Update 2/11/19: Corrected the infotainment system screen size.
Elon Musk may lament that the affordable EV is a unicorn, but the 2019 Chevy Bolt is here to prove EVs can be affordable, appealing, and, yes, mundane enough to be your everyday vehicle.
Chevrolet, of course, has the benefit of mass production on their side. But even they have to make concessions. They’ve recently announced the discontinuation of the Chevrolet Volt hybrid (thus ending one of the most confusing product name conflations EVER). In order to make EVs profitable on a large scale, it became necessary to either go all in or be stuck with hybrids forever.
Based on how polished a vehicle the Bolt is, I think they’ve made the right choice.
Same as It Ever Was
From the outside, the 2019 Bolt is virtually identical to the previous model years. Sure, there are new paint colors, this year’s Shock is for those of you who want your car to look like a neon-green jawbreaker, but the Bolt remains the same bite-sized hatchback.
It’s What’s Inside That Counts
It’s a distinctive vehicle that feels much bigger on the inside than the outside. Chevrolet reclaimed the room that would usually be taken up by a full-sized engine, pushing the front seats and dash forward. There’s also no transmission hump (like the e-Golf’s vestigial hump), leaving you with a flat floor from front to back.
The arena seating in the second row gives your passengers a more SUV-type ride.
And there’s plenty of room in the back for cargo. Drop the second row of seats and you’ve got enough space for tons of gear.
The Premier trim and additional safety features of my loaded Bolt EV push the price over $40,000 (the base model is around $36k), but they make the Bolt a much more pleasurable vehicle to drive. The steering wheel is wrapped in pleasingly soft leather, and the Bose speakers pump out crystal-clear music (though the JBLs in Toyota’s Highlander still win for window-rattling bass). Heated seats (front and back!) make hopping in on cold winter mornings less of an ordeal.
While both trims can upgrade to the safety package that includes front pedestrian braking, collision warning, and a follow indicator, the more useful surround vision, rear parking assist, and cross traffic alert is only available with the Premier trim. Whenever I drive a vehicle with the added safety features, I always panic going back to my old ’05 Odyssey. The amount of extra confidence they impart can’t be discounted.
The 10.2-inch infotainment system is impressively large. I don’t even need an extra screen to see all of my Apple CarPlay apps. While the extra room is nice, it actually kept me from staying in the CarPlay interface all the time. The driver’s-side edge of the interface is blocked behind the steering wheel (or at least it was for me). Luckily, the customizable MyLink interface is more than functional and gave me access to additional information, like what systems were pulling the most power from the battery.
Shorty Got Low
Driving the Bolt never fails to bring a smile to my face. More than one of my passengers was startled into saying “This thing is on?” when I’d shift into reverse (which, admittedly, takes a more complex move than it should) and we’d start to roll back.
The Bolt is quiet. It’s so quiet you can hear a tween muttering to herself in the backseat. It’s so quiet that you’ll glare at all the noisy cars around you at stoplights.
You have options when you’re tooling around town. The easiest is to just leave the Bolt in Drive. It will reclaim power from the battery when you brake. You’ll also brake more often since the vehicle will emulate an ICE vehicle: slowing down gradually when you take your foot off the accelerator pedal and creeping forward when stopped.
More interesting, however, and my preferred mode, is when you bump the shifter back a second time to engage Low. In Low, the Bolt aggressively slows itself down whenever you take your foot off the accelerator, reclaiming even more energy than you would if braking. When you come to a complete stop, you stay stopped without having to touch the brake pedal. It’s one-pedal-driving at its finest, and driving in this mode around town allowed me to reclaim roughly half the energy I used on every trip.
You can select Sport mode in both modes. It gives you a little more pep but comes at the cost of efficiency. Not that you need an extra boost. As with any EV, all the power and torque you need are there as soon as you hit the accelerator. There are no gears to grind through, letting you rabbit away from every stoplight. (But don’t do that, it kills your efficiency, m’kay?)
Maneuvering the Bolt is a breeze, and parking is so ridiculously easy (especially with the standard backup camera) that I started looking for more challenging places to squeeze the Bolt into just to make it interesting. More than once, I’d get out of the Bolt only to find that I was only taking up half the space of a normal vehicle.
What? Me Worry?
I’ve mentioned “efficiency” about a million times when discussing the Bolt. But range anxiety in a vehicle that gets over 230 miles on a full charge simply doesn’t exist. After the first few trips around town, where I doggedly hypermiled and used every hack I’ve developed to drive economically, I stopped watching my efficiency scores and stopped worrying.
One of the reasons is that it’s so easy to keep the battery topped off. There are chargers available all over town, so it was a simple thing to plug in while I shopped. The battery settings will helpfully let you set the maximum charge percentage as well so that you’re not constantly filling the battery to the max (which counterintuitively reduces battery life over time). Whenever I hit the road, I consistently had over 150 miles of charge, often returning home with only half the distance I’d traveled deducted from my overall range (due to reclaimed energy).
On the highway, you’ll see the range drop faster, and you’ll want to make sure there’s a charger waiting for you at your destination, but we’re still talking about hundreds of miles of range. Even the most dogged commuter should be able to get a full round trip out of that. What’s nice is that, when you’re stuck in traffic, instead of chewing through whatever is in your gas tank, your power consumption drops to almost nothing.
Building the Brand
As much as I love the Bolt, choosing one now is a harder decision than it was a year ago. Tesla has finally rolled out a base trim for Tesla 3 that’s actually a little less than the Premium package Bolt EV. (Note that one of these is the “base” model and one is top of the line.) Granted, you still have to wait six months for that Tesla, whereas you can walk into a Chevy dealer today and drive away with a Bolt.
One other thing to keep in mind is federal rebates. While Tesla has already chewed through the first tier of $7,500 credits, Chevy still has that rebate available for Bolt EV buyers. If you’re looking to maximize your buying power, that makes the Bolt a lot more attractive.
But there’s no denying that the Tesla 3 is a bigger vehicle. If you want something that fits a more traditional profile, then the Tesla might be something to look at (but test drive it first, the central touchscreen-only controls are not for every driver).
There have been rumors for a while of new Chevy vehicles that will share the Bolt platform, including an extended version of the Bolt itself. Those have yet to materialize, but I’m hoping to see them sooner rather than later. VW is chasing them down, with the all-electric I.D. (a replacement for the e-Golf) coming in the 2020 model year, with the appropriately named I.D. Buzz (think the VW Bus but electrified) soon after.
The Bolt is the proof of concept. It’s time to let the platform spread its wings!
Where Can I Get It?
The 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV is available now. You may even be able to score a deal on a 2018 model if you hurry (and don’t mind a slightly smaller infotainment center screen). The Bolt is a fun-to-drive, well-mannered EV that’s packed with safety and comfort features. More than just a grocery-hauler, the 230+ mile range is comparable to long-range EVs like Tesla but at a much more manageable price.
Head down to your local Chevrolet dealer or learn more on their website.
(Thanks to Chevrolet for providing a media loan for review. Opinions are my own.)