It seems the future is always getting further away. One man’s atomic-powered starship is another’s supercharged muscle car. My first brush with the future came when I drove the infamous GM EV1 electric car back in 1996. It was smooth, quiet, and lickety split fast, posting 0-60 mph times to rival contemporary Camaro Z28s. GM may have killed it, but didn’t stop developing EVs and delivered two generations of the Volt plug-in hybrid before arriving at the 2020 Chevy Bolt. It’s GM’s first pure EV since the EV1.
Dynamic Robust Design
It’s a pretty stylish monobox design. Some electric cars seem fragile, but the Bolt looks dynamic, athletic, and robust. A Chevy family front facia, ribbed bodysides, and sloping rear roofline with floating C-pillar echo expensive crossovers while optimizing aerodynamics. Roof rails allow owners to clamp attachments for bicycles, surfboards, or luggage carriers, though that adds drag and reduces driving range. Still, the idea of tossing a board on the roof and heading to the beach for the day sounds really appealing!
There’s a lot of hard plastic inside, but it’s draped with shimmering textured white swaths sweeping from the doors, across the dash, and under the control pod. With the battery pack sandwiched beneath the car, passengers enjoy wide flat floors. A deep center console, under-dash shelf, and big door bins enhance storage. With rear seats folded, the Bolt holds a crossover-challenging 56.6 cubic feet of cargo. Four people fit easier than five.
They’ll enjoy heated seats front/rear, heated steering wheel, automatic climate control, and Bose audio system. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility configure the large touchscreen for easy navigation of infotainment and vehicle power tracking functions. A slot in the console holds and wirelessly charges phones. Drivers face a large instrument screen that can be configured to display battery level and driving coach to optimize range. An available smart phone app lets owners remotely pre-condition (heat/cool) the cabin, check charging levels, schedule charging for off-peak pricing, or even lock the doors.
Quick, Quiet, Efficient
As with the EV1, the Bolt is exquisitely quick. Lithium-ion batteries send 200 horsepower and 266 lb.-ft. of torque to the front wheels – all available the instant you press the go pedal. It won’t out-run a C8 Vette, but 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds is far from slow. Waves of torque sweep you up to speed, troll the left lane with reserves, and creep through traffic in near silence. Driven rationally, the Bolt delivers 259 miles range and 118 MPGe.
Charging is another matter. You can plug into 120-volt home outlets, but that only nets 4 miles of range per hour. Most owners will outfit their garages or carparks with a 240-volt charger that adds 25 miles per hour, making a full replen possible overnight. If you’re out and about, DC fast chargers add 100 miles in just 30 minutes. Drivers can get an app that plots the most efficient course while identifying chargers along the way.
Part of the car’s magic comes from a Low mode and “Regen on Demand.” In Low, the system more dramatically re-charges the batteries when you lift the accelerator, slowing the car without brakes. By pulling a steering wheel paddle, Regen on Demand replenishes the batteries aggressively. And since all of the battery weight is down low in the chassis, the tall car handles like a much shorter one, encouraging drivers to shoot through on-ramp chicanes as on a road course.
Safety was part of the design. Camera-based Low Speed Forward Automatic Braking mitigates collisions with vehicles and pedestrians. Lane Keep Assist, Side Blind Zone Alert, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert also help. A Surround Vision camera system, rear parking sensors, and rearview camera mirror keep focus.
The Bolt may be GM’s first EV in a generation, but it is foreshadows what’s to come. Up next are Chevy and Buick crossovers based on the Bolt’s architecture, but real innovation comes with GM’s new flexible EV architecture that will include longer ranges and faster charging times. A Hummer pickup, Cadillac crossover, Cadillac flagship sedan, and autonomous shared ride lounges are among models that will appear in the next few years.
So what does all of this cost? A base price of $36,620 rises to $43,735 with virtually every box checked. In inflation-adjusted dollars, that’s $10,000 less than an EV1. That’s a future, um present, I’m glad to embrace. Competitors include the Tesla Model 3, Kia Niro EV, and Nissan Leaf.
2020 Chevy Bolt EV
- Five-passenger, fwd 5-door
- Powertrain: Li-ion batteries/motor (200hp),
- Suspension f/r: Ind/Compound-crank
- Wheels f/r: 17”/17” alloy
- Brakes f/r: regen disc/disc
- Must-have features: Performance, Utility
- Driving range: 259 miles
- 0-60 mph: 6.5s
- Economy: 118 mpg-e
- Assembly: Lake Orion, MI
- Base/as-tested price: $36,620/43,735