THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Truly impressive range and interior space in a fun-to-drive package
- What’s Bad: Luxuriously priced, but not much luxury
Early adopters of alternative energy vehicles weren’t exactly shy about having their preferences known. In fact, there was a reverse cachet in owning the first dorky-looking hybrids–and the compromise it took to live with one was a badge of honour amongst the avant-garde of eco-consciousness.
But the average buyer hadn’t the time nor the resources to spend hard-earned dollars on a niche vehicle that looked or drove like a science experiment. If EVs and hybrids were ever going to gain wide acceptance, manufacturers had to deliver a vehicle as reliable and forgettable as any other commuter car.
Elon Musk and Tesla may have been hogging all the headlines, but it was the Chevrolet Bolt that became the first mainstream electric vehicle to deliver nearly 400 km in range –while remaining under $40,000 (with rebate). While the generous provincial incentive was cancelled by Ontario’s current administration, a new $5,000 federal rebate is now available for any EV, such as our Bolt, whose base model rings in under $45,000.
Aside from our tester’s acid-green paint (aptly called “Shock”), at first glance, there’s very little differentiating the Bolt from any other conventional hatchback. Located Porsche-like on the front fender, the charge port looks like a traditional fuel door, and there’s nothing unusually futuristic about the Bolt’s exterior.
The cabin is cleanly executed, but spartan. The dash and information screens are modern, uncluttered and devoid of any superfluous knobs, buttons or embellishments. But the abundance of hard plastics shows that interior luxury was sacrificed in order to deliver EV technology at this price point. Although our tester is a top of the line “Premium” trim ringing in at $53,045 with options and delivery charges, the upholstery is vinyl, seats are manually adjustable, and there’s no onboard navigation system. It just doesn’t feel like a $50k+ car.
Aside from the cabin’s obvious cost-cutting measures, there’s a lot to like about this little car. The tall roofline provides lofty overhead space for front and rear passengers, and the rather meagre 478L trunk space expands to a truly impressive 1,602 with the rear seats folded flat.
The interface is simple but conveys a lot of useful information without being confusing. The driver’s information screen has a digital speedometer and shows available range and energy consumption. A standard 10.2” colour touchscreen in the centre stack displays entertainment, connectivity and vehicle feature settings.
Even the $44,800 entry level trim comes equipped with a long list of standard features, including projector high beams, remote start, heated power-adjustable mirrors, cruise control, Teen Driver technology, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, Sirius XM satellite radio, heated front seats, 2 USB ports, Pedestrian safety signal, and rear backup camera.
Premium models add a package of safety features that include side blind zone and lane change alert, rear cross traffic alert, rear park assist, and surround vision bird’s eye view. They also get a rear auto-dimming camera mirror, Bose premium sound, wireless smartphone charging, 17” wheels, and roof rack rails.
All trims are powered by an electric motor producing 150 kW, or 200 hp and 266 lb. ft of torque from energy stored in the 60 kw-hour battery. Energy can be replenished using a regular 110V household outlet but yields only about 70 km of range over a 12 hour period. A home or Level 2 charging station will completely fill the battery in 9.5 hours, and a Level 3 fast charger in 65 minutes. The Bolt’s maximum range is 383 km, but cold temperatures and heavy use of heat and air conditioning functions can reduce that significantly.
Although charging stations are plentiful in urban centres, leaving the city entails some pre-planning and logistical awareness. Using the free Plugshare app, which shows the location, type, and fees for charge stations around the world, I was able to pinpoint the available fast chargers on the hundred km route between home and the city. Unfortunately, stations are sparse along the 401 corridor, especially outside the GTA, and while ideally should be located at comfort and fuel stations, often necessitate traveling well off the main highway to recharge. Costs vary, but my average charge for a Level 3 station was $15/hr.
The driver’s information screen shows both minimum and maximum range, depending on the temperature, driving style, and speed. Paddle shifters on the steering wheel allow the driver to control the level of brake regeneration – at its most aggressive, the Bolt can virtually operate as a one pedal car, with the brake pedal reserved for fast stops. The onscreen battery replenishment and range screen is a compelling incentive to drive frugally.
The Bolt is surprisingly engaging to drive, with a nice, stable centre of gravity provided by the weight of the underfloor battery. Its tall profile does create a tendency to wander a bit on the highway in heavy crosswinds, but its abundance of torque and small wheelbase make it satisfyingly responsive. Aside from wind and some road noise on rough pavement, it’s eerily quiet, and the expanse of glass provides terrific light and visibility.
The Chevrolet Bolt is a truly likeable little car that offers more range than its nearest competitor, the Nissan Leaf and even more overall cargo capacity than the new Hyundai Kona EV. However, Nissan sold twice the number of Leafs here last year, in fact, it’s Canada’s best selling EV. The Leaf’s smaller range (240 km) probably isn’t a factor with the average commuter, but its much lower price point almost certainly is. The Leaf starts at only $36,798, and a fully loaded SV models tops out at $42,698 – $2,000 less than the Bolt’s entry-level trim. However, if you want a Leaf with range approaching that of the Bolt, you’ll have to pay $52,048 – that’s $6500 for a larger battery producing 349 km of maximum range. That makes them just about even – and the Bolt is a lot more fun to drive.