It was my shooter, Myle, who picked up the Chevrolet Bolt press car we had for the week. I was too busy getting my ass massaged in a Lincoln Continental in the meantime. Besides, Myle owns a house, and I live in a crummy apartment, so it made more sense for him to park his all-electric Bolt EV at the house for charging.
It turned out to be a very bad idea, as he lives in the middle of a cornfield in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec. His house was built over 60 years ago, so his electrical system couldn’t keep up with the modern tech this electric car is fitted with. “Dude, it takes 20 hours to charge, how the hell will I get to work tomorrow?” he barked at me angrily over the phone. Meanwhile, I was enjoying the overabundance of freedom provided by my V6-powered, gasoline-fed, American luxury barge.
Welcome to the realities of electric propulsion in its early years.
Thankfully, one thing the Chevrolet Bolt has a lot of is battery range. A full charge will get you 238 miles of combined driving go-juice, which handily trumps a Nissan Leaf (107 miles) or Kia Soul EV (93 miles). So, our friend Myle did have some charge left to deliver the car to Montreal’s South Shore area, where I dealt with the charging issues myself for the sake of this review.
As a matter of fact, when it comes to range, the Bolt knocks at the door of the pricier Tesla Model S 75, but at a more attainable selling price ($45,045 CAD or $37,495 USD before incentives), making it officially the best electric car value on the market at the moment.
But the Bolt is an altogether different car than Elon Musk’s swoopy, quasi-luxury sedan contraption, which was obviously designed exclusively for the 1 percent. Chevrolet wanted to build an electric people’s car, and felt it was best to cram its latest EV technology into a subcompact, five-door body in the vein of a Spark. The result? A tiny car that looks sort of dorky with its upright demeanor, vertically challenged windshield and stuffed-in rear-end that resembles a vehicle that’s been solidly rear-ended by a semi-truck. Can someone tell me why EVs (except for Tesla models) need to look so weird all the time?
Trying to Fit In
Looks aside, the Bolt’s hatchback configuration makes it a practical little package. Rear seat room, though very upright, is ample for tall adults such as myself, and there’s sufficient clearance behind the front seatbacks for long-legged human beings. The cargo hold is rather deep, giving way to a respectable 17 cubic feet of cargo space. Fold those rear seats — yes, they will fold flat like in a normal, gasoline-powered hatchback — and the Bolt EV opens up to swallow 57 cubic feet of goods. That’s more volume than you’ll find in a Volkswagen Golf.
There’s no denying the fact that the Chevrolet Bolt EV goes out of its way to be a normal car. Except for a funky, plastic-intensive interior that looks absolutely ridiculous and a posh infotainment system that adds a full array of gimmicky range, charging, and driving habit information — which is easy to use and operates flawlessly — this is essentially the same subcompact, gas-sipping hatch you presumably drove in college. There’s even an actual hood up front, in which resides the Bolt’s tightly packed propulsion system.
That motor is a permanent-magnet synchronous AC unit, powered by a 60-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that’s conveniently stored underneath the center of the car’s floor. However, the only number you need to know relate to power: 200 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. Those are Golf GTI-rivaling figures. Acceleration from 0-60 mph is rated at 6.5 seconds, so the Bolt is a quick car. If you can believe it, it’s just 0.2 seconds slower off the line than a Ford Focus ST hot hatchback. Hot damn!
Sure, the Bolt looks kind of weird, and it’s not all that pretty, but at least it can hustle.
Behind the wheel, the Bolt proved surprisingly entertaining to drive. Electric cars never disappoint in the way they instantaneously deliver power, but that performance tends to fade quickly once the car is on the move. The Bolt, on the other hand, actually delivers real performance all of the time. Punch the accelerator from a standstill, and those front wheels, overwhelmed by the massive surge of torque suddenly imposed on them, will emit a loud chirp. Once wheelspin is quelled, the Bolt pulls hard and smooth, emitting a traditional vacuum-cleaner-like electric whirr all the way.
