I recently had the chance to spend the day with a Chevy Bolt, which is a new electric car that will go 238 miles between charges. Many of you already know this. Many more don’t. I was having dinner the other night with my friend David, who knows a lot about cars; I mentioned the Bolt, and he said, “the Volt?” I said, “no, no, the Bolt.” I thought he had misheard me. He hadn’t. He didn’t know this thing existed.
And his reaction isn’t unusual. I told several people I was going to review the Chevy Bolt, and many of them looked at me like I had just made a weird speech error. “You mean the Volt,” they would reply. No. The Bolt. B-O-L-T. With a “B,” like “Battering ram.”
I think it’s funny that the Bolt hasn’t really managed to get its name out there very well, because on paper it seems like an excellent car. Consider this: The most hotly anticipated car of 2017 is the Tesla Model 3, which people are obsessed with, to the point where they are retweeting things every time Elon Musk sneezes. The base-level Model 3 costs $35,000 and can go 220 miles between charges. Well, guess what? The Bolt costs $37,500 and goes 238 miles between charges. It’s on the level of the Tesla!! And yet, if you were to drive around in a Model 3 in the Bay Area right now, you’d cause a 19-car pile-up from all the cell phone camera people, whereas if you drove around in a Bolt, people would be wondering why someone in California bought a Chevy.
To me, this seems a bit weird, because the Bolt is objectively pretty good at being an electric car — but until last week, I hadn’t spent any time in it. So I borrowed a Bolt from a viewer of mine in New Jersey named Kurt, and I drove it around for an afternoon, and what I discovered is that it’s better than you think. Especially if you didn’t know it existed in the first place.
I’ll start with the facts. Yes, like I said, the Bolt costs $37,500 and goes 238 miles between charges. But here’s the thing: Bolts are stacked up at dealers right now. They’re having a lot of trouble selling them, to the point where they recently announced they’re idling production at the Bolt factory until inventories die down. There are currently more than 3,500 new Bolts listed for sale on Autotrader.
Although this is bad news for Chevy, it’s a good thing for you. What it basically means is that the Bolt’s $37,500 MSRP is just a “suggestion,” and many people are getting them for a lot less. Add in the $7,500 federal income tax credit you get when you buy an electric car, and you’ll find that you can easily get a Bolt somewhere in the high $20,000s. For 238 miles of range!!!!
And since Tesla people will immediately say the Bolt doesn’t offer the performance of the Model 3, here’s another number for you: The Bolt does 0 to 60 in 6.5 seconds. Six point five! That’s not slow — and while it isn’t quite up there with the Model 3’s 5.6 seconds, it’s also not far behind.
And so, with those numbers in mind, I set out on the road in the Bolt, and … I was impressed.
I was impressed with a few things. The acceleration is certainly one of them; the Bolt is surprisingly fast, a benefit of the instant torque you get with an electric vehicle. It even has good passing power; I was surprised at how quick it felt going from 40 miles per hour to 60 miles per hour on a high-speed road. And, of course, it does it all without sound — and it does a good job covering up road noise and wind noise, too.
I also loved the Bolt’s screens. The center infotainment system is responsive to touch, easy to use and full of information — including all sorts of great figures about how efficiently you’re driving. The Bolt even gives you a score based on how much charge you’re conserving. The center screen isn’t as big as the one in the Tesla, but it’s well-designed and modern. Same goes for the screen in the gauge cluster, which is highly configurable, full of information and cutting-edge.
And then there’s the Bolt’s technology. The one I drove had all the latest safety gadgets and gizmos, like forward-collision braking and lane-keep assist and lane-departure warning and blind spot monitoring, and it even has a feature where it gives you a green, yellow or red indicator in the gauge cluster to show the safety of your following distance. I wish more drivers in New Jersey had such a thing (and paid attention to it).
Now, I admit there are some issues with the Bolt. The one I drove cost forty-something-thousand dollars; it had all that technology, and it didn’t have power seats. While acceleration is strong, handling is nowhere near the level you’d expect from a car that does 0 to 60 in 6.5 seconds. And let’s be honest: The styling looks much more “normal hatchback” than “car of the future,” like some electric models — including, in some peoples’ eyes, the Tesla Model 3.
But I will say this: If you went to a Tesla dealer right now and plunked down your $1,000 deposit, you might see your Model 3 in two years. Meanwhile, you can buy a Chevy Bolt — with a longer range, strong acceleration and good technology — literally right now, today, for probably less money. I haven’t driven the Model 3, so I have no idea if the Bolt is better — but I will say this: The Bolt is here, right now, and it’s pretty darn good.
Also published on Medium.