Originally published on CleanTechnica
Many electric vehicle designers felt the need to stand out, to create a design that flies a bold flag to everyone around that proclaims “I’m modern and different!” While this is great for individuals or businesses looking to make a bold proclamation, most people are looking for a car that looks normal, that drives like a normal car with cool features inside that make day-to-day life just a little bit easier.
Being an electric vehicle advocate, I find myself in the first group, wanting my vehicle to scream out that it is different and that it doesn’t use any gasoline, which is why I paid just a bit extra to get a custom license plate that reads “NOGAAAS”. Having said that, I fully realize that for electric vehicles to achieve mainstream adoption and to usurp petroleum-fueled vehicles, we need vehicles that appeal to the masses to replace the Chevy S10 trucks and Toyota Corollas that sell by the millions.
It’s clear that this is what the team that designed the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt had in mind. On the outside, it looks very much like many modern subcompact cars on the market today. It features styling cues that place it right in line with the current Chevrolet brand identity. It looks and feels just like a “normal” car, a great feat.
The shiny exterior, the normal look and feel, and maybe even the new car smell are all part of an elaborate ruse to camouflage what is in all likelihood the most technologically advanced vehicle ever to set rubber on the floor of a Chevrolet showroom. The hard work done by the Chevy team in such a short period of time to develop the Bolt and move it to production shines through, and that work set the new high bar for what it means to be an affordable, long-range electric vehicle. Nothing on the market today comes close to the Bolt.
The Bolt is a breakthrough first and foremost because of its range. With an estimated range of 238 miles per charge, it gives drivers more all-electric miles per charge than any vehicle in its class by a large margin. To put that range to the test, I took the Bolt out from the sunny beach town of Ventura, California, to the hilly wine country of Central California to see how it would handle long jaunts of freeway driving paired with a serious climb up the coastal range.
Over nearly 200 miles, the Bolt maintained an impressive efficiency of 3.9 miles per kilowatt-hour. This is an impressive achievement considering its official rating is 3.6 miles per kilowatt-hour. I attribute this to the efficient regeneration capability of the car. Given my initial results, I plan to put this to a more scientific test later in the week.
The efficiency is a noticeable improvement over the 3.0 miles per kilowatt-hour my Tesla Model S achieves on normal roads. Higher efficiency translates into faster effective charging rates that allow the vehicle to absorb more “range per hour” of charging than the Model S.
The Bolt is not a big car but the interior does not feel cramped. The cab-forward design enabled by the electric drivetrain puts the driver and passengers farther forward and in higher seating positions to allow for great visibility from any seat. The absence of a drive shaft and tunnel open up the center of the interior, which Chevrolet fitted with a number of roomy compartments that give drivers plenty of options for smartphones, chargers, and hand sanitizers to be stashed.
Asking my kids what they thought about the car from the back seat, they said they liked that the ride was smoother than our Model S and that it left a lot more room in the garage. I have to agree and both are nice features. For those who don’t want a large vehicle, the Bolt offers the interior features of a large car without leaving the passengers feeling cramped. I’m 6 foot 2 inches tall and fit in the car very comfortably.
The first thing one notices when driving the Bolt is that the throttle response is extremely impressive. For those who have driven an electric car before, they are blown away with the snappy pedal that immediately throws your head back when punched. The EV smile comes out quickly as drivers realize that the Bolt accelerates with the speed and finesse of the famous Roadrunner from childhood cartoons, just without the “meep, meep” sound.
With the car weighing just 3,500 pounds (1,590 kilograms), mashing the pedal off the line throws you back into your seat and makes you question whether pounding the pedal was a good idea or not. The tires will squeal if you’re not careful, as the power overcomes the otherwise well tuned traction control. The torque from the motor also has the unhealthy tendency to pull the car to the right as it takes off, which is something to watch out for and potentially unsafe.