From a rolling start, there’s a tiny delay before the electric mill spins itself into full swing and launches an addictive shove to the chest.
Handling is also a surprise. What a fun little car to throw into a hard turn. Fine, it leans more towards comfort, rather than imposing hot-hatchback, ribcage-destroying lateral G’s to the driver, and the car’s rather hefty 3,569 lb curb weight — caused by the weight of the batteries sitting underneath your ass — does cause some weight transfer body roll. But the ride is smooth; the suspension’s damping is well-tuned, ideal for Montréal’s legendary pothole-infested streets, and there’s a playfulness that comes through the Bolt’s tidy steering, quick turn-in, and overall light and nimble feel that can’t be ignored.
Typical EV off-throttle battery regeneration is also standard in the Bolt. Shift the gear lever to the L position, and that electric motor will generate 0.3 G of regenerative braking the moment you lift your right foot. Pull a little paddle located on the left side of the steering wheel and that resistance is considerably increased. You can basically drive the car without touching the brakes, and there’s definitely a lot of fun to have from bringing a car to a complete stop by merely pulling on a trigger with with your left index.
Oh Yeah, You Need To Charge It
Finally, it’s time to address the elephant in the room: the need to connect an electric car to some form of electrical source, ensuring it will start in the event your pregnant wife suddenly goes into labor. As far as absolute automotive freedom goes, this remains my single main gripe with electric cars. For the moment, at least, owning an EV requires some thinking, preparation, and a bit of time to spare — something most consumers don’t have, or aren’t willing to give to their automobile. We’re still in the prehistoric age as far as electric propulsion goes.
To feed the Bolt, Chevrolet doesn’t have an established supercharger network like Tesla’s, meaning charging options are limited to your own home or public charging stations. Opting for a home-integrated fast-charging station means paying up front for it, though your government will likely reimburse a good part of it.
In my case, thanks to the province of Québec’s government-funded Circuit Électrique network of stations, I had a fair number of them at my disposal — especially around a large urban center like Montréal. So, unlike my trusty photographer companion who lives in the boonies and needed to take a day off at work to get his Bolt up and running, I could rely on more sustainable charging solutions. Or could I?
The thing is, even if you juice up your Bolt with a public charger, you’ll still have to wait a whopping 9.5 hours to get it fully topped up. That’s the equivalent of a full shift at your day job, and a few beers with the colleagues after work. And there’s only so much grocery shopping you can do in one day. Alternatively, you could connect your Bolt to a 400-volt fast-charging station. This will fill your battery with fresh electrons up to halfway mark in only 30 minutes, but finding such stations proved to be quite the adventure, especially through this city’s infamous traffic gridlock. And once I finally got there, sweating from the stress that I would run out of range, those popular charge ports were often taken by fellow EV enthusiasts.
At the end of the day, there’s no denying that the Chevrolet Bolt represents great progress, an engineering feat if you will, and a step in the right direction as far as sustainable transportation goes. And as an actual automobile, it works for the average buyer’s daily duties and family life without imposing too much compromise.
But there’s a caveat I can’t seem to get my head around: the entry-level LT model sells for roughly the same price after destination ($37,495 USD and $44,795 CAD before government incentives) as a Ford Mustang GT with a 5.0-liter V8 under its hood. Between you and me, while we know which one of these cars is the smarter buy, be honest: which one do you desire most?
Truth be told, the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt is a great electric car — a green, smart, inevitable choice for our planet, and arguably the best EV currently available. My only gripes with it, and a lot of electric cars at the moment, is that it’s still not exactly cheap, looks sort of weird and the time required to charge it — as well as the lack of available infrastructure — doesn’t yet make the car truly easy to live with. We’re getting there, but there’s still a long way to go before EVs deliver the automotive freedom gasoline-powered cars provided for so long.
[Images: Myle Rockens/Appearance]
William Clavey is an automotive journalist from Montréal, Québec, Canada. He runs claveyscorner.com