More and more electric vehicles are dotting highways and parking lots, yet they still remain an unattainable future machine for most people. While battery technology has only gotten better, price remains a huge barrier blocking most people from a glorious green car future. But that's slowly changing, and the Chevrolet Bolt EV is one of a new breed of autos to bring 100 percent electric transportation to the masses.
Last week I spent two days driving the Bolt EV through Napa, California, and even as a dedicated F-150 owner (with a gas-guzzling 5.4 liter V8), I was awestruck by its performance. The Bolt EV can travel 238 miles on just a single charge, easing the range anxiety that has prevent more electric car adoption. But its most important feature is its price. At $37k, the Bolt is still an expensive vehicle for most. Even so, that figure is a significant savings compared to other all-electric vehicles in its class, and the Bolt shares a similar price point as the highly anticipated Tesla 3. Of course, the big difference is you can buy the Bolt EV right now, whereas Tesla's promised miracle machine faces an uncertain future.
I picked up the Bolt EV in San Francisco and promptly floored it leaving the parking garage, thinking I would need all the juice the Bolt EV could muster to get me up to speed. But I quickly realized I'd underestimated the pep of this car and eased off the accelerator.
Although the Bolt EV is much more compact than most vehicles on the road, it certainly doesn't feel like it. The cabin isn't cramped and the ride is as smooth as any mid-sized sedan. The spirited acceleration isn't limited to off-the-line either, as the highway passing speed is equally impressive-without any of that fuel-burning guilt.
Maximizing the Battery
The Bolt EV can be driven in two-modes, "D" for standard drive and "L" for low or single-pedal driving. In "D" mode the vehicle starts and stops using the gas and brake like normal, but Chevy has introduced the "L" mode to maximize the regenerative power of braking.
In "L" mode, as soon as you back off the accelerator, the vehicle begins to brake and eventually brings the Bolt EV to a complete stop without you ever touching the brake pedal. Of course, you can still use the brake if you need to brake faster. This single-pedal driving takes time to master, but once you do, getting the most of your battery becomes an addictive game. While "L" mode helps make your car more efficient, it also saves wear on your brakes (and saves you money on at the auto shop).
But the Bolt serves up more ways to take advantage of brake-assisted charging by placing a regen braking paddle on the steering wheel that can be used in any driving mode. It's these small efficiencies that turn the Bolt EV from a limited transportation machine into a go anywhere, do anything vehicle.
Charging It Up
Almost every California parking lot has a charging station, many of which are complimentary if you are visiting a business. When I would cruise packed parking lots in my F-150, I hated these charging stations. They usually take up the best parking spots, are reserved for electric vehicles only, and are often frustratingly empty. Of course, my feelings took a full 180 once I was comfortably seated in my own EV. I just simply inch up into my designated parking spot, insert the plug into the Bolt, and then go about my business. It's incredibly simple.
But with a range of over 200 miles, you'll want to venture farther in the Bolt EV than you ever would have previously in an electric car (except maybe a pricey Tesla). For my short road trip, I knew I had plenty of charge to get from A to B. But for extra peace of mind, the Bolt EV shares a high and low estimate of your remaining miles based on your current speed and battery consumption-the difference between whether you're rolling through a suburb in silence or cruising north on I-80, jamming to Top 40 , and cranking the A/C to full blast.
But when your EV's battery does get low, you're faced with an electric car's most prominent inconvenience. Simply put, recharging still can't match the convenience of a quick five-minute pit stop, but the Bolt EV helps alleviate this headache by supporting three different charging modes.
At level 1, the car charges at a rate of four miles per hour using your standard 110V home outlet. Under normal driving conditions, this will keep the vehicle topped off if you plug it in as soon as you return home from work and leave it charged overnight. Level 2 is what Chevrolet recommends, requiring a 240V charging unit but charging at 25 miles per hour.
At Level 3, you can charge the Bolt EV at blazing speeds. This method requires an upgraded DC fast charging port but allows the Bolt EV to charge 90 miles in only 30 minutes. These DC fast chargers are only available at limited public charging stations, but they are popping up very quickly across the country, making long-range road trips much more manageable.
Interior and Exterior Styling
With the exception of Tesla and a few other high-priced models, electric and hybrid cars aren't exactly known for eye-catching design or massive amounts of storage space. Like other cars in its class, the Bolt EV's hatchback trunk space is limited. There is easily enough room to hold luggage for two adults, but four would be pushing it or, at the very least, require some moderate puzzle-solving skills. The rear seat also has plenty of room for two average-sized adults, but this isn't a vehicle you're going to what to push to far north of four passengers in total.
Driving around in the Bolt EV won't pull glances like a flashy sports car, but it's thankfully far from ugly. The sloping design and 17-inch wheels are mildly aggressive, and overall it looks like a stout four-door hatchback that's just fun to drive-and its looks aren't deceiving.
The more time I spent in the Bolt EV the less I thought of it as an electric car and more as a fun mode of transportation. For city-dwellers with commutes of 20 miles or less, the Bolt EV seems like the perfect vehicle. It's similarly priced as a Prius (after incentives) and more fun to drive, plus a Prius still relies on fuel despite its great mileage.
Anyone with a budget under $40K should seriously consider the Bolt EV, and see how it stacks up against comparable vehicles-whether electric, hybrid, or gas guzzling. The Bolt's fuel savings and performance could likely put very near the top of your list. If you covet a top-performing electric car and can do without a 400,000 person waiting list, then just maybe it's the Chevrolet Bolt EV that is the electric car of your dreams.
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