Driving Impressions : 2020 Bolt EV PremierBy: Mark Moskowitz MD
A Bolt review requires two parts: a review of the car as transportation mode and its review as a value and functionality proposition.
Certainly, the appearance of the Bolt was meant to be different. From a front ¾ view it reminds us of the cartoonish shapes of mass transportation predicted a half century ago, not the Jetson's flying car but a smooth curvilinear machine that would look the same coming or going. Of course, few predicted that the present rage would be the SUV or crossover with a near vertical or Kammback rear. From a strictly side view the Bolt does hold interest. There's a dramatic slope from the rearmost pillar to the front allowing ever widening side windows. It allows or blends with a unique triangular window reminiscent of the vent windows of the past. The slope is complemented by a parallel dramatic upper body swage line that extends through the door handles. As the door line descends, the roof line rises connecting with its ample windshield.
The exterior predicts a massive front seating area which is confirmed on entry. A wide door space and great knee and head room welcome you to a bright open interior. I was surprised by the room in the rear. Six-footers could be easily accommodated though they might find the seats a bit upright and stiff.
The overall inside appearance is attractive. Contrasting colors (Dark Galvanized and Sky Cool Gray) adorned the seats and surrounded and drew attention to the 10.2-inch touch screen. Closer inspection revealed multiple plastic surfaces. I suspect they lessened weight and cost of production. Better finishes could be expected in a car with a list price in excess of $41,000.
Front seats were comfortable and could only be adjusted manually--consistent with the theme of lightness and economy rather than luxury. Well-conceived storage space included paired cup holders front and rear, glove and console boxes, two upright phone holders, a space for keys and fob and a distinct purse sized floor space. Trunk space was more than adequate at 16.9 cubic feet. It could be augmented by folding the back seats forward. A subfloor compartment stored the charge cord and more.
Infotainment and gauge displays were colorful and bright. They were comprehensive in their sharing of data on energy use, charging and gains from the automatic or manually induced (by column mounted control) regenerative braking.
Most electric cars punch above their weight in acceleration and the Bolt is no different. Its Korean made powerplant boasts 200hp. Using the infotainment timer and the iPad timer, 0-60 time was recorded at 6.9 seconds. Others have found the Bolt a bit quicker. There are many cars with a similar wheelbase that are precise and agile around cones and the parking lot; the fwd Bolt performed adequately here, not exceptionally.
While low speed bumps did not unsettle the car, they often jarred the occupants. I also found the Bolt a bit twitchy and requiring frequent adjustment at freeway speeds. Some of these characteristics can be attributed to low profile Michelin Energy Saver tires and their recommended high (38 psi cold) pressures. Underway, pressures quickly rise to 41 psi – great for mileage but not for ride and handling,
The basic Bolt EV lists for $36,895. Add another $4400 for the tested Premier edition which includes the desirable features of lane change and Blind Side Zone alerts, HD surround vision, heated front seats and a rear camera mirror. A Driver Confidence II package seems well worth the $495 price and includes a following distance indicator, forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, and lane keep assist. Another $595 adds wireless phone charging, dedicated USB charge ports and a Bose 7-speaker system.
It's most obvious from the description that there are more comfortable and better equipped cars with lower list prices. By the time you have read this, Chevrolet's federal EV tax credits previously as high as $7500 will have expired. There is no question that less noxious gases will pollute the atmosphere if drivers choose electric but there are headwinds.
The maximum advertised range for a Bolt is 259 miles (up from 238 miles in 2019) but this is achieved under optimal conditions. Cold weather and electric accessories reduce travel distance. Pedal to the metal driving lops off more than 30% of the expected range. There are two home charging options for the Bolt owner. A 110 volt outlet returns almost four miles of travel for hour charged.
A level 2 charger requires 240v service. These typically add 20 -25 miles per hour of charge. Qmerit, the GM website recommended installer, states on its pages 'We commonly see installation costs range from about $750 to $1,750 — not including the Level 2 (240v) EV charging station.'
The actual devices for home charging range in price from $500 to $1,000, depending on the model and its options.
Level 3 or DC chargers offer the fastest charge-roughly 80 miles of range can be added over the course of thirty minutes. DC Fast Charging provisions cost another $750.
I planned a journey to Charleston when I first received my Bolt. It had 135 miles of travel left on its charge. I plugged it into a 110 socket. The instrument cluster predicted the Bolt would have a full charge in 35 hours! I scanned the 230-mile route. Along the way I could find two easily accessible level 3 stations twenty miles from me. Each would charge $18 per hour of charge. Three more would be found along the interstate in another 80 miles. They ranged in price from free to $21 for an hour of charge. Next possible stop would be another 100 plus miles away near Charleston! Time constraints were important. My usual mount was employed. The 2013 Chrysler 300 required 8 gallons of gas at $1.65 per gallon. A pit stop took less than six minutes.
The Bolt as presented offers little in the way of convenience or cost savings as compared to gas powered cars of a similar size and price. It's not prepared for the sudden emergent long distance jaunt. Few consumers desire the inconveniences of the charging station. Bolt sales have fallen from 23,927 units sold in 2017 to the 2019 total of 16,419.
I do not deny the importance of electric vehicles in lessening airborne environment pollutants. The Bolt would seem to work best as a second car in a two-vehicle household. Or as a primary car with a rental as the car of choice for trips. And the cost seems prohibitive.
But wait ……an internet perusal reveals several dealers offering $13,000 to $15,000 discounts for Bolt Premier editions! Maybe there is a value proposition.