Electric cars were nothing new when the Chevrolet Bolt EV emerged as a 2017 model, but the new hatchback’s long (238-mile) range helped it establish a trend in battery-powered transportation. Only the far more costly Teslas promised a longer range, though competitors are developing models that go farther before recharging is needed.
Except for three new body colors and addition of a standard Tire Fill Alert system, little has changed for the 2019 model year.
Sitting low within the Bolt EV’s floor, a large, flat lithium-ion battery, consisting of 288 separate cells, is rated at 60 kwh. The matching electric motor develops 200 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque, driving the front wheels.
Only two trim levels are offered: LT and Premier. Pricing starts around $37,500, including destination charge, but federal and state tax incentives may lower the total substantially.
Each Bolt EV gets a 10.2-inch touchscreen, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Upright, SUV-like seating promises excellent outward visibility, while slightly raised ride height eases entry/exit.
Despite lack of a heavy gasoline engine up front, the Bolt EV has fared reasonably well, though not stellar, in crash-testing. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has given it a five-star rating overall and for side-impact collision. Frontal crash-testing yielded only a four-star score.
In each crash-test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Bolt EV earned a top “Good” score. Headlights, unfortunately, were deemed “Poor.” With optional automatic emergency braking installed, the Bolt EV was ranked Superior for frontal crash protection.
Each Bolt EV contains a rearview camera, but most active safety features are optional rather than standard. Automatic emergency braking is available only for Premier trim level, and requires the addition of two option packages. The Driver Confidence I package, offered for either trim level, includes blind-spot monitors and rear parking sensors. Only Premier trim can have the Driver Confidence II group, which consists of forward-collision warnings, active lane control, and automatic high-beam headlights, along with the automatic emergency braking.
Nissan’s Leaf, in contrast, has a considerably shorter range, but makes active safety technology standard.
Prices do not include $875 destination charge.
LT ($36,620) includes cloth upholstery, 17-inch alloy wheels, HID headlights, LED taillights, automatic climate control, keyless start, an 8.0-inch information display, and the 10.2-inch touchscreen.
An LT convenience package adds heating to front seats and steering wheel. Also optional is a fast-charging port, promising to boost range by 90 miles with a 30-minute charge.
Premier ($40,905) adds leather upholstery, a camera-based rearview mirror, a surround-view camera system, heated front and rear seats, blind-spot monitors, and rear parking sensors. Automatic emergency braking is available only as part of the Driver Confidence II package.
Designers employed several clever styling touches to downplay the Bolt EV’s practical, upright hatchback contours. Instead of a sensible but strange appearance, the Bolt looks like a compelling, if a bit offbeat, hatchback.
Despite smooth edges and lack of sharp angles, though, the Bolt EV is indisputably an economy-focused car.
Pushing wheels way out to the corners helps make the Bolt EV appear smaller than its actual dimensions suggest. The layout also increases the amount of interior space. Deep creases and a rising window line even suggest a touch of racy delight. Blacked-out pillars help make the roof appear to drop down, toward the rear end.
Quiet inside and comfortable for four occupants, the Bolt EV also promises a roomy cabin and satisfying versatility. Still, a sense of lower-budget materials is difficult to evade. Plastic surfaces within the cabin blend economy-car efficiency with up-to-date technology. Controls are well laid-out, with the 10.2-inch touchscreen mounted prominently, right in the center of the dashboard.
Passengers benefit from an upright seating position. Seats feel comfortable, with abundant rear legroom, though seat padding is somewhat thin.
Because ride height is on the tall side, getting in and out of the Bolt EV is easy. Visibility is fine, too. A fifth passenger will fit inside, though not without squeezing.
Cargo volume totals 16.9 cubic feet with all seats in normal position. Luggage space grows to a sizable 56.6 cubic feet, comparable to many compact crossover SUVs, when back seats are tumbled forward.
Urban-oriented Bolt EV riders can expect to zip around without fuss, in a cabin that approaches silence. Unlike some earlier electric cars, whose advertised range was hard to achieve, the Bolt can approach and achieve its rated 238-mile range with comparative ease.
Performance isn’t the foremost selling point for shoppers who consider driving home a Bolt EV. Still, the frisky electric powertrain is a pleasant bonus, adding a touch of fun to otherwise ordinary drives. Efficiency takes precedence, as expected, but the Bolt EV sticks to the pavement and can accelerate to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, according to Chevrolet. Peak torque arrives early, delivering the sort of smooth strength that comes only from an electric motor. Mounting the battery low helps produce even weight distribution, yielding effective handling.
Two drive models are available. Normal mode is like that of a conventional car, even including some “idle creep” when standing at a stoplight and the brake pedal isn’t firmly applied.
The second mode offers stiffer regenerative braking, and can provide what might be called a “one-pedal” experience. EV enthusiasts will consider this “normal” behavior, but first-timers might need some time to get acclimated. Transition between regenerative braking and regular friction-type braking is subtle and barely discernible.
Chevrolet’s Bolt EV is among the most energy-efficient cars on sale. Few rivals even approach its range and efficiency level. Tesla’s Model 3 promises a range past 310 miles, but costs a lot more. Nissan’s Leaf provides no more than 150 miles per charge, but a longer-range version should arrive in the 2019 model year. Hyundai’s recently-launched Kona EV is rated for 258 miles, thus qualifying as the closest competitor among current models.
With regular 240-volt charging, the Bolt EV can be recharged fully in about 9 hours.
Long range is clearly the most prominent benefit of Chevrolet’s Bolt EV, leaping well ahead of small electric cars from a couple of years ago. Not only does it look â€“ and drive â€“ like a conventional car, it’s readily available at dealerships. Lack of standard active safety features (especially automatic braking) is a definite drawback, and comfort could be better. Even so, Chevrolet’s latest EV entrant is running close to the leaders of the battery-powered pack.
Driving impressions by Aaron Cole, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.