Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: December 1, 2018
In the past week, headlines have been exploding with news of General Motors shutting down factories and assembly plants in both Canada and the United States due to increasing costs and slow sales (so we’re told). Several vehicles have been put under the guillotine including, much to our surprise, the Chevrolet Volt. But there’s reason behind it. The Volt never sold very well and though it was one of the first plug-in hybrid vehicles to hit the mainstream market, it wasn’t enough to persuade buyers to hop onto the electric vehicle (EV) bandwagon. Nobody is buying sedans anymore, and Ontario’s recent decision to axe EV government incentives does not help the cause either. SUVs and trucks are now the prime choices.
I certainly hope that GM plans to put that saved money into R&D for an all-electric SUV, perhaps a variant of the drool-worthy Chevrolet Blazer. But in the meantime, GM’s dreams of electrification solely lie with the Chevrolet Bolt, a 383 km electric-only five-passenger hatchback that I had the opportunity to test drive for a few days.
The Chevrolet Bolt is a fully electric hatchback, meaning there is no combustion engine. It utilizes a 60 kWh lithium ion battery pack mounted along the floor of the vehicle that drives the two front wheels. It’s a fairly large battery too, so charging it takes quite a fair amount of time with a standard 120V household outlet, around 60 hours for a full charge from zero. So if you’re planning on purchasing a Bolt, I heavily recommend installing a Level 2 (240V) charger, which will net you a full charge in 9.3 hours. Using a DC fast charging system only takes 1.4 hours.
Real-world range tends to differ from the manufacturer’s claimed range. While our cold Canadian climate makes it difficult to assess the Bolt’s maximum capabilities, we did net an impressive 302 km with one-third of that dedicated to highway mileage, and with regenerative braking in the mix as well. Our heaters were on full blast, as were the heated seats and radio. Again, range will differ depending on how and where you drive, but our conclusive range still proves to be higher than the range claimed by competitors like the Volkswagen e-Golf (201 km), Nissan LEAF (242 km), and Hyundai IONIQ (200 km). The Tesla Model 3 is the only one that comes out on top in this segment with a total claimed range of 418 km, and can even be optioned out to boast a whopping 499 km. What I particularly like about the Bolt is how its digital instrument cluster shows the precise amount of kW being used at any given time, and how much is being regenerated. Most other EVs only show an ambiguous and rather vague gauge counter that just moves up and down.
But now that we have range out of the way, we can talk about how the Bolt drives. With 200 hp and 266 lb-ft on tap, it can zip from 0-100 km/h in a brisk 6.5 seconds. From launch, it actually feels much quicker than that figure thanks to the supply of instant torque delivered faster than you can say Oshawa. Too soon? When prodded to go fast, the Bolt transforms into quite an energetic little animal as it punts around town. It’s just so effortless to go fast and zip through traffic like a rat through the canals of Manhattan. With the batteries mounted so low to the ground, the center of gravity is low too, lending a hand to how the Bolt handles corners without feeling top-heavy.
Performance is really limited by its slim 17-inch tires. Every time you mat the gas pedal, the tires chirp (cold or warm, it always does this), squirm about, and search for hints of traction to get all that sudden power to the ground. You’ll find yourself wrestling the steering wheel to keep the Bolt in line. Best to be delicate with acceleration. The Bolt rewards smooth build up rather than abrupt jolts. That goes for highway runs too, as high-speed stability on these tires and its air-drag-sensitive shape means you’re constantly correcting the trajectory with minor steering inputs.
It’s my first time behind the wheel of a Bolt and as with all other EVs, it forces you drive differently on the road than non-EV vehicles. Your behaviour changes. With an EV, you’re thinking not about where to fill up, but how long it will take you to charge the battery back at home. The way you drive is different too. No longer is there a build up to maximum power by revving the engine. Power comes instantly from the moment you depress the gas pedal. Braking changes too.
Using a feature called brake regeneration, drivers can pilot the Bolt using only one pedal. That’s because every time you lift off the throttle, the vehicle will automatically slow down and use that energy to recharge the batteries. Normally that renders brake pedal action moot, but the Bolt’s force of braking via regeneration isn’t very strong - you’ll still be rolling quickly when off the pedal - and there is no way to adjust that strength of regeneration like on other EVs. To counter that, the Bolt imbues the left paddle shifter on the steering wheel with the ability to force manual regen braking. Simply pull, tap, or hold the paddle and the Bolt will quickly come to a complete stop. Come to think of it, I take that back. This isn’t one-pedal driving, it’s one-pedal one-paddle driving.
