nearly 700 miles with the car.
Upon arrival at charge station one, I plugged in and attempted to turn the power on for the charger. There was no switch. A locked building hid the source of juice to power the charger I wanted access to.
The next charger was at a local car dealership. Positioned right next to the door to the service bay, the dealership had a car parked in front of it. I learned that this is called getting “ICE’d” out. An internal combustion engine car was blocking my ability to charge.
After a night of charging at home, I headed off to Cleveland with plans on stopping at a DC fast charger along the way to top off. Pulling into the Walmart with the fast charger, I again was blocked direct access to the charger. Someone in an Escape with family stick figures on the back was preventing me from connecting my charge cable.
Luckily, the cable stretched enough to reach across a parking spot and make it to the charge port mounted in front of the driver’s side door. I wish the charging port was located at the front, like on the Leaf.
DC fast charging can vary depending on the charging unit, but where I was, it cost me $5.95 just to start a charging session. If I had a Leaf, the No Charge to Charge would’ve been free for 30 minutes. But again, I’m not in a Leaf.
After getting to 80 percent, I head to my friend’s house and we spend the afternoon bombing around Cleveland. I plug into a fast charger downtown and we head out in a Lyft to check out a few places. The myChevrolet app was keeping me appraised of how much charge I had in the car, so I knew how long to stay out.
As it turns out, even if you are paying, these EVGO fast chargers cut you off after an hour. Another problem with public charging is the cutoff. I get that it’s there so people don’t sit and hog the spot all day while others need charging, but there needs to be a way around it.
Regardless, I had enough juice to get home and plugged it in overnight with 15 miles left of range.
The next day, I wanted to visit another friend who was interested in the car and they lived around 80 miles away. By early afternoon I only had 55 miles of charge on the car.
Based on an indirect route I planned with the myChevrolet app and Google Maps, I could access a DC fast charger with about 15 miles of range left. I’d then sit and babysit the charger until I had a full charge, which would be enough to get to where I was going and then home again.
I set off optimistic that public charging would save me. Spoiler alert: I was wrong.
I arrived at the charging facility with the anticipated amount of range left on the car. The particular ChargePoint charger was at the visitor parking lot of a major automotive OEM. PlugShare didn’t have any reviews, but there were people who have charged there.
As it turns out, the charging station in the visitor’s parking lot was behind a security gate. Apparently, access to that visitor’s parking lot is only available to associates, according to security, and despite my pleas – and depleted battery – I wasn’t allowed in.
A Near Disaster
This created a problem, as the next nearest public Level 2 charger was about 18 miles away, and I had approximately 15 left. I also had a highway drive that couldn’t be avoided to get to that charger.
I’ve never in my life driven the minimum speed limit on an expressway, yet here I was trying to limp to the next exit so that I could get off the highway in case I ran out of power. The car had gone from giving me an estimated range to just saying “LOW,” and the car had beeped to tell me that I really needed to charge.
Then I received a dialog telling me that I had restricted power. The car went into a limp mode to try to save enough juice for me to get wherever I was going. The low battery light started flashing, and with many miles still to go, I thought I was in a bad way and would be calling OnStar to come save my butt.
Finally, I exit off the highway and enter a hilly bit of road. While these certainly aren’t difficult hills for anyone that isn’t on a bicycle, the car had reduced so much power that it could barely climb them. Turning on my hazards, I knew that I would run out of juice at any time. Google Maps still said I had nearly 5 miles to go. There was no way I would make it.
I don’t know how I managed to limp into Bellefontaine with juice left. The Level 2 charger was located in a parking lot that I couldn’t easily find. When I finally plugged in, the car said I had 2 miles of estimated range left. I had made it.
But I still wasn’t where I needed to be, nor back home where I started.
I decide that I’m not going to let this charging snafu beat me, and I charge the car until I have about 25 miles of range. This was, thankfully, a 7-kW charger that means I only needed about an hour for this charge.
Pulling out the PlugShare app, I see there’s another 7-kW charger at the Airstream factory. You know Airstream, they make the fancy campers. There are many reviews on PlugShare and they all seem to indicate that they work without issue.
I disconnect and begin my trek there. By this point, I’ve figured out how to hyper-mile with the best of them. The Bolt EV’s display has a setting for people who want to know exactly how much power they’re using, and I’m keeping the output display to 15 kW or less.
The heated steering wheel and seats keep me from needing to run the climate control, even though the exterior temperature is hovering just above freezing. The sun is setting, but I don’t need energy-sapping headlights just yet.
Whoever put this charging station in PlugShare deserves a medal, because they included turn-by-turn directions on exactly where to find the chargers. “Turn at the new traffic light and it’s the first parking lot on the left, in the northwest corner. There’s a button on the side to turn the charger on.”
Boom! I’m hooked up to another solid 7-kW charger. Another feature I’m learning to really like about the Bolt EV is the onboard 4G LTE hotspot. Using a high-speed connection that doesn’t take much energy to run, I can stream YouTube videos without using my own data. Since the Airstream factory is out in the boonies, the signal is better in the car, too.
After getting enough charge to get to the Dunkin Donuts in Lima, I set off into the dark. Unsurprisingly, the headlights take energy. And a detour to a stopped train means I limp into the pastry plaza with hardly any charge remaining.
This is a PlugShare connected charger, so not only can I track the 4-kW charging status from the car, but also from the charger. A friend picks me up and we have dinner while I wait to charge.
The worst of my adventure is over, but I still end up at a Chevrolet dealership in my friend’s town that had a blocked fast charger. Thankfully, a stretchy cord meant I could reach the car and get some energy.
Before the night is over, I end up at a Nissan dealership in Findlay, Ohio, charging at about 3:30 a.m. I limp into my garage at 4 a.m. In a gasoline-powered car, that trip would’ve been an hour and a half there and back, plus a couple of hours hanging with my friend. I was gone for over 12 hours.
When you’re about to run out of electricity, you really develop a bond with the car. It feels like the car really wants to do everything it can to help you reach the next charging point. I don’t often anthropomorphize vehicles, but it really felt like the car didn’t want me to fail.
Thankfully, no call to OnStar was ultimately needed.
There are still some things that I don’t like about the Bolt EV. Some of the interior trim pieces, while put together properly, are still hard plastics that don’t feel at home in a car this expensive.
Additionally, the car has autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, but it doesn’t’ have adaptive cruise control. This type of tech is available on the competitor’s, including the Leaf, which also sells nationwide.
But while you can purchase a Leaf or a Bolt EV anywhere in the country, the public charging infrastructure still isn’t where it needs to be. “Well, obviously,” I hear you saying. You’re right. Though with this much range available, it’s not unreasonable to expect people who don’t live in New York or Los Angeles to find the idea of an EV compelling enough to give it a look.
For EVs to be a success, they really do need to be sold to people who don’t live in the biggest cities in the country. The Bolt EV is the first EV I’ve driven where I think you could conceivably do that. The Bolt EV is the first fully electric car that’s affordable that I’d recommend to people who don’t live in the big city.
Unfortunately, unreliable EV charging stations, non-dedicated EV parking, and a simple lack of infrastructure still relegate the Bolt EV to a secondary car or a work car. At least at this price point. It makes me wonder if going the Tesla route is a better solution?
The Verdict: 2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV Review
The Chevrolet Bolt EV is a good car. It’s a very good car. But public charging isn’t where it needs to be to make it your only car. Will it ever be?
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This article originally appeared on HybridCars.com