After slamming the pedal to the floor off the line a few times, it became clear that the steering is a bit squirrely after launch in general. Granted, I am not talking about the usual pace of driving around the neighborhood or on the way to get groceries, but it is worth noting. The design of the vehicle leaves the front wheels surprisingly light on the ground, and thus jittery through the acceleration of a launch. Having said that, it is a ton of fun to drive and that same 266 foot-pounds of torque all ready and waiting at zero RPMs makes this the most sporty subcompact I’ve driven — electric or not.
The Bolt diverges from the EVs of times gone past because of how it uses regeneration. First, the Bolt has the addition of a regeneration paddle that allows the driver to turn heavy regen on at the pull of a paddle. This paddle serves as another way to brake and can bring the vehicle to a complete stop but slows the vehicle at a more moderated rate than the actual brake pedal. On the downside, the regen paddle is either on or off. There’s no easing into it, which can make braking with the paddle nauseating if not used carefully.
The Bolt also has a “Low Drive” setting that allows for the famed one-pedal/single-pedal driving style. For drivers familiar with a Tesla, this is similar to driving with regeneration set to standard except that, in the Bolt, it can bring the vehicle all the way to a stop when the accelerator pedal is released — no need for the brake at all. Low Drive mode essentially activates aggressive regeneration when the accelerator pedal is let up.
In contrast with the regen paddle, single pedal driving in Low Drive allows the driver to throttle how much acceleration or regeneration they want based on how far the pedal is depressed. This mode admittedly takes some getting used to and can then enable mostly single pedal driving all the time. In my time with the vehicle so far, I’m a recent convert to the world of single-pedal driving and plan to use it exclusively moving forward. In summary, push pedal down = go, go, go. Release pedal = slow, slow, slow.
The Bolt packs a traction control system that is comparable to the system in Tesla’s Model S and X. Under normal driving conditions, it maintains solid traction and keeps the power going to the ground instead of to squealing the tires as many other EVs are prone to do.
Taking off around a right turn at full throttle or attempting what could have been interpreted as a drift slide around broad turn brought the system into question as the tires screamed in opposition, but those cases were extreme and not representative of normal driving conditions. My Tesla Model S was also able to be convinced to break traction with the ground but far less frequently. Having said that, the Bolt is the only other EV I have driven that even comes close to the traction control system in the Tesla … and at half the price.
The infotainment system in the Bolt is a huge step beyond just about every other car on the road today, with a few exceptions. The 10.2″ color touch screen is beautiful and relatively intuitive to use. Users are able to customize it to their liking, but not so much as to confuse users who aren’t too tech savvy. For example, it allows users to change the color scheme, but only has 3 options. The panels on the home screen display can be rearranged, but only with a preselected set of panels.
On the awkward side, the angle of the screen is a bit strange. It is almost as though the screen were laid down at an angle to make it seem like more of a tablet, but it results in the screen looking and feeling a bit counterintuitive, just based on its physical placement.
Navigation in the Bolt is similarly awkward. I wasn’t able to find the map on the infotainment system so called the integrated On Star service to help find it. The representative I spoke with confirmed that the Bolt does not have a built-in map-based navigation system but that it was able to offer turn-by-turn directions through On Star. I gave my representative my destination and he was able to download the turn by turn directions to the vehicle.
After years of using integrated map-based navigation systems, it felt strange navigating to a destination with just the arrows and instructions. It was as if I were only driving with one eye open or with earplugs in. Something was missing. A bit of digging revealed that the integration of Apple Play and Android Auto were meant to solve this, giving connected drivers the ability to display maps from their phones on the infotainment screen.
This approach ensures that the maps being used are always current. Though, it requires the user to have a smartphone and a data connection. I see where they’re going with that … but for me, it’s a bummer. Perhaps that’s something Chevy will fix with an over-the-air update sometime in the (near) future.
Stay tuned here on CleanTechnica for more details on the 2017 Chevy Bolt as our exclusive in-depth review continues next week.
Images Credit: Kyle Field | CleanTechnica