Not only is this helpful to recharge the batteries and keep your right foot from working so hard, but drivers can actually hold both the left paddle and brake pedal for quicker stopping action. One thing for drivers to note though, is that when coming to a complete stop via the brake pedal, the handbrake does not engage automatically, whereas coming to a stop with the paddle shifter only, does.
While it didn’t strike me as attractive at first, I warmed up to the Bolt’s overly upright stature over time, even its new-for-2019 Shock paint colour. Though the paint isn’t the most inconspicuous colour, in any other shade the Bolt becomes rather anonymous in traffic, blending in with neighbouring Cruze and Spark models. The Bolt appears like a Volt that’s been compressed vertically and highlighted with a marker, sporting a tall hatchback silhouette that benefits not only headroom but interior space as well, setting itself apart from other EVs. The flat floor ensures rear passengers won’t have to hunch their legs up, and headroom is acceptable for my six-foot figure to spend a great deal of time in. It’s much more spacious than the Nissan LEAF and Tesla Model 3, I might add.
The massive 10.2-inch infotainment screen dominates the dashboard with its bright and colourful graphics. It’s the most modern touch in the Bolt, and feels miles ahead of what other GM products offer in the tech department. Furthermore, it comes equipped with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and 4G LTE, all standard and without a fee (yes, we’re looking at you, BMW). The gear shifter is also a clean touch, and is the same one used in Cadillacs and Buicks. Aesthetically pleasing and with a smooth and intuitive shifting design, it’s actually one of my favourite shifters in the market today and pushes the Bolt’s interior just a notch closer to being more premium.
The more we drove the Bolt, the more we uncovered some minor gripes. The driving position, as with most small hatchbacks, is a bit awkward for taller folks. It’s got a weirdly high-up almost crossover-like driving position, and seats that are small and don’t offer a great deal of adjustment. The center touchscreen is also positioned too far away for taller seated passengers that sit further back, and the screen is oddly angled upwards too so you will have to actively get off your seatback to reach the controls. Sure there are buttons on the steering wheel but only the right paddle shifter is dedicated to controlling the volume. The rest you will have to manually sort through the instrument cluster menu to reach audio. From there, it’s also worth noting that the system only lets you program five radio stations to your favourites list. Five for FM, AM, and Sirius XM. Not six, not seven. Five. That’s all you get.
Bose likes to slap their name on everything these days and while my newly acquired set of noise cancelling headphones from them are excellent, the same can’t be said about the Bolt’s Bose audio system. It lacks the same clarity, pitch, and crispness found in other Bose products in higher end models. It’s also disappointing that despite the premium looking center display and gear shifter, the rest of the cabin’s panels and materials feel cheap and bottom-shelf, unbefitting of its $50,000 price tag on this top-end Premier model. Though, it’s fair to say that the LEAF and Model 3 suffer from these issues as well, and the latter isn’t known for its quality or reliability either.
Is it safe to call the Bolt the best full EV on the market today? It certainly wouldn’t be far-fetched, especially with such limited competition. There’s enough range to remedy driver anxiety, enough cabin space for six-foot adults to sit comfortably, and there’s even enough excitement in its spritely powertrain to call it fun to drive. The Bolt isn’t cheap (its interior materials sure are) but it is still tens of thousands of dollars away from the average listing price of a Tesla, and if you’re about to hop on the electric bandwagon, I’d say there’s no better way to go than the Bolt. Personally, I would wait for a Bolt-derived crossover from GM - now that will be a milestone, a pioneer, and a game changer in the automotive world. Perhaps that’s just what is needed to satisfy SUV-hungry consumers. The Volt is dead. Long live the Bolt.
Model: 2019 Chevrolet Bolt Premier
Paint Type: Shock ($495)
Base Price: $49,600
Price as Tested: $51,150
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,166 / 1,765 / 1,594
Curb weight (kg): 1,616
Battery: 60kWh lithium ion
Horsepower: 200 hp
Torque: 266 lb-ft
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
Range: 383 km